Resilient cities are crucial for a sustainable future

Elena Panova and Rania Hedeya, Tuesday 19 Jul 2022

Egypt, the host of two major UN conferences, the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP27) and the 12th session of the World Urban Forum (WUF12), leads the way towards achieving the promise of an inclusive, greener, safer, and healthier planet for future generations, write Elena Panova and Rania Hedeya



 few days ago, the international community gathered in the city of Katowice, Poland, at the premierglobal conference on sustainable urbanisation, the 11th World Urban Forum (WUF11), organised by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). Egypt, through its high-level delegation led by Minister of Housing, Utilities, and Urban Communities Assem El-Gazzar and Minister of Local Development Mahmoud Shaarawi, actively participated in the forum and its side events, where Egypt engaged and led discussions on important urban topics, such as housing, urban upgrading, regional planning, SDGs localisation, and climate resilience.

During the conference, UN-Habitat launched its flagship report on sustainable development on 29 June, with a warning that rapid urbanisation was only temporarily delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the “World Cities Report 2022 — Envisaging the Future of Cities”, the global urban population was back on track and is set to jump from 56 per cent last year to nearly 70 per cent by mid-century, representing a further 2.2 billion people, mainly in Africa and the Middle East. The Arab region alone, one of the most urbanising regions in the world, is expected to host 487 million people by 2030, of which 63 per centß live in cities and their margins.

The report and the urban forum’s deliberations sounded the same alarm: a bleak future is ahead if we do not urgently act to make cities safer, resilient, and more inclusive (SDG 11), including through an effective response to climate change, which is having a devastating impact on cities, leaving people and places behind.

Two years from now, in 2024, Cairo will be the host WUF12, which is expected to emphasise the intersection between urbanisation and other transboundary societal, infrastructural, and environmental issues at the centre of climate change mitigation and adaption efforts. The country host agreement for WUF12 was signed on 30 June during the closing ceremony of WUF11.

WUF12 will be a milestone event taking stock of what has been achieved so far in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals at all levels. Appropriately, WUF12 will be a standpoint for the international community, a point at which to draw lessons from efforts at building back better under the emergent post-pandemic conditions, as well as to prospect the way forward “towards a more just, green and healthy future.” It will also be a great opportunity to present the remarkable Egyptian initiatives on sustainable urbanisation, which UN-Habitat is very proud to engage with the government on.

Hosting such a mega event is undoubtedly an international recognition of Egypt’s ability to lead the way towards achieving the promise of an inclusive, greener, safer, and healthier cities for future generations.

Egypt is one of the first countries that acknowledged the challenges facing its cities and demonstrated its commitment to sustainable urban development. It was one of the first countries to adopt the New Urban Agenda (NUA), which was agreed upon in 2016 during the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III), and subsequently one of the earliest countries to submit national progress reports on the implementation of the agenda.

In line with the NUA, Egypt has set national urban visions and strategies to face the challenges of rapid urbanisation. The Egypt Vision SDS 2030 and the National Strategic Urban Plan for 2052 respond to Egypt’s essential need to integrate all sectorial, policies, plans, and legislation in both urban and rural areas under one comprehensive development scheme.

Egypt’s urbanisation story has evolved to be an inspiring one of how a developing country can take a pro-active role in urbanisation, utilise its limited resources, while pushing for sustainability.

Egypt has been strategic in building new cities to accommodate for our population growth and to create economic opportunities, while also upgrading, developing, and preserving its existing cities.

Over the past few years, Cairo has undergone a wave of state-led, demand-driven projects of informal settlements upgrading, establishing new communities, rehabilitation of heritage areas, large public transit projects, infrastructure megaprojects, and social welfare programmes, all of which being guided by Egypt’s Vision 2030, which is ultimately driven by the Sustainable Development Goals.

Moreover, Egypt launched the presidential initiative Haya Karima (Decent life), the largest national development project of its kind, as it aims to bring about sustainable and positive change in the lives of 58 million Egyptians through the comprehensive development of more than 4,500 villages.

The United Nations family in Egypt is proud of accompanying Egypt’s efforts and achievements, through UN-Habitat, its lead agency on sustainable cities and communities and sustainable urbanisation, in advancing sustainable urbanisation as a driver of development and peace to improve living conditions for all, working for an inclusive and prosperous urban future.

UN-Habitat has been supporting sustainable urbanisation in Egypt since 2008. During this period, the programme was able to position itself as the centre of excellence for sustainable urbanisation, guiding urbanisation policy formulation, legislation, governance, urban tools and practices, and leading regular platforms for dialogues on urban development.

Furthermore, UN-Habitat Egypt is supporting the Egyptian government towards a more effective implementation of the New Urban Agenda (NUA), by linking urbanisation to development to capture the positive values and wealth created by the urbanisation process through better national and local urban management and governance practices that are tailored to local contexts, and through improving urban basic services and climate change adaptation.

UN-Habitat has also been playing a very effective role in offering national and international platforms for dialogue on sustainable urban development. During the preparation for the World Cities Day that was hosted in Luxor last October, the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office and UN-Habitat brought together several UN-agencies (UNDP, WHO, WFP, and UNFPA) and delivered as “One UN”. And as “One UN”, we were able to effectively contribute to substantive dialogues on strategic topics such as: the National Programme for the Development of Egyptian Villages (Haya Karima) and Youth Dialogue on Healthy Cities and Climate Resilience.

Within the UN country team in Egypt, UN-Habitat led on the diagnostic paper on urban development in Egypt, providing a thorough analysis on the challenges and opportunities facing the urban context in Egypt, and more importantly, providing a very good analysis on the priority areas for interventions for the UN Development System in the country to enable a good support to sustainable urban development in Egypt. Based on this analysis, Urban Development has a standalone output under the “planet” pillar of the upcoming UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (2023-2026). This output focuses on “sustainable, balanced, and climate resilient urban development, including efficient land use planning, infrastructure and utilities planning, balanced spatial development, sustainable growth and regeneration of productive urban-rural systems”. Furthermore, UN-Habitat is also contributing to the “people” pillar of the Cooperation Framework through its support on equitable access to basic services, focusing on housing, urban mobility and transportation, water, sanitation, and public spaces.

Few months from now, the city of Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, will take center stage to unite the world and mobilize action to tackle climate change, by hosting this year’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP27). UN-Habitat is the lead agency supporting the government of Egypt in planning for its prospective global initiative on Sustainable Cities planned to be launched in COP27 and providing advice accordingly. This will include preparatory activities, including knowledge sharing and capacity building, as well as facilitating access to relevant global initiatives and networks of local governments.

During COP27, Egypt will take forward the discussions of the role of cities, regions and local governments to act towards achieving climate resilience.  

The momentum that we have witnessed during WUF11 will continue in Sharm El-Sheikh this year and will follow in Cairo in 2024.

As Egypt will be leading the way to mobilise commitment for action, the UN family in Egypt stands ready as ever to accompany its efforts for a better, safer, and healthier future, not only for its people, but for the world’s future generations.


Elena Panova is UN Resident Coordinator in Egypt, and Rania Hedeya is UN-Habitat Country Programme Manager in Egypt.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 July, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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