The Arab region is one of the most urbanized regions in the world. 56% of its 357 million people live in cities and the number is increasing. Demographic processes made the population quadruple in the past 40 years, and rural-urban migration as well as refugee flows caused by conflicts and natural disasters brought even more people to the cities, seeking a better quality of life, stability and safety. This trend is ongoing and thus urbanization will continue to be one of the most significant sources of economic and social transformation in the upcoming decades. Cities have long been hubs of growth, productivity and invention, and the prosperity of nations is closely linked to them. The world is becoming more and more aware of this connection and the Arab region is no exception. Thus, in December 2015, with the support of UN-Habitat Regional Office for Arab States (ROAS) and under the auspices of the Government of Egypt and the League of Arab States, Arab leaders came together at the First Arab Ministerial Forum for Housing and Urban Development to review how the role of urbanization as a source of development and contributor of peace and stability can be realised through a trans-regional effort. This approach aligns with the recently adopted Sustainable Development Agenda, which aims, through the Goal 11 to “make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. The Arab states have already demonstrated commitment towards realizing this goal not least through setting the League of Arab States Strategy for Housing and Sustainable Urbanisation which was endorsed in December 2015. UN-Habitat will support Arab states in efforts to achieve sustainable urbanisation and the right of adequate housing to all, within the framework of the New Urban Agenda which will be finalized at the 3rd United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) taking place in 2016. Although UN-Habitat strongly believes that urbanization can be a solution rather than a problem, there are many issues that remain to be addressed. These issues are very diverse and range from a lack of coherent urban policies to the rapid expansion of informal settlements to inadequate provision of shelter and basic urban services. UN-Habitat ROAS tackles these issues with a three-pronged approach designed to achieve sustainable urbanisation, comprising of urban legislation and governance, urban planning and design and urban finance. UN-Habitat also emphasizes the importance of human rights, gender, youth and climate change as cross-cutting issues in its work. This is the basis on which UN-Habitat’s seven focus areas and its development tools are built upon and through which we aspire to achieve a better urban future for the people in the Arab region.
Zena Ali Ahmad
Regional Director UN-Habitat Regional Office for Arab States