6,000 international visitors to attend inauguration of revamped Unep in Nairobi


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NAIROBI: Kenya’s profile in the international community is set to rise as a UN agency hosted in Nairobi formally opens its membership to all nations worldwide.

The inauguration of a revamped United Nations Environmental Programme (Unep), scheduled for next month, will see Nairobi host more than 6,000 international visitors The Gigiri-based UN agency, with 54 member states, is estimated to contribute over Sh30 billion annually to the local economy.

With the membership now jumping to 193 states, this is expected to create a formidable economic zone for Nairobi. The historic meeting, which upgrades Unep’s membership from 53 to 193, will attract about 1,200 high level official delegates and an estimated 5,000 individuals from other interest groups and civil societies.

President Uhuru Kenyatta will open the assembly. After a long and fierce international scramble over whether to relocate or upgrade the Nairobi based UN agency, Kenya’s request was finally granted in 2012 with the first high level meeting to inaugurate the new body scheduled for next month.

“Environment ministers and government representatives from 193 UN member states and major groups will gather between June 23 and 27 for the inaugural meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly ( Unea) in Nairobi,” said Unep Executive Director Achim Steiner.

Unea will replace Unep’s governing council with the mandate to open up the body to all 193 UN member States, observer States and other stakeholders. Although Kenya did not get a fully-fledged and autonomous Unep as retired President Kibaki had requested at a global climate meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2012, the UN agreed to enhance the status of the environmental body.

During the Rio meeting, Kibaki promised that the Government would offer more facilities and office space for an expanded Unep. President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to confirm the pledge when he addresses the forth-coming meeting.

The upgrade means some 140 new members will be permanently represented in Nairobi creating new job opportunities, new supply lines, construction of offices and support facilities and a demand for top quality residential houses. ECONOMIC WINDFALL This could have a major impact on the economy of Nairobi particularly in air travel, communications, banking and real estate sectors.

It will also require Kenya to beef up security not only for the expected delegates but also for the bigger number of diplomats expected to take residence in Kenya.

To take advantage of the expected economic windfall, the Gigiri based Village Market recently announced a Sh5 billion expansion drive into new retail outlets, restaurants and a 187-room hotel.

A report prepared by the UN careers office says Unep in its current form, contributes $350 million (Sh30.1 billion) to the Kenya economy annually. UN Gigiri Complex, which also houses the UN-Habitat, employs nearly 800 international staff and 2,000 locals at what the office says are competitive remuneration packages.

“Unep provides over $20 million (Sh1.7 billion) worth of business to the local food, pharmaceutical and transport industries, as well as major contracts to private consultants and security services,” says the UN careers.

But more importantly, it will give Kenya, the only developing country to host such a UN body, new international status as well as a more enhanced spotlight on how the country conducts business. Last year, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon (expected to address the June meeting) had indicated that the UN General Assembly was discussing the provision of additional resources for Unep from its regular budget.

“That will define not only the future of Unep for the next few decades, but also to strengthen its institutional framework,” said Steiner adding that the June session will be a historic event.

The new structure is already creating a buzz with the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who was in Kenya last week, signing a high-level agreement with Unep. The agreement signed on Saturday by the Premier and Steiner for Unep, promises to help Africa cope with climate change.

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