08/06/2001
Press Release
GA/9876



General Assembly Thematic Committee

Twenty-fifth Special Session

5th Meeting (AM)


SPECIAL SESSION’S THEMATIC COMMITTEE CONSIDERS ‘POVERTY ERADICATION;’


HEARS CASE STUDIES ON PROJECTS IN THAILAND, PERU, MOROCCO


The Thematic Committee of the General Assembly’s special session this morning heard the final 3 of 16 case studies presented since it opened on Wednesday, with today’s focus on poverty eradication and projects in Thailand, Peru and Morocco.


The Committee was established by the Assembly to allow a forum for an exchange of experiences since the 1996 Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) in Istanbul.  The General Assembly special session (Istanbul+5), which ends today, is reviewing implementation of the outcome of the Conference -– the Habitat Agenda.


This morning, the managing director of Thailand's Community Organizations Development Institute described how the Urban Community Development Fund provided loans to enable communities to organize their own development activities.  The members of particular communities organized into groups, she said, pooling their funds and energies together and making collective decisions.  That led to increased managerial capacity at the community level.


On participatory planning and budgeting, the Mayor of Villa El Salvador in Peru stressed that national development was a cumulative process that started with local development.  The town wanted to share experiences and exchange ideas with other successful national and international processes.


The coordinator of Morocco's national pilot programme on poverty alleviation in urban areas said local committees were the focus of poverty alleviation efforts.  Instead of emphasizing control, the Government was now insisting on the decentralization of those efforts.  The evolution of community associations was continuing in an institutional and political sense, he said.


As the Committee concluded its work today, Chairman Slaheddine Belaid, Minister for Building, Planning and Habitat of Tunisia said the forum had presented an opportunity to discuss and benefit from shared experience.  About half of the projects described during the session could be taken up in his own country, be it the reconstruction of a historical city centre, the rehabilitation of an entire region or protection against floods.  The universal nature of the topics could make a case for holding regular thematic sessions.


On Wednesday the Committee heard presentations on the right to adequate housing in South Africa; shelter programmes and city development strategies in Egypt; a holistic upgrading programme in Medellin, Colombia; improvement and restructuring of spontaneous settlements in Dakar, Senegal; and community-driven provision of universal sanitation ion Indian cities.


Yesterday morning it heard case studies on environmental planning and management in Dar-es-Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania; developing a sustainable compact city in Stockholm, Sweden; comprehensive urban environmental renovation in Chengdu, China; and environmental management and city development strategy for Katowice Agglomeration in Poland.


At its afternoon session, the Committee heard about an integrated urban programme for social inclusion in Santo Andre, Brazil; a city development strategy in response to globalization in Lyon, France; sustainable urban development and good governance in Nigeria; and sustainable economic transformation and decentralization in Barcelona, Spain.


Making today's presentations were Somsook Boonyabancha, director of Thailand's Community Organizations Development Institute; Martin Pumar, Mayor of Villa El Salvador, and Gustavo Rio Frio, head of the Urban Team, Desco (Peru); and Moncey Fadili, coordinator of Morocco's national pilot programme for poverty alleviation in urban areas.


Closing statements were also made by the Vice-Chairs, Jose Maria Matamoros, President of the National Council on Shelter of Venezuela; Erna Witoelar, Minister for Human Settlements and Human Structures of Indonesia; and Luis Garcia Cerezo of Spain.


Urban Poor Community Development Fund, Thailand


According to the discussion paper prepared by the Government of Thailand, most financial institutions are unwilling to provide loans for the very poor.  Established by the Government and managed by the Urban Community Development Office, the Urban Poor Community Fund provides low-interest loans for community development projects.  It has been providing assistance to the poor through

950 community savings groups and 100 community networks, making efforts to achieve capacity-building and ensure credit.  By 2000, the Fund had extended to 53 out of 75 provinces of the country and had acquired assets worth some $45 million.


(The paper is available on the Special Session Web site, although

not as an official United Nations document.  For further information contact: Somsook Boonyabancha, Director, Community Organizations Development Institute, Bangkok; tel: 662-7180911; fax: 662-7180937; e-mail: codi@codi.or.th.)


Presenting the paper, SOMSOOK BOONYABANCHA, Managing Director of Community Organizations Development Institute of Thailand, said that the development process in her country involved not only Government institutions, but also communities and grass-roots organizations.  The poor needed to become active participants in development, and structural changes were needed to involve them in measures for poverty alleviation.  Community savings and credit activities should be viewed as a powerful tool in the development process.


She said that the Development Fund in Thailand had been created by the Government in 1992 to provide loans to the communities to organize their own development activities.  The members of particular communities organized into groups, pooling their funds and energies together and making collective decisions.  That led to the increased managerial capacity at the community level.  The Fund was flexible enough to cover the various needs of the communities.  Since 1992, several groups had organized into a network, which could deal with larger structural issues. 


An institutionalized partnership at the highest structural level was needed to allow for the functioning of the Fund, she continued, and community representatives were sitting at the Board level.  Various kinds of loans were provided to the people, including for home-improvement and income-generation.  To deal with housing issues in suburban slums, for example, people needed to come together as a group, seek links with interested organizations and apply for loans at the community level.  Several community development committees had already become active partners in the efforts to improve living conditions in poor areas.


She went on to say that the economic crisis in Thailand had had a significant impact on the country, and by organizing into groups, people had a better chance to deal with its consequences.  In 8 years, more than

1,000 community groups had participated in the financial schemes, which involved pooling funds and applying for loans.  People could purchase the existing slum land for development, or buy land elsewhere.  They also made their own decisions regarding infrastructure development.  Such projects could be achieved at a significantly lower price than Government programmes.  To achieve success, the poor needed to be part of decision-making.  The Fund’s experience had been expanded to several Asian countries, and the institution had links with several rural organizations in various parts of the country.


The segment’s Facilitator, Mr. ZEBARDAST, Professor at Teheran University, Iran, said that the approach to community development funding applied in Thailand was participatory and innovative.  It was a strategy directed at poverty alleviation by the poor themselves, which was achieved through networking at various levels.  He wanted to know who organized people into community networks.  Another important question was an issue of collateral, for usually the poor lacked the means to secure loans.  Also, sometimes people, when given money, used it for luxuries.  Was there any guarantee that the money would be spent for the intended purpose?


In the debate that followed, questions were asked regarding training; making people aware of the possibilities; the project’s replicability; the communities’ participation after they had benefited from the Fund; the structure of community organizations; and the recovery of the loans.


One speaker said that the initial capital for the programme just presented had been provided by the Government of Thailand.  He wanted to know who was providing such funds for the schemes in other countries, which were emulating the experience of Thailand.  Another speaker asked if the Fund needed Governmental subsidies during its operation following the initial stage. 


The issue of savings was problematic for people who were used to living hand to mouth, a speaker pointed out.  That created a big problem in efforts towards cleaning up slums, as people did not know how to save and manage money.  According to another opinion expressed in the discussion, the methodology applied by the Fund could fundamentally change the approach of many banks to providing loans.


Responding to questions, Ms. BOONYABANCHA said that the people became members of the communities by joining a savings system.  The amount of savings could be minimal, but individuals needed to show the will to participate.  The organizations were stronger than normal community conglomerations, because people’s money was involved.  Having contributed their savings, the people owned up to the problems.  Thus, the control of the organization was not vertical, but horizontal.


The Fund used the strength of the people, and the established communities shared experiences with other areas.  The guarantors of the loans were the people themselves, and that principle was important for the work of the Fund.  No training of the participants was involved on behalf of the Fund, but the participants of the programmes learned from the experience of others.  The aim was to link the people and discuss their problems, with professional participation. 


An initial grant of $1.25 million had been received from the Government, and now, without additional loans from the authorities, the Fund’s assets had significantly increased.  On the average, the return on the loans amounted to about 5 per cent.  When the Fund’s experience was transferred to Vietnam, a

$3,000 donation from a United Nations agency was used as an initial grant.  That demonstrated that the capital involved in the creation of similar funds did not need to be large.  The initial amount could be circulated, and it was the principle of the fund that was important.


In his concluding remarks, the facilitator, Mr. ZEBARDAST said that a very simple, innovative and sustainable model of community development funding had been introduced by the representatives of Thailand.  The traditional obstacles of formal lending to the poor had been successfully overcome with the help of the Fund.


Participatory Planning and Budgeting in Villa El Salvador, Peru


According to the discussion paper presented by the Government of Peru, Villa El Salvador in the Lima Metropolitan area has suffered from violence and municipal mismanagement.  Over the last three years, however, systematic consultations among all sectors of the population, including women and youth, has helped to define priorities.  The consultations have included a referendum involving more than 48,000 inhabitants.  One of the new priorities was to turn the “bedroom community” of Villa El Salvador into a “productive district”, in order to overcome poverty and social exclusion.


(The paper is available on the Special Session Web site.  For further information contact:  Martin Pumar, c/o Centro de Estudios y Promocion del Dessarollo, Villa El Salvador; tel: 51-1-263-1318; fax: 51-1-284-0128;

e-mail: martinpumar@yahoo.es.)


Making his presentation, GUSTAVO RIO FRIO, head of the Urban Team, Desco, said that Villa El Salvador had always tried, as an area of slum dwellers, to resolve the problems of urban development.  Resident families had begun planning in 1992, with support from the national government and the municipality.


By the end of the 1990s, Villa El Salvador had become a real town, he said.  Neighbourhood planning by family networks was no longer the best way to solve its problems.  A new plan was needed to solve new problems and new town management methods were implemented to develop one.  A process of urban consultation was developed in 1999 involving more than 200 meetings to hear the aspirations of the inhabitants.


Following a subsequent closed conclave, he said, a document setting out the plan for the first decade of the new century was disseminated.  The plan was approved in a popular consultation, but the municipality determined that the budget should be decided in consultation with the local people.


He said an important lesson was learned:  community leaders were now involved in managing the town with genuine participation by local government.  A pooling of efforts was essential.  Many municipalities in Peru and elsewhere were seeking a genuine participatory planning process for their towns.


MARTIN PUMAR, Mayor of Villa El Salvador, said that the real tool for budgeting was a transparent plan.  Not only were resources needed, but also political will.  People were ready to change the traditional way of looking at things and the majority had accepted the process.  Citizens were invited to build a vision of their future town, but if they were not given information, the whole project would have no meaning.


He said that the concept of national development was a cumulative process that began with local development.  The town was interested in sharing experiences with other national and international processes.  There had been many successful experiences and Villa El Salvador wished to get to know them for an exchange of ideas.


JACQUELINE DA COSTA (Jamaica), facilitator for the segment, said that among the key points raised were the need to set up the planning process and the involvement of women and youth, who were traditionally not involved.  While the people's involvement in the management plan was very important, it was also necessary to involve the central government, which had more money to spend than the municipalities.  Acceptance at the national level was also necessary.


In the following discussion, one speaker asked about the relationship between representative democracy and the mechanisms of direct democracy through participatory budgeting.  What were the responsibilities of the different councils?  Another speaker asked if there was a lack of involvement and support at the national level.


What degree of cooperation was there between the municipality of Villa El Salvador and other municipalities in the Lima Metropolitan Area? another speaker asked.  How was such cooperation organized?  How were disagreements resolved?  How were youth involved in the budgeting process?  Were there any examples of the process being changed due to the people's involvement?


Mr. PUMAR said there were two options in strengthening the collective:  to leave it to the leaders; or to the man or woman in the street.  When a popular consultation was held, a clear indication of popular support had emerged.  Regarding resolution of disputes, he said the town development plan was an instrument that could be pulled out and shown plainly to those in disagreement.  On youth participation, he said it was enough to present young people with an idea; they would respond in their own dynamic way.  The authorities did not just assume that they had all the answers.


In her concluding remarks, Ms. DA COSTA said there were many lessons to be learned from the presentation.  Improving the capacity of the groups to take part in decisions seemed to be critically important.  The people knew what they wanted, and their involvement could help to resolve many problems.


Urban Poverty Reduction Programme in Morocco


According to the discussion paper provided by the Government of Morocco, reduction of urban poverty requires concerted efforts by all the relevant actors in a city.  Launched in 1998, the Urban Poverty Reduction Programme brings together all the stakeholders to develop, implement and monitor neighbourhood action plans, improve housing and services and provide new economic opportunities.  The poor have been trained in community management skills and have consequently developed their abilities to participate in decisions that affect their lives.  Non-governmental organization representatives have received training in how to formulate and implement projects.  Local authorities have been taught how to work with partners to achieve the goals of improved housing conditions for the poor and overall poverty reduction.


(The paper is available on the Special Session Web site.  For further information contact: Moncyf Fadili, National Coordinator, Rabat Chellah, Morocco; tel: 212-37-76-03-60; fax: 212-37-76-21-90.)


Presenting the case study, MONCEYF FADILI, National Coordinator of the pilot programme on poverty alleviation in urban areas, Morocco, said that his Government had been implementing its pilot poverty eradication programme jointly with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with the participation of municipalities and the local population.  Since 1996, Morocco had been trying to implement the commitments assumed at Habitat II.  After 40 years of passivity towards social interests, the new Government was emphasizing reform and local development.  Efforts were being made to address the problems of poverty and rapid population growth in the spirit of partnership between the State and other players.


The pilot programme was developing consultations on urban management at the local level, he continued.  Among the goals were the reinforcement of capacity, training and improvement of living conditions within the framework of the Habitat recommendations.  Training of elected officials was being provided, and such populations, as the homeless, women and the poor were the focus.  Marginalized people were initially distrustful of the programme, for previous projects had not had much impact.  Now, however, they were beginning to see the results.  Increased revenue, access to housing and services, and capacity building were among the priorities.  The Government had been able to mobilize substantial resources, and the programme was highly effective; each $1 invested generated $8. 


Local committees were the focus of the efforts directed towards poverty alleviation, he continued.  Instead of emphasizing the elements of control, the Government was now insisting on the continuation of the programme, which stressed decentralization of efforts.  The evolution of the community associations was continuing in an institutional and political sense.  The role of women was being defined, and women as heads of households were showing the ability to manage funds and build cooperatives in poor quarters.


Integration of activities was an important part of the programme, he continued.  Various projects were inter-related, with literacy projects, for example, continuing as part of vocational training.  Hands-on projects, mobilization of resources, promotion of local democracy and building of confidence were among the actions emphasized by the programme.  Now that the confidence of the population had been achieved, it was time to expand the pilot project to the national level. 


Ms. DA COSTA, the Facilitator, said that among the benefits of the programme were the use of spaces for integrated development, planning, an increased role of municipalities and local groups in determining needs, an emphasis on social development and the introduction of partnerships, and the strengthening of capacity.  It was important to understand how the funding of the programme was accomplished, with participation of both national and international sponsors.  The focus on youth, the homeless and women was also important.


Questions were then raised from the floor regarding the mechanisms of interaction between the central Government and the municipalities, and the specifics of the programmes.


Responding to questions, Mr. FADILI said that not much could be done with an initial investment of $100,000, but the programme had focused on capacity-building and local participation.  The principles were developed, which would allow the Government to address the problem of poverty in the future. 


Among the participants in the programme were the ministries of health, education, youth and habitat.  Assistance was provided to women with small children, and training programmes were emphasized in order to create jobs.  The pilot was a Government programme, but there was no conflict between the interests of the Government and the municipalities.  Collective efforts were emphasized.  It was important to allow the community to be involved in housing construction and job creation.


In conclusion, Ms. DA COSTA the facilitator, said that among the common themes in the several presentations were the need for:  political will; the mobilization of resources; and a partnership with the local authorities and the population.  Among the key issues were:  the need to improve capacity and participation in planning and decision-making; the mobilization of funds; and the importance of international support. 


The enormity of the problem was illustrated by the fact that up to one third of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty, she continued.  The problems of malnutrition and homelessness were very serious even in the developed world, and the rates of illiteracy and disease all over the world were very high. Enormous amounts were spent on defence, for example, while the gap between the rich and the poor was becoming wider.  It was important to call on “the better-off partners” to assist countries in poverty-eradication.


Committee Chairman SLAHEDDINE BELAID, Minister for Building Planning and Habitat of Tunisia, said he would give a brief summary of the Thematic Committee's work this evening at the Plenary of the special session.


Vice-Chair ERNA WITOELAR, Minister for Human Settlements and Human Structures of Indonesia, noted the striking similarities in many of the presentations made over the last three days.  The session had been very useful, she said, noting that it had given governors, mayors and other administrators an opportunity to hear the views and experiences of people from other places.


Another Vice-Chairman, JOSE MARIA MATAMOROS, President of the National Council on Shelter of Venezuela, said the most significant aspect highlighted during the session was the lack of a fundamental distinction between people, whether in an urban setting or in the countryside, wrestling with difficulties. 

They had long been viewed as objects calling upon society and demanding attention, hand-outs, or consideration of one kind or another.


He said they must be seen not as objects, but as subjects requiring solutions to the challenges of development.  He called for citizens to be given a leadership role in a situation of shared responsibility, overcoming the dichotomy of rights on the one hand and obligations on the other.  Every duty conferred a right and every right a duty.


LUIS GARCIA CEREZO (Spain), also a Committee Vice-Chairman, said it had been a good idea to organize the Thematic Committee.  The result had been striking and thought-provoking.  The shared experience had been innovative and the assessments applied could be shared by all.  There were similar problems from one city to the next and it was important to have holistic policies that could produce ready solutions.


Committee Chairman BELAID said in his concluding remarks the forum had presented an opportunity to discuss and benefit from shared experience.  He noted that about half of the projects described during the session could be taken up in Tunisia, be it the reconstruction of a historical city centre, the rehabilitation of an entire region or protection against floods.  The universal nature of the topics discussed could make a case for holding regular thematic sessions.


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