Kabul, 21 February 2018 – The prosperity of nations is closely related to the prosperity of their cities. Cities worldwide account for more than 80% of global GDP. In Afghanistan, a country affected by longstanding conflict which has led to large numbers of internally displaced persons and returning refugees, cities play a key role as hubs for employment, especially youth, innovation and peace. Indeed, the Afghan population is expected to double within the next 15 years with the urban population reaching 50% of the total population.
In order to capitalize on the great potential of well-planned, well-governed and well-financed urbanization, the Government of Afghanistan is currently implementing an innovative programme addressing urban governance in Kabul and 11 other cities under the name of City for All (CFA: 2016-2020).
Under the chairmanship of the Minister of Urban Development and Housing, a National Steering Committee meets every three months to assess the developments and challenges, as well as taking executive decisions over the programme. The Steering Committee is comprised of high-level representatives of key urban national and local stakeholders, namely the Independent Directorate for Local Governance (IDLG), the Deputy Ministry of Municipalities (DMM), the Independent Land Authority (ARAZI), as well donors EU and USAID, with technical assistance from UN-Habitat.
At the UN Conference on Housing & Sustainable Urban Development, Habitat III, in 2016, the United Nations reached a consensus on the transformative force of urbanization as an engine for growth and prosperity, focusing on three key aspects: urban legislation, urban planning and improved municipal finances. The integrated approach of these three key elements, also referred to as the “Fundamentals of Urbanization”, are the first basic steps that national and local governments should take while aiming at improving the condition of their cities. The New Urban Agenda, the UN roadmap for sustainable urbanization calls on national and local governments to work together on these three aspects as a pre-condition for urban development.
Despite the volatile security situation in the country, Afghanistan is one of the few countries in the world that has taken systematic actions to comprehensively implement the fundamentals of urbanization through the CFA programme. How is the work of the CFA programme impacting the daily lives of Afghan citizens?
a) Effective Land Management
CFA is supporting Afghan municipalities to survey and register all properties within their boundaries (estimated 500,000 in Kabul and 500,000 in eleven other cities) and providing technical assistance to Afghanistan Land Authority (ARAZI) to issue occupancy certificates in informal urban areas. Issuing occupancy certificates to 1 million urban households is an unprecedented measure that will enhance tenure security for urban residents, especially the displaced populations. Investing in effective land administration is a sure way to improve the living standards of the Afghan population while eradicating the grabbing of state-owned land. The legal framework for the issuance of occupancy certificates is in place following the approval of the relevant regulation in December 2017. Starting in March 2018, thousands of households will receive occupancy certificates guaranteeing their right to stay on their properties without the threat of eviction.
b) Strategic Urban Planning
CFA is assisting local communities in targeted cities to develop strategic action plans by identifying and prioritizing local infrastructure projects that will improve the delivery of basic services). The strategic planning approach ensures that the voices of local residents through the so-called ‘people’s process’. The peoples’ process uses participatory methods to facilitate the involvement of community members in planning and decision making through workshops and consultations at local level. These consultations produce strategic action plans including capital investment plans that guide municipalities on public investment for urban infrastructure for a period of five years. Strategic actions plans have been completed for five districts in Kabul (district 1, 5, 6, 13 and 16) and for the cities of Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif, and Bamyan. This process will improve access for huge urban populations to urban basic services by ensuring that infrastructure projects are actually implemented. For that to happen, the process needs to be linked to a transparent, accountable and inclusive budget management process.
c) Improved Municipal Finance
The financing of municipal infrastructure projects in Afghanistan depends on collection of local revenues and sound financial management systems. CFA is working with targeted municipal authorities to improve revenues from business licensing and safayi (municipal service charge), as well as participatory planning and budgeting that incorporates Municipal Advisory Boards and citizen representatives in the municipal financial cycle. CFA supports municipal district offices to produce and distribute safayi invoices and business licenses. Since October 2017, 47,000 safayi invoices have been distributed and 2,400 business licenses issued. A total of Afs 48 million (the equivalent to $690,000) have been collected in revenues.
The combination of the three fundamentals of urbanization is a strategic choice by the Government of Afghanistan that will hopefully expand local revenues for municipalities and increase tenure security in Afghan cities, promoting employment, prosperity and stability. From experiences in other countries around the world, the way cities are governed, planned and financed is directly linked to the economic and social development of a country.