It is my great pleasure to join you today during this inaugural Session of the UN-Habitat Assembly, which comes barely two months after the Fourth Session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), also held here at the United Nations Office in Nairobi.
Allow me, at the outset, to take this opportunity to welcome you all to Kenya, home to a breathtaking natural beauty and rich wildlife, and to our capital city, Nairobi, the green city in the sun, which hosts the global headquarters for the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the UN-Habitat.
I note that this Assembly replaces the UN Governing Council following the endorsement of the resolution by the United Nations General Assembly in December, 2018.
The resolution established a new governance structure which upgraded UN-Habitat’s status to a universal body and created a 36-member board, which will be elected during this session. The new structure is intended to transform UN-Habitat’s governance, provide oversight and enhance UN-Habitat’s efficiency and effectiveness in delivering its mandate.
Kenya welcomes this restructuring decision and calls upon the established organs to take up their respective roles in re-engineering the institution and its processes to ensure that it delivers on its core mandate, as the lead agency in urbanization and human settlements.
Let me also take this opportunity to congratulate the Executive Director, Ms Maimunah Mohd Sharif, on her appointment. I wish you well, Ms. Sharif as you lead the revitalization of UN-Habitat and assure you that you can count on Kenya’s support.
The overall theme: ‘Innovation for a Better Quality of Life in Cities and Communities is fitting. In almost all parts of the world, societies are currently ill-prepared to plan effectively for the rapid urbanization that is taking place. As a result, many countries, including Kenya, have seen a proliferation of slums and informal settlements, urbanization of poverty, and increased environmental degradation.
Addressing these challenges calls for collective international action, informed by scientific research and technological innovations. Therefore, the theme “Innovation for better quality of life in Cities and Communities” is, indeed, timely.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am aware that you will be considering and reviewing the strategic plan, activities, work programme and budget and setting policy of UN-Habitat during this first ever Habitat Assembly.
I encourage you to explore strategic ways of transforming our cities and human settlements into engines of economic growth and development in a sustainable manner.
Accelerating the implementation of the New Urban Agenda, as reflected in the Assembly’s sub-theme, is urgent and important.
I am aware progress has been slow, in part because of financial and institutional constraints at UN-Habitat, but also due to member states’ insufficient capacity to interpret, implement, and report on the progress on the urban agenda.
To this end, I wish to call upon the Executive Director, in collaboration with the established subsidiary organs, through the new governance structure, to ensure UN-Habitat’s organizational capacity and resource base is strengthened, to enable it take up its role as a Centre of Excellence, and a global leader in the field of urbanization and human settlements development. This will also enable the UN-Habitat to effectively deliver on the double mandate entrusted to it, as the designated focal point for sustainable urbanization and human settlements.
Ladies and Gentleman,
I wish to call upon all stakeholders to support the work of UN-Habitat. I call upon the UN Secretary-General to consider increasing UN-Habitat’s regular budget allocation. I also urge member states to increase and honour their voluntary contributions to the UN-Habitat human settlements foundation, while at the same time encouraging those in a position to do so, to consider increasing non-earmarked funds to be part of the core budget of UN-Habitat.
In this connection, I wish to assure you that Kenya remains committed to supporting UN-Habitat and its activities. As host to UN-Habitat, Kenya has supported the preparations of this meeting in cash and kind, and we shall continue to provide assistance whenever we are in a position to do so.
With the above measures, I am confident that under the able stewardship of the Executive Director, Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, we shall together attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the New Urban Agenda and elevate this organization to a higher level.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
At this juncture, allow me now to touch on my Government’s efforts to implement the New Urban Agenda and related global urban agendas.
Kenya has outlined four key priorities (The BIG 4 agenda) for implementation over the next five years.
These include raising the share of the manufacturing sector to 15% of GDP; ensuring all citizens enjoy food security and nutrition; achieving universal health coverage and delivering at least 500,000 affordable housing units in major cities around the country by 2022.
In support of the affordable housing agenda, we have facilitated the establishment of a mortgage liquidity facility in Kenya -The Kenya Mortgage Refinance Company (KMRC), which aims to support the development of the primary and secondary mortgage markets by providing secure, long-term funding to mortgage lenders, and increasing the availability and affordability of mortgage loans to Kenyans.
We have also embarked on major infrastructural developments both on major highways and within our major urban areas that have facilitated mobility, improved sanitation, and access to services by our citizens.
In the area of research and technological advancement, Kenya has laid emphasis on Innovation as an accelerator of the quality of life for its citizens through promotion and development of entrepreneurship education in all sectors of the economy.
The Kenya National Innovation Agency (KENIA) was established in 2013 to develop and manage the National Innovation System, and leverage entrepreneurship towards a self-sustaining economy. To this end, the country has a number of business incubation centres that include Nailab, iHub, Strathmore University Business Incubation centre and Kenyatta University’s and Chandaria Incubation and Innovation Centre.
In support of the Paris Agreement on climate change, Kenya is co-leading in the Special Ministerial Roundtable on Infrastructure, Cities, and Local Action (ICLA), together with Turkey and UN-Habitat, with the support of the Governments of Canada, Germany, Mexico, Singapore and the special envoy’s team of the Secretary General’s Climate Summit scheduled for this evening in preparation for the September Summit in New York.
Despite the numerous initiatives we have embarked on, I note that inadequate shelter and unsustainable human settlements remain key challenges. I, therefore, urge member countries and partners to seize the opportunity during this UN-Habitat Assembly to exchange ideas and best practices, with a view to identifying practical solutions for improving our cities and human settlements.
I am confident that our interactions during this Assembly will enhance our capacity to better confront and deal with urban challenges confronting us. I, therefore, encourage you to formulate strategies that will revolutionize our institutions and ensure sustainable urban development and human settlements.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As I conclude my remarks, it is my hope that you will find time to relax and sample our rich natural and cultural diversity and enjoy the renowned hospitality of the Kenyan people.
With these remarks, it is my pleasure to declare the first UN-Habitat Assembly officially open.