Nairobi, 21 June 2016—Is the rapid urbanisation currently being witnessed a good or bad thing for Africa? This was the topic of an international exchange recently held in Nairobi between UN-Habitat experts and two leading researchers from the Korea Institute of International Economic Policy (KIIEP).

Two senior KIIEP researchers, Jaewan Cheong and Hokyoung Bang engaged the UN-Habitat senior staff in the lively debate, which was part of their visit which was to conduct research on urban development and management in Africa with a specific view to knowing the agency’s stand on the continent’s urban development.

Opening the debate, Lucia Kiwala informed the visitors that UN-Habitat was working with governments all over the world in matters relating to housing. “We are doing a lot in Africa and are working with very many partners all over the continent. We would be glad if KIIEP would come on board,” she said.

On his part Robert Ndugwa said that UN-Habitat’s Global Urban Observatory maintains a very huge database for monitoring global urbanisation trends. “Africa is the fastest urbanizing continent in the world and because it is least urbanized it means there is more room for growth,” he said explaining that the discrepancies witnessed in urbanisation rates between the northern and Sub Saharan Africa were due to historical reasons.

Marco Kamiya said that on infrastructure development, UN-Habitat worked more with the African Development Bank and the World Bank while Daniel Adom explained the dire situation of water supply in many African cities. “There is a tendency by the regulations that end up seeing little or no water supplied to slum areas,” he said.

According to Adom, there was a lacking of goodwill in providing basic sanitation in many African cities. “We need a lot of advocacy efforts to show that sanitation must be addressed by African governments,” he said. Pireh Otieno talked of the water and sanitation initiative executed by UN-Habitat targeting five East African countries and funded by AfDB and the East African Community.

Bhattacharjee Debasish informed the meeting that Africa had the highest number of accidents. “By and large public transport is chaotic and in private hands,” he said adding that the agency was looking into ways of developing safer and cheaper transport in some African cities.

Only 40 percent of Sub Saharan Africa has access to energy and the total energy available in 38 African countries is equivalent to what Spain has, Victor Kitio said. Without nuclear energy or coal, Africa was at a disadvantage to get enough energy to meet its requirements, he added.

On her part Laura Petrella advocated for better planning in cities. She called for integration of infrastructure.

Doudou Mbye was categorical that urbanisation was a good thing for the African continent. Giving a detailed account of the stages South Korea went through in its development, Mbye added that Africa had a lot to learn from the South East Asian nation.

Thomas Chiramba was of the opinion that the greatest need was to help the continent plan its urbanisation better.

Dr. Cheong said that his country had made great progess in the last 50 years. “We also made many mistakes along the way but we rectified them and now we are far ahead,” he said.