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Summary of Day 2 – International Conference on Urban Health, Nairobi

Day two round up – http://www.icuh2009.org

Mayors and local government leaders met on day two of the conference at the urban champions forum looking at the best practices within cities that can make a difference in urban health.

Four council leaders from different countries in Africa have expressed their satisfaction that despite various challenges, there is evidence of development as far as housing and primary healthcare for slum dwellers is concerned.

During a group discussion at the 8th International Conference on Urban Health in Nairobi, council leaders from the City of Johannesburg in South Africa, the City of Banjul in Gambia, City of Windhoek in Namibia, and the City of Abuja in Nigeria articulated some development aspects in their various towns, despite the myriad challenges.

“We are in the process of formalising all our towns in South Africa,” said Bengeza Mthombeni, a Member of the Mayoral Committee, responsible for health in Johannesburg said.

“By this, I mean that we are in the process of eradicating all the informal settlements in South Africa, in a project projected to be through by the year 2014,” he said.

Mthombeni has responsibilities to ensure that a world class primary health services are delivered all over Johannesburg, and overseeing a service which has won a number of prizes in the health sector.

He said that South Africa has ensured that all the slum dwellers have access to primary healthcare free of charge, and that there are mobile clinics provided by the government specifically to serve informal settlements.

“We are in the process of numbering all the streets within all the informal settlements. This will make it easy for one to describe where he or she is when calling for services such as ambulance in case of emergency, fire brigade among others,” said Mthombeni.

In Gambia, His Worship Mayor Samba Faal of the Banjul City said that the government has taken charge of the city, and is buying idle properties left in dilapidated conditions by the city residents, to manage them, and return to the rightful owners when they need them.

“Our economy is dependent on tourism, which includes travelling out and into the country, due to our country’s proximity to the western countries. Several residents find it easy to travel abroad and live there for several years, leaving their properties at home without proper management,” said Mayor Faal.

He added, “The government is now managing the sewage system and solid waste disposal, in a project aimed at reducing diseases that would arise from such.”

So far, the Gambian president Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh has made a commitment to fix the city drainage system that has been ineffective for several years.

However, the most impressive step to development can be witnessed in the City of Windhoek in Namibia. This is one of the rarest places in Africa where the government has developed a water banking system.

“We save up to 90 per cent of all the rain water. And after it is treated, it becomes very handy for the city dwellers as they pump it up for domestic and industrial use,” said His Warship Mayor Matheus Shikongo of the Windhoek City.

He added, “Waste management is excellent. From the airport, to the doorsteps even within the informal settlements, you cannot see a piece of paper.”

He disclosed that the country leadership has made city dwellers believe that the country belongs to them. “We do not force anybody to conserve the environment. Everyone understands that it is their responsibility to do so,” he said.

And according to Bernard Mbogoh, a Public Health Officer in the ministry of Public Health and Sanitation in Kenya, the country has implemented several projects to better housing and ensure availability of primary healthcare especially for the low income earners.

“The government provides funding to every constituency, known as the Constituency Development Fund (CDF). Through this, communities identify projects of their priority, of which they are later funded to implement,” said Mbogoh.

Through CDF, communities especially within informal settlement areas have been able to put up health centres, school laboratories, toilets among several other projects that they feel are positive for them.

“We also have an initiative to clean the Nairobi River, which has been in a sorrow state for decades. And this is definitely a positive step towards the city development,” Added Mbogoh.

So far, the government of Kenya is in the process of constructing decent houses for slum dwellers, in an effort to formalise the city.

However, all the council leaders identified a few challenges which are common in nearly all the African countries. They included rural urban migration, leading to the upsurge in population pressure within urban areas, provision of affordable primary healthcare to the poor, waste management, decent housing among others.

Delegates will take a break on day two 20th October which is Kenyatta Day and resume on Wednesday 21st with the scientific part of the conference.

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