Rabat — HM King Mohammed VI sent a message to the participants in the 2nd Ministerial Forum on Housing and Urban Development which opened on Thursday in Rabat.
Here follows the full text of the message read out by HM the King's advisor Abdellatif Menouni:
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted that Rabat is hosting, under my patronage, this Second Ministerial Forum on Housing and Urban Development. I should like to extend a warm welcome to the eminent figures participating in this conference and to wish them a pleasant stay in Morocco, their home away from home.
I congratulate you on convening this important Forum, which serves as a platform to discuss new Arab approaches to issues relating to housing and sustainable development, to exchange successful experiences and best practices in this field and to give substance to joint action with a view to achieving balanced, sustainable development and improving the living conditions of Arab peoples.
Your choice of theme, "the implementation of the new urban development plan in the Arab region", confirms our collective commitment to carry out the urban agendas adopted by the international community during the Habitat III Conference, held in Ecuador last October, and to support the 2030 Agenda so as to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 11: make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
I hope your Forum will provide a suitable opportunity for the Arab region to exchange views on ways and means to promote urbanization as a key element for the achievement of sustainable development, and to rise to current and future challenges in order to implement the Arab housing strategy and find effective solutions to the issues cities are faced with.
This means we need to take measures to prepare our cities for the future and provide for adequate housing as well as better living conditions for all in Arab countries, taking into account the economic, social, environmental and crisis management dimensions.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As you know, 54 per cent of the world population lives in urban areas. This upward trend is expected to continue into the future. By 2045, the number of people living in urban areas will be multiplied by 1.5, reaching a total of 6 billion people.
Urban sprawl will therefore be one of the most significant economic and social changes faced by the Arab region in the coming decades. It will undoubtedly contribute to sustainable development if it is properly managed and if we achieve increased productivity, build on the spirit of innovation and adopt pioneering ideas and experiences.
It should be pointed out that urban sprawl which is not based on prior planning leads to many challenges and causes considerable problems in terms of urban management. It compounds transportation problems, increases infrastructure costs, implies encroachment on rural areas, intensifies the pressure on public services, depletes natural resources and leads to environmental degradation.
One of the most salient features of urban sprawl is population growth which, in turn, leads to ever growing urban areas because of the horizontal and vertical development that is required to meet the basic needs of inhabitants in terms of housing, roads and various other services.
Horizontal urban sprawl often bites into land reserves, using up fertile, high-yield farming areas. This creates a concrete jungle - which is growing by the day - not to mention higher urban management costs and inefficient public services.
Such profound changes in urban life will contribute to social and spatial imbalances inside cities, particularly large ones. This phenomenon leads to the emergence of marginal areas lacking basic services and infrastructure and this, in turn, jeopardizes social cohesion and urban integration.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Realizing the complexity of the situation and the perils involved, I have repeatedly called on the authorities concerned to pay close attention to urban development and to seriously address the basic issues relating to urban organization in general - and not just from a narrow perspective concerned merely with housing issues.
Like other urban centers in the world, Moroccan cities are growing fast. They are also witnessing a significant increase in the number of inhabitants, with a rate of rural depopulation standing at 65 per cent.
Aware of the magnitude of the challenges involved, Morocco has adhered to all relevant international conventions, to new urban development agendas and to global mechanisms for urban development. It seeks to implement them by including them in its national development strategies.
In 2004, I launched the national program Cities without slums, which is aimed at eradicating all sorts of sub-standard housing in 85 cities and towns. This ambitious national program is based on making housing the gateway to social cohesion and to economic dynamism. So far, thanks to this program, 58 cities and towns have been declared slum-free.
The right to housing is stipulated in the 2011 Constitution of the Kingdom of Morocco, together with the right to water, a healthy environment, healthcare and social security. Many accomplishments have been made in this regard thanks to political will and an approach based on the promotion of rights and of urban integration.
Morocco has also been actively involved in a sustainable, comprehensive urban development policy through the consolidation of human resource development programs as well as social and spatial cohesion. Using a proactive, exploratory approach we have developed a national urban plan and have sought to implement the urban policy adopted in 2012.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Other Arab cities are confronted with similar challenges. Efficient cooperation mechanisms therefore need to be developed as a real practical tool for Arab solidarity - one which is based on the exchange of experiences and best practices as well as capacity-building.
In this regard, I call for the development of a common vision for a full-fledged urban development system based on exploratory action and rational use of the areas and resources available. Such a system should help make the urban network balanced again, increase its ability to adapt to different economic, social, environmental, political and technological changes and reduce the gap between urban areas, marginalized neighborhoods and rural areas.
Concurrently, we need to lay the groundwork for an urban policy which respects local identities and particularities while seeking to develop innovative approaches to create coherent spaces that are more productive, better integrated, more sustainable and able to face up to challenges.
I also invite you to consider new, creative mechanisms for a new urban development system that would enable our citizens to enjoy good living conditions, including adequate housing which makes it possible to lead a dignified life, a clean environment which allows for economic development and smart urban planning that ultimately serves the citizen.
This requires thorough institutional reforms whereby regions, decentralized authorities and national initiatives would be given extensive powers. Through these reforms, those in charge of public policies should also be in a better position to answer citizens' needs and fulfil their aspirations.
Special efforts should also be made to ensure that public policies are, to a large extent, consistent, coherent and integrated in order to avoid government efforts being wasted.
I should like to point out, in this regard, that to be sustainable, our urban centers require a pooling of energies and competences in order to tackle the consequences of climate change and improve the management of natural disasters, in addition to addressing issues relating to sustainable planning and urban governance.
I am convinced this current session of your Forum will provide a suitable opportunity to consider clear strategies and precise, well thought-out plans and programs.
I invite you to strive doubly hard in order to consolidate cooperation and promote the exchange of know-how and experiences between Arab countries. Although each one of our nations has its own local cultural characteristics, they nonetheless have the same concerns, face similar challenges, share the same cultural and historical heritage and have their eyes set on the future.
Before concluding, I wish to stress that we cannot develop our cities without attaching special importance to their inhabitants and without making sure those cities are conducive to integration and citizen participation. We also look forward to seeing green cities - cities that foster a spirit of creativity, civilized conduct, tolerance and cooperation.
May Almighty God grant you every success.