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Continent must plan now for fastest growing urban populations

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'Land tenure, access to affordable housing finance and cost-effective construction methods and materials were some of the unique African issues that needed solutions'

Africa will have some of the fastest-growing cities in the world over the next 50 years. With this rapid expansion comes many challenges, including urban planning that encompasses affordable housing solutions for the growing number of urban dwellers as well as provisions for sufficient clean water, electricity and sanitation.

Habitat for Humanity recently hosted a leadership conference in South Africa, focusing on discussing housing challenges on the continent and how best to overcome them. Land tenure, access to affordable housing finance and cost-effective construction methods and materials were some of the unique African issues that needed solutions, said Kevin Chetty, Habitat for Humanity International, regional director at Terwilliger Centre for Innovation in Shelter.

Urban planning was another extremely important factor, with investment needed to fund urban infrastructure such as reliable power, clean water, sanitation and transportation, which in turn will boost economic development.

“Many African countries can’t keep up with the huge influx of people into urban areas, making it near-impossible to provide people with adequate housing, let alone infrastructure that can handle the momentous task of providing electricity, running water and sanitation, which should be available to all,” said Chetty. Africa also needed a variety of affordable housing solutions, from housing micro-finance to public schemes, and alternative construction methods and materials, for the growing number of urban dwellers.

Housing is complex, and can’t be seen in a linear way. “A linear approach that looks for a simple cause and effect will most likely lead to a simple solution, and won’t address the totality of challenges that make up this dynamic system that is ever-changing and not static,” said Chetty.

Understanding and recognising the complexity of housing, and moving beyond the traditional approaches to housing as a product was an essential step, delegates found. “A house is an asset, not just for the family living there, but also for the community as whole.

Empowering the community and building them up to be sustainable will create positive systemic change,” said Chetty. In the developed world, housing finance was synonymous with mortgage lending and represented one of the key building blocks of the banking sector. In less-developed countries, however, mortgages were accessed by as little as 1% of the population.

In Africa, the poor have invested the most in their housing and nearly 80% of housing is self-financed. Housing micro-finance is particularly suited to the building and financing needs of the majority of Africa’s population, as homes are built informally with local materials and unskilled labour, said Chetty.


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