Female Malaysian mayor to head U.N.'s urbanization agenda

SEATTLE (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Malaysian woman is set to take the helm of the United Nations agency seeking to improve life in fast-growing cities, which will be home to two-thirds of the world by 2050.

The United Nations (U.N.) Secretary-General has appointed Dato’ Maimunah Mohd Sharif, a qualified town planner and currently Mayor of the City Council of Malaysia’s tranquil, tropical Penang Island, to head UN-Habitat, based in Kenya.

Sharif previously managed Penang Island’s George Town World Heritage Site, the oldest part of Malaysia’s second largest city, which is popular with tourists for its colonial history and architecture.

As executive director of UN-HABITAT, Sharif will battle to boost donor funding for the 40-year-old agency, which fell dramatically under former Barcelona mayor Joan Clos.

Another key focus will be implementing the agency’s New Urban Agenda, a 20-year vision for sustainable cities, adopted at last year’s Habitat III conference in Ecuador.

UN-Habitat predicts the number of people living in cities will almost double to 7 billion in 2050 from 3.7 billion today, with many mired in squalor if urbanization is poorly managed.

Sharif’s first major event in February will be on home turf in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, which will host the World Urban Forum, the U.N.’s premiere global event on cities.

The U.N. General Assembly is expected to formally approve Sharif’s appointment soon, the U.N. said in a statement.

Prior to Clos, who took office in 2010, UN-Habitat was led by Tanzania’s former housing minister Anna Tibaijuka.