An event on the New Urban Agenda held by the United Nations and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on Sept. 18, 2016. Photo by: OECD / CC BY-NC

What do girls and women, remittances and tax have in common? They need a higher place on the list of priorities at this year’s U.N. Habitat Conference, according to the global development experts who spoke to Devex on the sidelines of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Africa Summit in Paris, France.

Development professionals will come together the week of Oct. 17 for the third U.N. Habitat conference in Quito, Ecuador. Twenty years have passed since the last U.N. Habitat conference, and stakeholders at the OECD told Devex it can’t wait another 20 years to see certain priorities ticked off the list.

The goal of the conference is to get renewed commitment from global leaders for sustainable urban development, assess progress, address urban poverty and take stock of new and emerging urban challenges. The conference aims to set the New Urban Agenda as its outcome document, which lays out plans for implementation and syncs objectives with the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Many in the development field, political figures in African countries too, believe investment in agriculture will [reinvigorate] the rural economy, and that urbanization needs to be reversed,” Laurent Bossard, secretariat director of the  OECD Sahel and West Africa Club, told Devex.

Bossard disagrees: “These are stupid ideas stuck in an old paradigm,” he said, “and we need to get away from this kind of thinking.”

He said citizens move to cities from rural communities for a reason and this choice “need[s] to be respected.” Investing heavily in rural agriculture won’t necessarily change the outcomes for current and future migrants.

Bossard explained that the food system — the supply chain responsible for growing, harvesting, processing, transporting and selling food between rural, peri-rural and urban contexts — desperately needs the conference’s attention.

“I would like to see us stop thinking of urban and rural development as separate issues,” he said. “Food systems connect these two areas.”

By bridging this gap, national governments and development agencies can more easily embrace urbanization and understand its impacts, namely on women and girls; another concern largely eclipsed by traditional thinking, Bossard said.

“Chad, Mali and Niger have the highest rates of child marriage, the fewest girls in school in the world, and they also have the least urbanization,” he pointed out. “There’s a convergence of poverty, low urbanization, and the situation of women and population growth,” he said.

When asked what he hoped would take center stage in Quito, Mario Pezzini, the head of the development center at the OECD, said he wants to see greater linkages between national development agencies.

“I have the impression more can be done to coordinate efforts of national cooperation, especially on infrastructure and influencing public policy,” he told Devex.

“That’s why our intention is to call to the table several cooperation agencies to discuss how they can put more emphasis on collaboration,” he continued. “We’re working with the U.N. Habitat secretariat on this, and met last week with the Executive Director Aisa [Kirabo Kacyira] and are working a lot together with them and with the financiers.”

Pezzini also pointed to a subject often glossed over by policymakers: remittances.

“A large part of the flows [of capital] that go to Africa are remittances, it’s something we don’t speak enough about,” he said.

The OECD’s work on tax will hopefully contribute to improving tax systems in the developing world, he added. Namely the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting project, known as BEPS, Pezzini said, and the newer Tax Inspectors Without Borders partnership with the United Nations Development Program will play a role in recovering the more than $100 billion lost annually in tax revenue, according to World Bank figures.

“I think automatic reporting will also do a lot for this,” he added, referring to the OECD’s work compelling national governments to disclose the names and activities of companies operating within their borders.

We’ll be on-the-ground at Habitat III so stay tuned for more coverage leading up to the event. You can find relevant stories here.

About the author

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    Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a former U.K. correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.