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The month ahead | October 2020





Posted: 05 October 2020

The United Nations has designated the first Monday of October of every year as World Habitat Day. World Habitat Day was established in 1985 by the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution 40/202, and was first celebrated in 1986.

The purpose of World Habitat Day is to reflect on the state of our cities and towns, with particular focus on the right to adequate shelter. This right to shelter has been enshrined in the constitution of the Republic of South Africa.

Each year, World Habitat Day takes on a new theme to bring attention to UN-Habitat’s mandate to promote sustainable development policies that ensure adequate shelter for all. This World Habitat Day will focus on promoting all levels of government and all relevant stakeholders to reflect on how to implement concrete initiatives to ensure adequate and affordable housing in the context of the implementation of the New Urban Agenda.

The high urbanisation rate globally as well as in South Africa creates pressure on municipalities to provide basic services and housing in particular. Africa is urbanising at 4% per year. It is estimated that African cities will house 2.5 billion people (60% of its population) by 2050 compared to the 1.23 billion people in 2015. This expansion is happening in the global context that, for the first time in history, humans are predominantly urban. This is despite the fact that cities occupy less than 2% of the Planet Earth’s land surface. They house over half of the population but use 75% of the Planets resources. This imbalance between People, Place and Planet is unsustainable. It therefore becomes essential to better manage the nexus between urbanism, development planning and the delivery of integrated human settlements.

Urban actors have attempted to address Africa’s spatial legacies retroactively but seemingly, the spatial legacies remain stubbornly entrenched. Clearly there are no simple solutions to the challenges. The complexities currently faced by our cities require a systemic, holistic and transdisciplinary approach that spans different disciplines and expertise.

This World Habitat Day takes places in an important Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals while the world is coming to terms with the devastating impacts of the Covd19 pandemic. It is important that cities and towns work hard to address climate change which threatens to further complicate the urbanization challenge. The World Bank reported that by 2030, climate change and natural disasters may cost cities worldwide $314 billion each year, and push 77 million more urban residents into poverty. This calls for transformative actions of managing the urban spaces that will benefit both the people and the planet.

Cities are also key in addressing the global climate change. When cities are designed well, highly compacted, walkable and with good accessible public transport, they hold the potential to greatly reduce our per capita carbon footprint which is crucial to achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals of which climate action is a key part. Cities can also contribute hugely to the reduction of the amount of carbon dioxide produced by developing cities, towns, human settlements and buildings that have low carbon footprints. They can manage this by using scarce resources more efficiently. This includes among others human settlements and buildings that are more energy efficient and use renewable energy sources wherever possible. Sustainable cities and towns also conserve water, the use of land and all other scarce resources.  

SALGA remains a committed partner in the delivery of sustainable habitats where People and Planet thrive. This requires collaboration between many partners in and outside the state. It requires a deliberate effort targeted at breaking the back of stubborn adverse legacies.

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