On the occasion of the celebration of the United day in 24 October the UN conducted a series of interviews exclusively for Ahram Online.
The UN day marks the anniversary of the entry of the UN chart into force in 1945. With the ratification of this founding document by the majority of its signatories, including the five permanent members of the security Council, the United Nations officially came into being.
The eighth interview in the series is with Ranya Hedeya , Country director UN-Habitat, Egypt.
UN-Habitat is the United Nations programme working towards a better urban future. Its mission is to promote socially and environmentally sustainable human settlements development and the achievement of adequate shelter for all.
Mandated by the UN General Assembly in 1978 to address the issues of urban growth, it is a knowledgeable institution on urban development processes, and understands the aspirations of cities and their residents.
How is UN-Habitat supporting the Government of Egypt and its people? What are the key areas you focus on?
For over 10 years, UN-Habitat in Egypt has been able to build strong partnerships with the government, civil society, donors, and various stakeholders, while pushing forward its vision of piloting new planning approaches and technologies that can support a more sustainable urbanization process.
The UN-Habitat Egypt Office is dedicated to working on 3 main programmes, which are summarized in the following: urban policies, governance and legislation; inclusive urban planning and design; and urban basic services, which also includes urban mobility.
What are the Sustainable Development Goals that you focus on in Egypt? And how do you align with the Government in achieving its national goals?
As the world becomes increasingly urbanized, many countries face growing numbers of slum dwellers, worsening air quality and insufficient basic urban services and infrastructure. To address these challenges, two principal international frameworks exist to support this urbanization process.
The first framework, the New Urban Agenda (NUA), seeks to harness the potential of urbanization as a force for development. The second international framework, SDG 11, which is the fundamental goal focusing on urban development within the SDGs, sets to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”
The interlinkages between the NUA and the SDGs are extensive. All the SDGs come together in urban areas; issues such as climate change, housing financing, gender equality and migration are inextricably linked to cities. Using urban areas as a framework, these combined pursuits have the power to advance various development goals, such as SDGs 1, 2, 5, 8, 9 and 17.
It is to be noted that the visions of the government are well aligned with these international frameworks, relevant to the urban sector. The Egyptian 2014 constitution acknowledges the right to adequate housing, improved Quality of Life, slum upgrading and urban equity. Vision 2030 (SDS) refers to creating a modern, open, democratic, productive and happy society. Egypt’s Strategic Plan for Urban Development 2052 focuses on balanced population distribution, optimum utilization of geographical location & resources, and environmental risks.
In this regard, our programmes at UN-Habitat, mentioned before, work to support this great alignment of visions and strategies by working on: supporting the government at the policy level to develop policies and strategies that govern the urban sector, ensuring a sustainable urbanization process; supporting the government to improve local and central governance systems to ensure proper urban management; planning, management and design of new and existing cities; and improving urban services, through 3 components: housing & slum upgrading, water services, and mobility and accessibility.
Looking back, what do you consider as key achievements that you were able to achieve?
At the policy and legal frameworks level, we supported the redrafting of the local administration law, and also Law No. 119/2008, where we reviewed the law, creating integration between spatial and socioeconomic planning tools, and enhancing the ecosystem for local administration empowerment; which has been submitted to the parliament for approval.
Concerning basic urban services, clean drinking water has been provided to more than 180,000 beneficiaries in Minya governorate through advanced technology with a cost of construction and operation not exceeding 5% of the traditional cost. Furthermore, based on the success and efficiency of the introduced technology, Menya governorate mapped all water needs and decided to scale up and implemented 46 RBF units, to meet the local needs of more than 800,000 inhabitants. And now, other governorates are following suit.
Moreover, UN-Habitat supported the government in publishing the Egypt housing profile, giving an overview of the housing sector in Egypt. Following the analysis provided in the housing profile, we supported the Ministry of Housing to also draft the National Housing Strategy, which is currently being prepared to be launched. This strategy is a milestone since it positions Egypt as one of the leading countries responding to the Global Housing Strategy, which relies on the principle of inclusive cities achieved by mainstreaming human rights in urban development.
In the urban mobility aspect, we Introduced, for the first time in Egypt, the methodology for planning for mobility in new cities, based on the paradigm shift of planning for people, accessibility and connectivity. Currently, 2 Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridors are being designed to connect new urban communities to Cairo and Giza governorates, to create an integrated transportation system. The major success here is that these designs are based on people-oriented demand-based surveys and studies, instead of car-oriented ad-hoc planning.
As for field of strategic planning, the program has also cooperated with the Egyptian government in addressing the challenges resulting from the unplanned growth in developing the planning methodology of Greater Cairo Region (Metropolis) to identify priority projects.
Finally, in same field of strategic & urban planning and in the context of the project of preparing strategic plans for small cities (no more than 60,000 inhabitants), the program, in cooperation with the Ministry of Housing represented by the General Organization for Physical Planning, adopted 56 strategic urban plans out of 70 with holding almost 200 public hearing sessions with various stakeholders.
What are key messages you would like to send to the Egyptian people?
I want people to not get disheartened by the rapid urbanization process and understand that it can be a strong economic driver. Cities when managed well in an inclusive and engaging manner will not only ensure the wellbeing of their citizens but will also be an investment for all parties concerned.
The future needs are clear. Cities need to become more energy efficient and strike a balance between three fundamental principles: quality of life, economic competitiveness, and environmental protection.
The only way to move forward is through open dialogue, communal efforts and solid milestones and strategies aimed at achieving them.
Human-beings are the core of our focus, so when we plan, we plan for people and their quality of life.