KABUL, 24 Jun 2004 (IRIN) - Although largely a rural nation, Afghanistan's urban development is now proceeding faster than ever with reconstruction and rehabilitation well under way. It is estimated that by the year 2045 the country's urban population will have surpassed that living in rural areas, which currently accounts for 80 percent of the total.
"The urban development process is moving ahead so rapidly that the [capital] city [of Kabul] is expanding, but not according to the master plan of the government," Engineer Qeyam-ul-din Jalalzada, deputy minister for urban development and housing, told IRIN.
Some parts of the city were being occupied and distributed by groups and powerful people without reference to the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing, prompting the ministry to arrange a three-day workshop this month - "Urban Management in Afghanistan" - with the direct cooperation of the UN's HABITAT and other international organisations.
The rapid rise in the urban population, along with the return of refugees from Iran, Pakistan and other countries, is a major concern for both the Afghan government and international organisations. Since the fall of the Taliban regime the population of Kabul city has risen from 700,000 to three million.
"The growth in the urban population is a matter of concern because it is a major problem for the ministry and the municipality to provide for that many people," Dr Pushpa Pathak, senior urban advisor at HABITAT, told IRIN, noting that what the ministry was proposing was emergency housing along with the construction of new development areas.
She said that among the issues that needed to be addressed were those of land ownership and dispute resolution.
Pathak added that the issue of emergency land availability for refugees and returnees was raised in the workshop. Two points that emerged were the availability of land itself and the availability of funds to acquire land for refugees and returnees.
Many municipalities represented at the workshop raised these points, and one of the recommendations of the workshop was the need to identify land and make funds available.
Pathak pointed out that work was under way on land titling, looking at land ownership documents and putting everything in order in this respect. Both the World Bank and USAID have projects on this issue. Meanwhile, HABITAT was thinking of mounting a small study to look at how urban areas could benefit from informal land development.
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