"Innovation is particularly important and can bridge the gap left by the war.
We’ve lost many opportunities... but those challenges also give us opportunities."

NAIROBI, 31 May 2019 - The first session of the UN-Habitat Assembly that ended on Friday could not have come at a better time, as the world grapples with rapid urbanization caused mainly by migration of people from rural to urban areas looking for jobs and other opportunities, population growth and conflict.

The high-level meeting brought together representatives from 127 countries including Ministers, local authorities, civil society, youth and women’s group representatives as well as business leaders and scholars.

The importance of the meeting was underlined by the presence of four Heads of State and Government - Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, South Sudan’s Salva Kiir Mayardit, Fiji Prime minister Frank Bainimarana and Yemen’s Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed.

The presence of Yemen’s top government representative was significant. Four years of intense conflict have left tens of thousands of people dead or injured. 24 million people (80 per cent of the population) – need assistance and around 3.3 million remain displaced in cities and towns that have been badly destroyed.

The government faces a daunting task of not only providing the basics to its people facing a humanitarian crisis but also rebuilding the country’s infrastructure almost from scratch.

Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed has the credentials to navigate some of the country’s numerous challenges. He is an academic with a PhD in architecture and was previously Minister of Public Works and is looking at ways of resolving the economic, political, humanitarian and infrastructural problems.

He sat down with UN-Habitat’s Head of Communication, Susannah Price, on the sidelines of the UN-Habitat Assembly to discuss the urban crisis caused by conflict in the country.

“We have cities that have been destroyed by the war and now in even the small cities we’re seeing more displaced people coming in. … One city had 70,000 inhabitants two years ago – now there’s a population of one million. There are no basic services or investments. It’s very hard for the government to deal with the situation and provide the basics,” he said.

The Prime Minister added that the war had led to the collapse of basic structures. He termed a lack of jobs or other ways of making money for Yemenis as a “big human catastrophe”.

But there was also optimism as he spoke to the UN-agency focused on urbanization –UN-Habitat. He said the Agency could engage Yemen’s local and national governments to come up with concrete development strategies, partner with local communities and focus on educating people in all institutions.

“Innovation is particularly important and can bridge the gap left by the war. We’ve lost many opportunities, we face many challenges in the energy, communication and financial sectors but those challenges also give us opportunities. We need smart solutions to make our cities more secure and then we can design them better.”