The Alliance’s vision of decentralized cooperation and of networking cities to work together focuses on the three interdependent pillars of sustainable development – the economic, social and the environmental – with an emphasis on the urban context. The vision underscores the importance of addressing each of these priority pillars through collective action and shared responsibility among local governments, civil society, the private sector, donors and other relevant actors. WACAP’s strategy to implement its vision is based upon its ability to act as a viable conduit and facilitator for cities to connect and network with one another in order to identify proven solutions for urban development challenges, to apply and adapt these solutions in different local contexts, and to advocate for innovative financing opportunities – such as those available through triangular cooperation and creative public private partnerships.
In keeping with its vision, WACAP has worked to broaden its focus and mission to better respond to the evolving needs of cities as they seek to improve their habitats and meet the growing aspirations of their citizens to lead more secure and productive lives. Reflecting on the needs and requests of member-cities, WACAP has expanded its initial areas of focus from primarily governance and urban management to include other focus areas that top the agendas of local officials – including urban poverty reduction and social inclusion, the promotion of sustainable livelihoods, and making cities safer, smarter and more secure for women and girls.
More than half of humanity, some 3.9 billion people, now live in cities, and this figure is expected to grow to two-thirds of the earth’s population by 2050. The dramatic growth and migration to urban areas promises to bring big challenges to municipalities that are already struggling to provide adequate housing, transportation, employment, energy and social services for their inhabitants. The demographic shift is expected to be especially dramatic for cities in Africa and Asia, where 90 percent of the growth is projected to occur. Creating inclusive urban environments that embrace sound, sustainable principals for managing this growth and providing for their inhabitants is a major priority of the post-2015 development agenda, and will go a long way to determining whether cities succeed in building livable habitats that can meet the basic needs of their populations.
In 2014, nearly half of the urban population lived in smaller settlements with populations of under 500,000, where the lack of adequate infrastructure and basic social services can often readily be seen. The Earth is now home to 28 mega-cities with populations of 10 million or more, according to the UN Population Division. This number is expected to swell to 41 by 2030.
While this demographic shift can pose a massive challenge for local authorities and governments, with appropriate planning, policies and preparation cities can become poised to offer important social, economic and political opportunities for people to reach their full potential – but only if the vision and goals of inclusiveness, poverty reduction, social justice and improvements in basic services and infrastructure are pursued. Without proper planning and access to adequate resources to fund sustainable development programs and urban renewal, cities risk quickly becoming overwhelmed by rapid and unplanned urbanization, further undermining inadequate infrastructure and under-funded social services, and threatening to deepen poverty, environmental degradation and political and human insecurity.
Confronting the Challenge Collectively
Local authorities – often in partnership with organizations such as UNDP, UN Women, United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), and the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat) are pushing back against the tide of urban poverty. UN Habitat estimates that between 2000 and 2010, a total of 227 million people in the developing world had moved out of slum conditions, thereby collectively exceeded the slum target of MDG 7 by more than 2.2 times – compared to the goal of 100 million – and 10 years ahead of the target year 2020.
Working together has also succeeded in bringing poverty numbers down. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has noted that the number of impoverished people is declining across the world, and the World Bank has announced that the global target of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty was met in 2010. A joint report by UNICEF and the World Health Organization stated that more than 2 billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources, such as piped supplies and protected wells, between 1990 and 2010, achieving that Millennium Development Goal well ahead of schedule.
Despite these important advances challenges remain, including massive disparities in social development between and within regions and countries. Pockets of poverty persist even in the most advanced economies, and in the richest cities. Local governments worldwide are focused on finding ways to reduce urban poverty, promote greater inclusiveness, expand opportunities and build more livable cities – all in a sustainable way that does not compromise the choices and opportunities of future generations.
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