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How can we help cities provide the building blocks for future growth?

Sameh Wahba's picture
Also available in: Español | Français 

Photo: Ngoc Tran / Shutterstock

Basic infrastructure makes all the difference in the lives of people. Sometimes a road is all it takes…

Access to clean drinking water and sanitation can improve children’s health, reduce waterborne disease, and lower the risk of stunting.

Street lighting can improve the safety of a community, reduce gender-based violence, and add productive hours for shops and economic activities, which can help people escape poverty.

A paved road can lead to a world of possibilities for small business owners, increasing access to additional markets and suppliers, as well as opportunities to grow their businesses.

The urban infrastructure finance gap

Cities already account for approximately 70-80 percent of the world’s economic growth, and this will only increase as cities continue to grow. In the next 35 years, the population in cities is estimated to expand by an additional 2.5 billion people, almost double the population of China. As a vital component for connectivity, public health, social welfare, and economic development, infrastructure in all its forms – basic, social, and economic – is critical for the anticipated urban growth.

Globally, the annual investment required to cover the gap for resilient infrastructure is estimated at $4.5-$5.4 trillion. Cities will need partners to help them provide these building blocks for the future. The public sector cannot address these crucial needs alone, and overall official development assistance barely totals three percent of this amount. Cities should begin looking toward innovative financing options and to the private sector.

Spatially awhere: Bridging the gap between leading and lagging regions

Sameh Wahba's picture


As the world urbanizes rapidly, international experience has shown that economic activities concentrate in a relatively small number of places – it is estimated that only 1.5% of the world’s land is home to about half of global production.

Such economic concentration is a built-in feature of human settlement development and a key driver of growth. However, while some countries have succeeded in spreading economic benefits to most of their citizens, many other countries have not.

Especially outside the economic centers that concentrate production, there are “lagging areas” with persistent disparities in living standards and a lack of access to basic services and economic opportunities.

Today, over two billion people live in such lagging areas. Over one billion people live in underserved slums with many disparities from the rest of the city in terms of access to infrastructure and services, tenure security, and vulnerability to disaster risk. A further one billion people live in underdeveloped areas with few job opportunities and public services.

How can countries address the division between the leading and lagging regions?

As discussed at the Ninth Session of the World Urban Forum (WUF9) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, we at the World Bank Group are taking an integrated territorial approach through a “spatially awhere” lens to tackle the land, social, and economic challenges altogether.

[Download: World Bank publications on urban development]

The localization of the Sustainable Development Goals: Implementing the SDGs in Colombia, Indonesia, and Kenya

Mahmoud Mohieldin's picture
Medellin, Colombia. (Photo: World Bank Group)

We are approaching the end of year two of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In September 2015, global leaders from 193 countries set a 15-year deadline – by the year 2030 – to reach the SDGs, a roadmap to end poverty, promote equality, protect people and the planet, while leaving no one behind.
 
What have countries accomplished in these past two years at the local level – where people receive vital goods and services to live and thrive – in areas such as health, education, water, job training, infrastructure? (The results are mixed) Have we raised enough financing? (Likely not). Do we have adequate data to measure progress? (Not in all countries). Some global development leaders have expressed concern that we may not be on track to reach critical SDGs in areas such as health and poverty.
 
To achieve the SDGs, we have to focus on building capacity of development actors at the local level to finance and deliver services that change the lives of people in their communities. This view is well-supported by a joint United Nations Development Program (UNDP)-World Bank Group (WBG) report, which shows that gaps in local delivery capacity are a major factor in determining the success – or failure – of efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the predecessor of the SDGs.
 
The lynchpin for successful local implementation of the SDGs is SDG 11, which focuses on making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. It is vitally important to manage the process of urbanization to achieve all of the SDGs, not least because the world population is likely to grow by a billion people – to 8.6 billion – by 2030, with most of this growth to be absorbed by urban areas in developing countries.
 
Tackling the challenges facing cities, such as infrastructure gaps, growing poverty, and concentrations of informal housing requires a multi-faceted approach that includes coordinated regional planning with strong rural-urban linkages, effective land use, innovative financing mechanisms, improved and resilient service delivery models, sustained capacity building, and the adoption of appropriate smart and green growth strategies.
 

The WBG is working with our many partners, including countries, the United Nations, the private sector, and civil society to provide more effective, coordinated, and accelerated support to countries for implementing the SDGs at the national and local levels. We have provided below examples from three countries, from diverse regions and situations, which have begun this work in earnest.
 
Following the end of a 50-year conflict in 2016, Colombia has a chance to consolidate peace after the signing of a peace agreement. The National Development Plan of 2014-2018 includes an ambitious reform program focusing on three pillars: peace, equity, and education. Through strong collaboration with all stakeholders – local governments, communities, civil society, businesses, and youth, among others – Colombia is focusing on improving institutional capacity and financing for local and regional governments, enhancing basic services in both rural and urban areas.
 
Medellin city, which in the 1990s had the highest murder rate in the world, has emerged as a confident leader, implementing an integrated and multi-sector approach that has included a combination of violence prevention programs, and the transformation into a prosperous, inclusive, and livable city. Their efforts, with support from the WBG and other partners, have the strong support of local business leaders who recognize that improving poor people’s lives can help reduce the core inequities that fueled conflict in the past. The Government of Colombia is also implementing a program to enhance the capacity at the municipal level in public finance, planning, and management, to help build infrastructure and improve service delivery.

Disasters, funds, and policy: Creatively meeting urgent needs and long-term policy goals

Zuzana Stanton-Geddes's picture

Photo: tro-kilinochchi / Flickr

When it comes to responding to disasters, time is of the essence. Help needs to come immediately to save lives; recovery and reconstruction have to start swiftly to lessen the impact.

However, while money is critical to this response, it’s not just about funding. Indeed, funds need to match the event scale, target the right areas and sectors, and smoothly flow to communities in need. But in order for that to happen, sound public policy on risk and frameworks have to be in place.  

To address both urgent financial needs while pursing strategic disaster risk management policy goals, countries have been using the World Bank’s development policy loan with a catastrophe deferred drawdown option or, more widely known as the Cat DDO.  

How can Kenya achieve a sustainable urban future?

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Cities in Africa are growing at unprecedented speeds. In Kenya, about 12 million of the country’s over 40 million people live in urban areas today. However, a child born in 2017 will see Kenya’s urban population double to 24 million by 2035 and more than triple to 40 million by 2050. A World Bank report titled “Kenya Urbanization Review” projects that by that time, about half of Kenyans will be living in cities, and Kenya’s urban population will be nearly as large as the country’s entire population today. Kenya’s urban transition has begun.
 
Despite many advantages including an ambitious program for devolution, the challenges for a smooth urbanization process remain multifaceted for Kenya:
  • Access to services remains low;
  • Informality of human settlements and jobs predominate; and
  • Poorly functioning land markets make investing in housing and infrastructure expensive and inefficient. 
The Kenya Urbanization Review points to some policy recommendations that can help Kenya ensure the smoothest transition possible during its ongoing urbanization process.

In this video, Senior Director Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez weighs in on Kenya’s urbanization challenges, focusing on urban finance, land and planning institutions, and urban governance, as he discusses the main messages of the Kenya Urbanization Review.

Video: Courtesy of Arimus Media

The “human scale” in public urban areas

Judy Zheng Jia's picture

Slideshow: Reimagining a park, a river, and other public spaces in Seoul (Photos by Judy Zheng Jia / World Bank)

"If you lose the human scale, the city becomes an ugly place," said Joan Clos, Executive Director of the UN-HABITAT at the Habitat III Conference last month. But more than being "ugly," the lack of good public urban spaces, such as open spaces, parks, and public buildings, often contribute to low livability in many of the world's congested and polluted cities. In fact, the importance of the issue received recognition in SDG 11, Target 7, which calls for the provision of “universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green, and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons, and persons with disabilities,” by 2030.
 
Global experience shows that disconnected, underutilized areas in urban settings can, instead, be opened up to a variety of uses to allow for improved social inclusion, social mixing, civic participation, recreation, safety, and a sense of belonging, ultimately contributing to urban prosperity. Well-designed and well-managed public spaces also offer benefits to environmental sustainability, transport efficiency, and public health improvements, and can equally serve women, the disabled, and people of all ages.

The importance of good urban spaces was the topic of an international workshop—“Vitalizing Cities with Public Space”—held in Seoul on November 14-17, 2016 and co-hosted by the Korea Research Institute of Human Settlements and the World Bank’s Urbanscapes Group. Eight cities from around the world—Seoul, Singapore, Buenos Aires, Chongqing, Kakamega, Zanzibar, Astana, and Tashkent—participated to discuss challenges and opportunities for better urban planning and design.

Are you being served? The gap between effective and nominal access to infrastructure services

Sumila Gulyani's picture
 
 Sumila Gulyani / World Bank
Amina and her family in Dakar, Senegal have a metered private water tap in their yard, 
but they don’t use it. (Photo: Sumila Gulyani / World Bank)

Amina and her family had recently moved to their new house on the outskirts of Dakar, Senegal. It was built by the government to relocate families from low-lying and flood-prone neighborhoods in the city. The house was small for her extended family of ten, but it was water that she worried about. I was puzzled. Usually people complain that water connection costs are too high, but she received that connection for free—the meter and tap were right there in her front yard.

Why did she worry?