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  Home » Focus Areas » Strengthened human settlements finance systems » Statements and Speeches » INTERNATIONAL SEMINAR ON “SUSTAINABLE PUBLIC TRANSPORT FOR AFRICA” Statement by Mrs. Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UN-HABITAT
INTERNATIONAL SEMINAR ON “SUSTAINABLE PUBLIC TRANSPORT FOR AFRICA” Statement by Mrs. Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UN-HABITAT
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Organized by UN-HABITAT and UITP (International Association of Public Transport)

Welcoming session address by

Mrs. Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka

Under-Secretary General and
Executive Director of UN-HABITAT


Distinguished Delegates;
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honoured and privileged to address this welcoming session of this International Seminar on Sustainable Public Transport for Africa. Before starting, I would like to request a one-minute silence in honour of our dear colleague, Brian Williams who passed away almost one month ago. Brian was a highly respected professional and an acknowledged expert in his field of energy and transport. He was also a very loving and caring father.

I minute

Distinguished delegates,

This Seminar is coming at a critical juncture in human history. Half of humanity - or 3 billion people - now live in urban areas. Not only is this demographic shift irreversible, it is accelerating. Our research shows that by 2030, this figure will rise to two-thirds. We thus live at a time of unprecedented and irreversible urbanization. The cities growing fastest are those of the developing world.  And, a situation we are all too familiar with, getting from Point A to Point B in virtually any rapidly growing city is a test of patience and endurance.  Regardless of income or social status, the conditions under which we travel have become more and more difficult and, for some, absolutely intolerable.

The unsustainable patterns of urban transport we deal with everyday are usually perceived as a necessary evil of contemporary urban life.  While improvements in transport technology have enabled us to move more people and goods, the speed of travel in many urban areas has been reduced to levels associated with the horse and carriage. Whether we are in a private car, a bus, a tuk-tuk or a taxi, the time we spend transporting ourselves in cities is getting longer, the costs are getting higher, while the air we breathe gets dirtier.

Many low-income dwellers on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro spend four hours or more a day traveling to and from low-paying jobs, on overcrowded public transport vehicles, for which fares continue to rise. Many upper and middle-income residents in Bangkok and Lagos also spend four or more hours a day stuck in traffic. They might be traveling in vehicles equipped with air-conditioning, telephones, and even portable toilets, but they, too, lose time and productivity. Many of the urban poor of Nairobi, including school children, cannot afford public transport and spend up to four hours a day walking to and from their place of work or school. They risk their health and their lives on a daily basis.

While cities are making major contributions to the economic growth and wealth of developing nations, we are facing a situation where the physical and living environments are rapidly deteriorating. Sooner rather than later, this deterioration will undermine the ability of congested cities and towns to fulfil their role as engines of growth.


While very few cities in developing countries can afford the investment required to meet rising demand for transport infrastructure and services, there is no doubt that they can stretch their investment dollars much further. The issue is the majority of the investment in transport infrastructure caters to the transport needs of a minority, namely the owners of private motor vehicles. Any sustainable urban transport policy must address this fundamental imbalance and inequity. It can only do so by severely limiting the use of the private motorcar.

That this statement remains a provocative one, or is still open to debate, is a big part of the problem. We simply can no longer hide our heads in the sand. If China or India alone were to have the motorization rate of North America, they would have to pave over 60% of their arable land and end up consuming most of the planet’s petroleum. Clearly, alternative modes and paradigms must be found. These alternatives must be supported and enhanced by government policy. In a developed country context, finding such alternatives is imperative for future economic development, productivity and quality-of-life. In a developing country context, it is a matter of economic survival. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Many travel modes such as public transport and para-transport are actually quite sustainable. They are more efficient users of space; more efficient users of fuel; and are more affordable. And yet, what we are witnessing today is a reduction in the diversity of transport options. Government policies almost everywhere are forcing the movement of people and goods to conform to a few high-cost and fossil-fuel-dependent modes rather than encouraging a wider array of appropriate and affordable means of mobility.
As we all know, the health and resilience of any eco-system depends on its bio-diversity. The same applies to any transportation system - its efficiency and reliability depends on the multiplicity of options that are available. A transportation system dependent on a limited choice of transport modes is far more susceptible to inefficiency, disruption, and system failure. What is needed is an urban space in which different modes are allowed to operate, catering to different needs and wallets, within a competitive market environment, regulated to ensure safety and a fair allocation of public road space.

In many developing countries, annual increases in rates of motorization have approached 10 per cent. This represents a rate substantially higher than those historically found in North America or Western Europe. And yet, still only 10 to 20% or urban residents in most developing country cities actually own and operate a private automobile. Even so, we have already reached intolerable levels of congestion and air pollution. The writing is clearly on the wall. Unless governments and local authorities alike invest in public transport infrastructure, many cities in the developing world are headed for long-term and protracted social, economic and environmental crisis. The sheer inequity of existing transportation systems is not just about affordable transport. It is about access to housing, goods and services. More and more people, especially the poor, are being forced to move farther and farther out of central cities. This not only increases the cost and demand for travel, it also fosters less equitable access to services including health, education and recreation.


The problem of transportation in large urban centres of developing countries has long been recognized and much investment has been made to find solutions. Yet urban transport problems not only persist, they are getting worse.

UN-HABITAT, as the agency responsible for housing and urban development, promotes urban transport as an integral part of the global sustainable development debate. Our research focuses on the social, economic and environmental dimensions of urbanisation. Our advocacy focuses on the sharing and exchange of lessons learned from good practices with our partners.  And our World Urban Campaign is uniquely focused on promoting more sustainable forms of urban development. Needless to say, urban transport and mobility is a key pillar in all of these endeavours. 

Just like in the field of health where prevention is more effective than cure, we strongly believe in transport demand management. The policies we recommend to reduce demand for transport are centred on better integration of land-use planning with transport infrastructure. Denser, more compact cities and complete communities shorten trip distances, make certain forms of transport more economically viable, and reduce the amount of travel by co-locating work, school and employment facilities. They make walking feasible and desirable. They also make our communities safer, more secure and more liveable. It is this holistic approach and integrated perspective for sustainable urban development that lies at the core of our mission and vision.

But we cannot achieve much alone. For this reason I am very pleased about the collaboration between UN-Habitat and UITP, aiming to combining our efforts in research, policy advocacy, capacity building and pre-investment technical assistance to improve the sustainability of our cities. In addition, I am glad to announce that UN-Habitat has recently received from the UNEP/Global Environment Facility (GEF) funds to kick-start an Urban Transport initiative in Nairobi, Kampala and Addis Ababa.

Distinguished delegates,

I would now like to address myself to those present working in the private sector. The vast majority of private sector concerns are located in cities. This trend can only accelerate in a globalising world economy. Indeed, the world’s next greatest market for urban transport goods and services will be in the cities of the developing world.  Therefore, private business has a long-term stake in sustainable urban development. Indeed, public transport operators and authorities are among the world’s largest urban advocates. Moving people to and around cities increases their business. We need the management expertise of transport companies and operators to improve municipal planning and management in general. Public transport operators should also be a major advocacy and lobbying group for improved urban infrastructure investments. The transport business is not just about moving people and goods. It is about making our cities more liveable, more socially inclusive, and more sustainable. In the end, efficient transport is good for the city and what is good for the city is good for business.


Urbanization brings about irreversible changes in our production and consumption patterns. We change the way we use land, water and energy, and we generate more waste. How we plan, manage, operate and consume energy in our cities is, and will increasingly be, the key determinant to global warming. We are only half urban as of today, yet 75% of global energy consumption occurs in cities and 60% of greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to urban consumption and production patterns. Roughly half of these emissions come from domestic and industrial use. The other half comes from burning fossil fuels for urban transport. While much of the media has been focusing on reducing domestic energy consumption and cleaner production, little attention is being accorded to the fact that urban transport is the planet’s fastest growing source of green house gas emissions.

The challenge before us is clear: 95% of urban growth is occurring in developing countries. The majority of these urban dwellers still have little or no access to motorized transport. But the demand is already there. We have only two choices. We can adopt an attitude of business as usual and promote the same solutions and perpetuate the same mistakes. The social, economic and environmental costs, I believe, will be very high indeed. Or we can harness our collective creativity and our science and technology to make a difference. I would like to believe that human intelligence will prevail and that we will pursue the latter.

It has been a distinct honor and pleasure for me to join you today at this welcoming session and I pledge my organization’s full support to promote public transport.

Thank you for your kind attention.

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