State of Arab Cities Report 2022

Cities in the Arab world are transforming at a rapid pace. More than half of the region’s population already resides in urban areas, and this number is expected to continue to grow in the coming years. In certain countries in the region, regional conflicts and the effects of climate change are exacerbating these trends, resulting in displacement and transnational migration. The effects of these regional challenges are being played out at the city and neighbourhood scale, and it is consequently at the local level that many of these concerns and challenges will need to be addressed.

The regional state of the cities reports aims at analysing the state of urbanisation, depicting major regional urban conditions, trends and impacts, and identifying obstacles towards achieving sustainable urban development. They do so through monitoring, analysing and reporting on existing and emerging trends, while explaining the underlying realities faced by urban policy makers. Cognisant of their important role, UN-Habitat has contributed to further expanding the report series in the Arab region in collaboration with the Bahrain Center for Strategic, International and Energy Studies ‘Derasat’ with this second report titled ‘The State of Arab Cities Report 2022: Financing Urban Infrastructure to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda’.

The overall objective of this report is to investigate the challenges encountering the urban economic and financial frameworks of Arab countries at the regional, national, and local levels, including how they have been impacted by COVID-19 and the prospects to unleash their endogenous growth potential and stimulate their prosperity. The report contributes to informed post-COVID recovery and building back better, the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the promotion of the Sustainable Development Goals – with a focus on Goal 11 – and the application of the New Urban Agenda in the Arab region, by encouraging evidence-based urban policies to improve living conditions for city dwellers in Arab countries. In addition to this, it further expands on the Addis Ababa Action Plan of development financing as a foundation for policy guidance towards successful local financing in the different Arab sub-regions.

The report emphasizes, in order to progress the development process forward, new frameworks for financing infrastructure must be introduced in many of the region’s countries. This includes shifts towards decentralization, maximizing public revenue generation, leveraging private sector-based methods, tapping into international networks, exploring emerging and atypical financing mechanisms and elevating the role of participatory and gender-responsive approaches in the planning process to ensure that no one gets left behind.

Achieving progress in the areas laid out in this report will require enhancing multilevel governance over urban infrastructure provision. Local organisations can take a more active role in the development and financing of urban infrastructure, if provided with the right level of support from national governments, effective regulatory systems and capacity enhancement at the local level.  

Key takeaways from the report include:

Conflict and wars in the last decades have had a large impact on many parts of the Arab region. Careful and intelligent strategies must be devised by Arab cities to manage and finance post-conflict recovery, guided by the goals of sustainability and resilience.
The Arab region will be one of the region’s most strongly impacted by climate change. With water and food scarcity and extreme heat already prevalent in the region, it will be key for Arab cities to find ways to equitably mitigate and adapt the impacts of the changing climate on their citizens and enhance overall resilience in their communities.
The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the gaps and differences in social, physical and healthcare infrastructures in the Arab cities. To reduce poverty and inequality, provide adequate housing and strengthen social protection while rebuilding from the pandemic, cities should lead the move towards a new social norm between governments, the public, civil society and the private sector.
The implementation of the SDGs and the NUA is lagging behind in many countries and cities in the Arab region. Informed, planned and appropriate financing strategies can contribute to change the pace and put cities on a positive trajectory to achieve progress in these areas.  
In order to address issues in the Arab region, a local as well as regional perspective must be adopted. Each city faces a unique set of circumstances, but a cohesive strategy and partnership by subregion or region can help municipalities see a broader view of local issues.
Decentralisation and empowerment of local governments has benefited urban planning practices and yielded positive results in the improvement of living conditions in cities and communities. Cities and local governments are usually better positioned to understand local challenges and opportunities to meet the needs of their people.
Financing urban infrastructure will require multiple and concurrent sources and approaches. Innovative financial strategies such as public private partnerships, green bonds, tax reforms, Islamic finance, and international aid all provide opportunities for the financing of infrastructure projects which can bring Arab cities closer to realizing their sustainable development targets.


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