Remarks by Dr. Ashok Nigam on MOMRA’s Workshop “Initiative 20: Developing the National Spatial Strategy and Following up Its Implementation”

Feb 1, 2016

Your Excellency Dr. Abdulrahman Al Shaikh, Deputy Minister for Town Planning

Your Excellencies,

Dear Participants,

Al Salam Alekum,

It is my great pleasure, on behalf of the United Nations’ resident and non-resident agencies, including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN-Habitat, to address this important workshop on MOMRA’s “Initiative 20: Developing the National Spatial Strategy and Following up Its Implementation”.

I would like to briefly reflect on two issues: the first is about the national context of urbanization trend and the second about the recently endorsed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how they can help in Saudi Arabia achieving its goals in urbanization.

In the national development context of Saudi Arabia, we notice that the population increased from 7 million in 1974 to 30.7 million in 2014.  Two thirds of the population now live in three regions: Riyadh, Makkah and the Eastern region and around 80% of the overall population is residing in urban areas. This fact would certainly make urban planning and urbanization management an imperative of great significance. This has been recognized by the Government as early as 2001 when it formulated its National Spatial Strategy (NSS).  It is equally fortunate that MOMRA, while updating and preparing the NSS for full implementation, has recognized the urgency for a system-wide coordination involving all sectors of the economy with the objective of realizing synergies and enhancing efficiency.

Indeed huge rates of urbanization pose daunting challenges to development in terms of service provision and infrastructure investments; but urbanization is arguably considered a strong factor of economic growth with respect to economies of scale and other agglomeration benefits ranging from reduced costs of transport to knowledge spillovers. These daunting challenges along with the remarkable opportunities of growth should be well studied and understood to implement any urban plan. As urban planning and urbanization management cover several disciplines that go beyond any single institution, MOMRA’s national role has to be viewed as extremely crucial and greatly central to coordinate and provide leadership towards sustainable urbanization that benefits the people and their environment.

UN Agencies are able to provide technical and substantive assistance to the Government in developing its strategies and policies and in building national capacity. In all the UN agencies aim to build national capacities – which will allow the government on its own in due course to undertake all tasks itself – the UN technical expertise should not be a replacement for national expertise in the medium and long-term.

The second issue that I would like to touch upon is the impetus and momentum that the SDGs provide for a holistic approach to development planning at the national and sectoral levels. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), endorsed by the World Leaders in September last year, are expected to set the nations in a pathway of inclusive, sustainable, resilient and firm development.

Goal No. 11 is specifically relevant to urban planning and urbanization management. It reads, “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. It is obvious that this goal intersects with other SDGs addressing standard of living, ending poverty, promoting healthy lives, ensuring availability and sustainability of water and sanitation, access to modern energy, promoting sustainable economic growth and full and productive employment, building resilient infrastructure and sustainable industrialization. Such inter-relationship means that positive progress in any of these goals will have an equally positive impact on the status of human settlements and the condition of urbanization and urban management at the national and local levels.

As a result of these inter-linkages, we believe goal 11 can be considered as an axis for urban development to which other goals also need to contribute for both success and efficiency and sustainability of the goal. In the national context, Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs can take the lead in implementation of this goal, considering all other interrelated goals and targets. As has been stated in the SDG declaration, governments need to set their own national targets and indicators guided by the global ambitions but taking into account national circumstances.

Finally, I would like to assure your Excellency and our in MOMRA of the resolve and readiness of the UN System to assist in sustaining the monumental development gains in Saudi Arabia. We are ready to join hands with you in the betterment of the lives in a sustainable manner of all the people of Saudi Arabia – leaving no one behind.

I hope that your workshop will be fruitful as well as insightful and results-oriented in setting the direction of MOMRA-UNDP-UN-HABITAT technical cooperation on urban planning and management.

Shukran

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