The battle in Africa’s slums
The number of Africans living in impoverished urban slums is growing at a faster rate in sub-Saharan Africa than anywhere else in the world. According to the State of the World’s Cities 2006/7, released in June by the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), African slums are growing by 4.5 per cent a year, about twice the growth rates in southern and eastern Asia and nearly four times faster than in Latin America. During the past 15 years, sub-Saharan Africa’s total slum population has doubled, from 101 million in 1990 to 199 million in 2005.
UN-Habitat also finds that slums in sub-Saharan Africa are the most deprived in the world, in terms of housing conditions, access to sanitation and clean water and other indicators.
Reversing such trends will require significantly more investments, better urban management and the empowerment of city dwellers to improve their own conditions, argues the report. With a growing proportion of the population in Africa and the rest of the world living in cities, upgrading slum areas will be a major front in the struggle to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), notes Ms. Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, UN under-secretary-general and executive director of UN-Habitat. “The battle for the MDGs,” she argues, “will be won or lost in the slums.”
An internal auditing unit of the World Bank reports that many of the countries that have benefited from the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative have seen their debts climb back to where they were before receiving assistance under the plan. The report, prepared by the Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group (IEG), says HIPC cut the ratios of debt servicing to export earnings in half for 18 countries. But in eight, all of them African, the ratios now once again exceed the “sustainability” thresholds set under the plan. Creditors have committed about $50 bn to some 30 countries since HIPC was launched in 1996 by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund as a way to handle the debt crisis of the world’s poorest countries.
“Debt reduction alone is not a sufficient instrument to affect debt sustainability, which also requires improvements in repayment capacity,” the report notes. Among the reasons countries are slipping back is that they have not diversified their exports, which would have increased revenues and enabled them to meet tough new borrowing terms, the report notes.
For lasting results, the international community will need to release more resources for targeted poverty-reduction programmes, the IEG says. In turn, recipient governments should adopt “sound” policies. “Debt relief by itself doesn’t ensure that the country will get on a sustainable path,” said Ms. Victoria Elliott, an IEG manager.
Africa is losing its forests at a rate higher than any other region except South America, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports. The FAO informed a recent meeting in Maputo, Mozambique, of the organization’s African Forestry and Wildlife Commission that the continent’s forest cover fell from 655.6 mn hectares to 635.4 mn hectares between 2000 and 2005. This marked a net loss of more than 4 mn hectares per year, largely through the conversion of forest lands to agriculture.
“The continent leads the world in forest fires, mainly due to the traditional practice of using fire for conversion of forest to agriculture or grassland,” the agency said. During the last 15 years, more than half of African countries enacted new laws to manage their forests and two thirds now have active national management programmes. But in many countries implementation remains weak because of inadequate financing.
Mr. Legwaila Joseph Legwaila of Botswana has been named by the UN Secretary–General as UN under-secretary-general and special adviser on Africa, replacing Mr. Ibrahim Gambari. Before taking up his new post in May, Mr. Legwaila was the Secretary-General’s special representative for the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea. A former ambassador of Botswana to the UN and other countries, he also served as special representative of the Secretary-General of the former Organization of African Unity (OAU) and special envoy of the Chairman of the Frontline States. During Namibia’s transition to independence in 1989-90, he served as the UN Secretary-General’s deputy special representative there.
Ms. Haya Rashed Al Khalifa of Bahrain has been elected by the UN General Assembly as the president of the 61st session scheduled to begin on 12 September. She would become only the third female president of the Assembly. As part of a long and distinguished career, Ms. Khalifa was one of the first two women lawyers to practice law in Bahrain. She has also served as Bahrain’s ambassador to France and permanent delegate to UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) from 2000 to 2004. She is currently legal advisor to the Royal Court of the Kingdom of Bahrain.
Former chairperson of the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy has been appointed as the UN Secretary-General’s new special representative for Children and Armed Conflict. As an internationally known human rights advocate, Ms. Coomaraswamy served as special rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Commission on violence against women (1994-2003) and director of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
The UN Secretary-General has appointed Ms. Carolyn McAskie of Canada as assistant secretary-general for Peacebuilding Support. She previously served as special representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Peacekeeping Operation in Burundi, assistant secretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs and deputy emergency relief coordinator at the UN Secretariat in New York.