Nairobi, 29 March 2018—UN-Habitat Executive Director, Maimunah Mohd Sharif, has pledged to strengthen the agency to make it more responsive to the needs of countries to address the challenges of rapid urbanization and harness the benefits of good urbanization.

At her maiden press conference held in Nairobi on Thursday, Ms. Sharif highlighted that she would be guided by the principles of the New Urban Agenda and its implementation as an accelerator for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, especially SDG11 which aims to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

“In 2016, Member states adopted the New Urban Agenda which promotes a new paradigm on the way we plan, build and manage our cities and human settlements. UN-Habitat was recognized as a United Nations focal point for sustainable urbanization. It is the moment to strengthen UN-Habitat to ensure we can effectively support countries to implement the New Urban Agenda in collaboration with all the United Nations system, all levels of government and other stakeholders.

Cities are centres of economic growth, contributing 70% of global GDP. Urbanization, if well-planned, can be an important tool to achieve a good quality of life for everyone and can help us to achieve the sustainable development goals, in particular SDG11, and other SDGs such as SDG1: no poverty, SDG6: clean water and sanitation, SDG13: climate action, to mention just a few,” she said.

The Executive Director, who was flanked by her Deputy Executive Director Aisa Kirabo Kacyira and UN-Habitat’s Director for External Relations, Ms. Christine Musisi, and UN-Habitat’s Regional Office for Africa Director, Naison Mutizwa-Mangiza, also gave the members of the fourth estate a brief history of her life.

“I was the mayor in Penang in Malaysia and was the first woman to be appointed president of the Municipal Council of Seberang Perai. All my professional life I have collaborated very well with journalists in delivering services to my employers- the people. Media is needed to increase awareness on urban issues which affect us every day such as basic services, mobility, public spaces or accessibility” she said.

Ms. Sharif explained that together with its sister agency UNEP, UN-Habitat was the only other UN agency headquartered in the developing world. She said that since its inception in 1976, UN-Habitat has stayed true to its course in addressing urbanization and human settlements issues.

“We must look at human settlements of all sizes and think about how to improve the quality of life of those citizens living there. Many people migrate from rural areas seeking better opportunities in cities. If these people had adequate infrastructure and services in their communities, such as housing, good roads, education as well as economic opportunities, they might not leave their rural settings easily”, she said.

“As a focal point for human settlements and sustainable urban development in the UN system, UN-Habitat catalyses transformative change in cities and human settlements. We combine knowledge, policy advice, technical assistance, and collaborative action to support governments at all levels and stakeholders to ensure the well-being and dignity of all people living in cities and human settlements, be it in contexts of stability, crisis or post-crisis and recovery”.

She also announced UN-Habitat’s plans to maintain its excellent relations with Kenya, the host country citing the government’s stated Agenda Four which has Housing as one of its key pillars. She has established a task force, led by UN-Habitat’s Director for Africa, to support more strategic and integrated programming in Kenya in line with the Government’s vision  and to scale-up the good experiences in close collaboration with the UN Country Team and other strategic partners.

Affordable Housing is one of UN-Habitat’s priorities and specializations. “As I have committed to the Cabinet Secretary of Foreign Affairs Monica Juma and the Cabinet Secretary of Infrastructure James Macharia, UN-Habitat is ready to offer its expertise to support the government to achieve its objective of providing some one million houses. We are more than ready to extend our knowledge and our tried and tested innovative solutions to the government of Kenya in its endeavours,” Ms. Sharif said.

The Executive Director highlighted some of the current linkages with Kenya as including: the establishment of a Long-term Solid Waste Management Strategy that Incorporates Youth Entrepreneurship through waste recycling in Kisii Town; Strengthening Planning for Resettlement and Integration of Refugee Communities at Kalobeyei New Site, Turkana County. Under this there was Peace and social cohesion, community resilience, humanitarian/ development nexus, as well as Land Tools to Support Tenure Security Enhancement in Informal Settlements in Nairobi and Mombasa.