20/11/2001
Press Release
GA/EF/2979



Fifty-sixth General Assembly

Second Committee

28th Meeting (AM)


DELEGATES IN SECOND COMMITTEE RECOMMEND UPGRADING HABITAT CENTRE, COMMISSION


As the Second Committee this morning discussed the implementation of the Habitat Agenda and the outcome of the special session of the General Assembly on the topic, several delegations expressed their support for upgrading the Commission on Human Settlements and the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) to positions commensurate with their functions and responsibilities.


It had been recognized, said Anna Tibaijuka, Assistant Secretary-General and Executive Director of Habitat, that the status of Habitat and its governing body, the Commission, was not commensurate with its broad mandate as focal point in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda.  That had constrained Habitat’s participation in the coordination machinery of the United Nations system, with adverse consequences for the visibility, attention and support that human settlements required as a cross-sectoral dimension of development.


To remedy that anomaly, she continued, the Secretary-General had proposed two options -- that of upgrading the Commission from a standing Committee to a functional Commission of the Economic and Social Council, or that of elevating the Commission to the status of a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, reporting through the Council.  Also, it was recommended that the Centre be upgraded to the United Nations Programme on Human Settlements.


For a long time, noted Kenya’s representative, Habitat had been relying on extra-budgetary resources to finance even its core activities.  That was an untenable situation if Habitat was to effectively and efficiently fulfil its ever-widening mandate, particularly now when the Centre was being called on to participate in the reconstruction of countries devastated by war or natural calamities.  Therefore, he called on the Assembly to continue increasing the regular budget provision for Habitat.


Some speakers expressed their dissatisfaction at having received the report on options for strengthening the Commission and the Centre only yesterday.  Iran’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said that a few working hours last night simply did not suffice for the Group to arrive at a fully considered view, and more time would be needed to study and analyze recommendations.


Given the proposed options and their implications for the developing countries -- in particular where financing for participation was concerned -- more time was needed for sober analysis and consideration, he said.  The Group’s


position would be reflected in the text of the two draft resolutions it was now in the process of preparing for submission to the Committee.


Also this morning, the representative of Japan introduced a draft resolution on integrated and coordinated implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the major United Nations conferences and summits in the economic and social fields.


Statements were also made by the representatives of Belgium (on behalf of the European Union), Bangladesh, China, Venezuela, Norway, Ethiopia, South Africa, Croatia, Libya, Republic of Korea and the representative of the International Labour Organization (ILO).


The Committee will meet at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 21 November to consider permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan over their natural resources.


Background


The Second Committee (Economic and Financial) met this morning to consider implementation of the Habitat Agenda and the outcome of the special session of the General Assembly on this topic.  It had before it the report of the Commission on Human Settlements on the work of its eighteenth session, held from 12 to

16 February (document A/56/8, Supplement No.8).  The report contains a summary of the work of the session, including summaries by the Chairman of the high-level segment, the consultations on the decentralization and strengthening of local authorities, and the dialogues with local authorities and other partners. 


In addition, the report describes the provisional agenda and other arrangements for the nineteenth session of the Commission.  Among the annexes to the report are lists of resolutions adopted by the Commission as well as the documents before the session at its eighteenth session.


The Committee was also expected to hear the introduction of a draft resolution, sponsored by Japan, on integrated and coordinated implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the major United Nations conferences and summits in the economic and social fields (document A/C.2/56/L.27).  The text would have the Assembly decide to examine how best to address reviews of the implementation of the outcomes of the major United Nations conferences and summits in the economic and social fields, including their format and periodicity.  Also, it would request the Secretary-General to make available to the Assembly the report requested by the Economic and Social Council for its substantive session of 2002 on the implementation of Council resolution 2001/21.


The Committee also had before it the report of the Secretary-General on the twenty-fifth special session of the General Assembly for an overall review and appraisal of the implementation of the outcome of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), which was held at Headquarters from 6 to 8 June (document A/56/477).  At the special session, the Assembly adopted the Declaration on Cities and Other Human Settlements in the New Millennium, which consisted of a political declaration reaffirming the Istanbul Declaration on Human Settlements and the Habitat Agenda; a review and assessment of the implementation of the Habitat Agenda; and proposals for further actions for achieving the goals of adequate shelter for all and sustainable development of human settlements.


Also before the Committee is the report of the Secretary-General on options for reviewing and strengthening the mandate and status of the Commission on Human Settlements and the status, role and function of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) (document A/56/618). 


According to the report, the Assembly may wish to consider conferring on the Commission the status of a full-fledged functional commission of the Economic and Social Council.  By being placed alongside the nine functional commissions of the Council, the mandate of the Commission would not be altered but its status would be strengthened.  Such a move would be consistent with the role of the Commission as part of a three-tiered intergovernmental structure for the follow-up of  Habitat II, together with the Council and the Assembly.  This option has some additional budgetary implications with regard to the payment of travel (but not subsistence) expenses, for one representative of each member State participating in a functional commission of the Council.


A second option, states the report, could be to have the Commission function as an organ of the Assembly, reporting through the Economic and Social Council.  While there would be no additional statutory financial implications in terms of paid travel to delegations, one might not have the same benefit of facilitating interaction with other functional commissions in the harmonized preparation of respective work programmes, and of providing a greater visibility of the human settlements sector in the context of the Council’s coordination machinery. 


The report goes on to say that efforts should be made to enhance the Centre’s role in the field, to diversify sources of financing for technical cooperation projects and programmes, and to identify new avenues for inter-agency collaboration.   


Introduction of Draft Resolution


KENJI HIRATA (Japan) introduced the draft resolution on integrated and coordinated implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the major United Nations conferences and summits in the economic and social fields. 


Statements


ANNA TIBAIJUKA, Assistant Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), said the eighteenth session of the Commission had underscored the importance of maintaining a balance between normative and operational activities at all levels.  It confirmed the importance of the two global campaigns -– secure tenure and urban governance –- in achieving the Habitat Agenda’s goals of adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development in an urbanizing world.  At the operational level, policy advocacy was gauged as critical in promoting policies which would facilitate requisite investments in shelter and infrastructure development. 


The special session on Istanbul+5, she said, was regarded as an outstanding success in two ways.  First, as regards the process of building global consensus through open and transparent dialogue.  Second, as it marked five successful years of progress in implementing the Habitat Agenda as a development issue concerning all nations.  More than 100 countries had submitted national reports on the implementation of the Agenda since Istanbul.


She said it was recognized that the status of Habitat and its governing body, the Commission, was not commensurate with its broad mandate as focal point in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda.  That had constrained Habitat’s participation in the coordination machinery of the United Nations system, with adverse consequences on the visibility, attention and support that human settlements required as a cross-sectoral dimension of development.


To remedy that anomaly, she said that the Secretary-General recommended the elevation of both the Commission and its Secretariat.  Regarding the Commission, the report presented two options -– that of upgrading the Commission from a standing Committee to a functional Commission of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), or elevating the Commission to the status of a subsidiary body of the Assembly, reporting through the Council.  Regarding the Centre, the report recommended one option, namely, upgrading the Centre into a Programme on Human Settlements.  It was important to note that the new denomination did not have any budgetary implications because the Centre was already functioning as a de facto programme.


BAGHER ASADI (Iran), on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said that Habitat was the focal point for human settlements issues and implementation of the Habitat Agenda.  It was responsible for ensuring the realization of the twin goals of the Agenda:  adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development in an urbanizing world.  Moreover, the goals identified in the Millennium Declaration related to the Habitat Agenda were known to all.  Habitat participation in the work of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination was necessary for assisting it in reaching policy coherence and improved coordination of system-wide activities towards achieving the above goals.


In all frankness, he said, his delegation was not happy at all to have received the report on options for strengthening the Commission yesterday, only in the form of the approved unedited version -- and then only at the briefing held by Mrs. Tibaijuka.  It should be made clear that a few working hours last night simply did not suffice for the Group of 77 membership to arrive at a fully considered view.  That was exactly why its members needed more time to study and analyze the report, seek instruction from capitals and engage in internal coordination efforts towards developing a common position.  Given the proposed options and their implications for the developing countries, and, in particular where financing for participation was concerned, more time was needed for sober analysis and consideration.  The consolidated position of the Group of 77 and China would be reflected in the text of the two draft resolutions it was now in the process of preparing for submission to the Committee.  In light of the late submission of the report on the item, however, the deadline for the submission of draft resolutions needed to be extended.


BRUNO VAN DER PLUIJM (Belgium), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that he had high expectations of the Task Manager System, which should be fully exploited to take into account the multidisciplinary aspect of the Habitat Agenda.  Without effective inter-institutional coordination, the implementation of the Habitat Agenda was bound to remain incomplete.  The Union was considering with interest the Secretary-General’s proposal to set up the System in the framework of the Environment Management Group.  Nevertheless, it was important to make sure that the various dimensions of sustainable development tackled in the Habitat Agenda would be fully taken into account and not just the environmental dimensions.


He pointed out that the report on the options for reviewing and strengthening the Commission and the Centre was circulated much too late.  He was in favour, in principle, of enhancing the status of Habitat and strengthening the United Nations headquarters in Nairobi, he said.  Also, he was considering with interest the proposals by the Secretary-General to develop the policy-making role of the Commission on Human Settlements.  He would like more information on the implications of a possible modification of the status of the Commission as well as a possible change in the name of Habitat.


It was the responsibility of all countries to fully mobilize the “major groups” of local authorities, he said.  Not only had local authorities launched over 1800 Local Agenda 21 Initiatives worldwide, but it was also a fact that large towns, regional and federal bodies often had as much or more power to promote sustainable development as States at the national level.  It was the local authorities which had the necessary expertise for ensuring that the essential urban and local dimension of sustainable development was adequately taken into account.


       MOSUD MANNAN (Bangladesh) said his country had taken a number of steps toward implementing the Habitat Agenda in such areas as environmental development, governance and international cooperation.  It had created institutional structures in major cities for that purpose, with the hope that such structures would be connected to the global Habitat network.  The Government had launched a number of programmes for the poor, including measures to help provide shelter for the homeless.  Improving the shelter conditions of the poor was a primary concern of his Government, particularly in regard to woman garment workers. 


Despite such efforts, a number of problems faced developing countries in regard to human settlements, he said.  Those problems included homelessness, the widening gap between rich and poor, lack of clean water, and natural disasters.  The special session of the Assembly on implementing the Habitat Agenda was a wake-up call for the international community to start working to fulfil that Agenda.


WANG LING (China) said that respecting domestic circumstances of countries and their autonomy in decision-making was a basic principle in achieving human settlements development.  Countries were different in political systems, laws and regulations, management systems, economic development levels, history, culture and natural environment.  They were faced with different human settlements problems.  In promoting human settlements development, countries might learn and borrow from each other’s practices, but it was impossible to adopt a uniform approach or model.  The sovereignty and laws of countries should be respected.  So should the policies, strategies, plans and priority areas formulated to resolve the human settlements problem by different countries in the light of their domestic circumstances, capacities and conditions.


Sustainable development was the correct path to achieving the objectives of human settlements development, she said.  Population growth, environmental protection and human settlements development needed to be correctly handled.  While being compatible with economic development, human settlements development should also be coordinated with population growth, productivity expansion, resources utilization and environmental protection, so as to follow the path of sustainable development.  It was important to control population growth in a planned way and to strengthen ecological environmental protection, which would facilitate the human settlement development.


JULIA LOPEZ-CAMACARO (Venezuela) said it was important to work, in line with the Declaration adopted at the special session to overcome the obstacles impeding implementation of the Habitat Agenda.  At that session, Venezuela had highlighted that it was enacting special policies and programmes to improve living conditions in its cities and countryside, especially for indigenous groups.  Venezuela envisaged housing as a basic right, which entailed shared obligations among citizens and the State in all realms.  Its difficulties in providing that basic right were closely intertwined, including centralization and concentration of decision-making and resources, weaknesses at the local level and limitations growing out of scarce resources. 


Venezuela, she continued, was striving to overcome its limitations on a holistic basis.  On 12 November, the Government adopted a decree dealing with lands and agrarian development, based on the belief that agriculture was the basis for sustainable rural development.  With regard to urban development, Venezuela faced the challenge of upgrading basic housing.  At the national level, the Government had established a committee to recognize best housing practices and foster alternative solutions for the most vulnerable areas. 


ARMAN AARDAL (Norway) announced that his Government would be doubling its contribution to the Habitat Foundation in 2002 from the present 5 million to     10 million Norwegian kroner (approximately $1.1 million). 


He was pleased to note that the Declaration adopted at the special session recognized the important work being carried out under the umbrella of the Cities Alliance initiative, spearheaded by Habitat and the World Bank in close collaboration with a series of multilateral and bilateral partners.  Norway had joined that initiative, which it regarded as a promising example of the new partnerships emerging in the United Nations system.  Further, he welcomed the rights-based approach reflected in the Declaration, especially with respect to the recognition of the role of women and the protection of their rights.


He wished to see the role and status of both the Commission and the Centre strengthened, and noted with interest the option to change the denomination of Habitat to a United Nations Programme, which would result in certain advantages.  With regard to the venue of the sessions of the Commission, the meetings should be held at headquarters in Nairobi.  Also, the established practice of the Commission meeting every two years should be maintained.  However, in the years between the sessions, a forum such as the Urban Forum could be a useful arena for expert discussions on human settlements issues.  The meeting of the Forum in May 2002 would be a test in that respect, and the outcome could then be evaluated at the next meeting of the Commission.


DAVID KIKAYA (Kenya) said that, while he welcomed the progress made so far in the revitalization of Habitat, the Centre needed to go beyond its basic role of a “think tank” and “policy regulator” and adopt a more practical approach to its activities, by initiating monitoring programmes among member countries.  He welcomed the current joint efforts of the Centre and the Government of Kenya in slum upgrading, in line with the Cities Without Slums initiative contained in the Millennium Declaration. 


For a long time, Habitat had been relying on extra-budgetary resources to finance even its core activities, he added.  That was an untenable situation if Habitat was to effectively and efficiently fulfil its ever-widening mandate -- particularly now, when the Centre was being called upon to participate in the reconstruction of countries devastated by war or natural calamities.  In view of that, he called upon the General Assembly to continue increasing the regular budget provision for Habitat.  That was one of the ways Habitat could be guaranteed adequate and predictable funds for its operations and forward planning.


In addition, he said, one of the key outcomes of Istanbul +5 was the request for the Secretary-General to submit to the Assembly options for renewing and strengthening Habitat and the Commission on Human Settlements.  His delegation supported the Secretary-General’s proposal to regularize the status and mandate of the Commission and the status, role and function of the Habitat Centre, in order to remove the structural and institutional weaknesses that had constrained the efficient functioning of the Commission and the Centre.


AZANAW TADESSE ABREHA (Ethiopia) said that, as the Assembly had not defined the status of the Commission, it was considered to be a standing committee of the ECOSOC.  He supported the upgrading of the Commission from a standing committee to a full-fledged commission and would prefer it becoming a subsidiary body of the Council, for the explanations given in the report.  Also, he would like to engage in constructive discussions with all concerned to strengthen the Commission’s work.


Turning to the Centre, he commended its work as a focal point for monitoring the implementation of the Habitat Agenda and for global exchange of information on human settlements.  In that connection, he was glad to note that it had been benefiting from the growing financial and political support of Member States as a result of the ongoing revitalization process.  The Millennium Declaration goal of improving the lives of millions of slum dwellers constituted a new role for the Centre, which required a further strengthening of its capacity.  In that regard, its presence in the field needed to be enhanced.  Taking into account the increased functions and responsibilities of the Centre, he supported the option proposed by the Secretary-General to change the Centre to the United Nations Settlements Programme.


XOLISA MABHONGO (South Africa) said recent estimates had shown that the world urban population was expected to double in the next few decades, with most of the increase occurring in developing countries.  It was also estimated that a quarter of the world’s population currently living in cities did not have adequate housing and lacked access to basic services.  A disheartening phenomenon was the increasing urbanization of poverty, with cities being divided into “haves” and “have-nots”.  The process of globalization had added to the difficulties of human settlements development in cities as a result of its contribution to rapid urbanization.  In addition, the lack of integration of urban and rural development affected those in rural areas most, as they were often the most deprived of services.


Despite the success registered in the past few years, challenges still remained, he said.  Those included the overall goal of poverty eradication, as the poor remained a major target group of South African’s housing policy.  Another challenge was the development of capacity at all levels of government to fulfil the right to adequate housing.  Other challenges included the broadening of consumer choices in houses, and mobilizing additional resources to address the existing housing backlog.  South Africa had committed itself to the Habitat Agenda.  It offered a positive vision for sustainable human settlements, where all had adequate shelter, a healthy and safe environment and access to basic services.


TANIA VALERIE RAGUZ (Croatia) said that her Government had taken a number of steps to ascertain its own accomplishments and obstacles to date as a country in transition, as well as its potential and needs for further economic growth, which would ultimately impact on future implementation of the Habitat Agenda at the national level.  The Government had also agreed to several recommendations, proffered by the National Committee for Habitat, for launching various activities to advance actual implementation of the Habitat Agenda at the grass-roots level.  To promote adherence to the Agenda at the local level, preparations were currently under-way for four pilot projects, which would monitor data at the country level in accordance with the Habitat ideology.


She said that with the aim of facilitating the resolution of housing procurement issues for its own citizens and advancing overall housing construction in Croatia, two particular programmes were being carried out -– a welfare-supported Housing Construction Programme and the Programme of Care for Victims of the Homeland War.  The former sought to resolve housing procurement, particularly for socially vulnerable members of society, as well as those on medium and low incomes.  In its first year, positive results had already been recorded, with    33 towns out of a total of 520 having registered to date, and with 1,200 apartments currently in the process of being built under the programme.


AHMED EL ATRASH (Libya) said that all countries understood the importance of meeting their commitments to the Habitat Agenda.  His Government was in full support of efforts to improve human settlements.  Despite the ceaseless and immense efforts by governments and their partners to fulfil the Habitat Agenda, poverty was still widespread.  Poor communities still lacked housing or even basic shelter.  There was still a lack of market forces to promote the supply of basic shelter.  The resources available to many countries were insufficient for meeting the needs of human settlements.  States must translate the Habitat Agenda into concrete initiatives to improve human settlements. 


United Nations institutions as well as financial institutions should promote the goals of Habitat, he said.  Through the major recommendations of the Summit for Sustainable Development, to be held in Johannesburg next year, States should foster a commitment to implement the Habitat Agenda.  The international community should take measures to remove obstacles to development, including colonialist practices.  That applied particularly to the people of Palestine. 


To further develop and improve the residential environment, Libya had a national policy that covered the entire population, providing them with free water and sewage services, he said.  To support vulnerable groups, his country had pursued policies towards habitat development.  Its goals were to urbanize Libyan society by, among other things, providing electricity and fuel at a minimum price.  Those achievements had occurred despite unfair sanctions imposed by the Security Council since 1992.  Those sanctions ran counter to international law and the principles of the United Nations.


KYUNG-CHUL LEE (Republic of Korea) said that, in a world where half the population lived in cities, such urbanization-related problems as slums, urban poverty, environmental degradation, crime and economic disparities between urban and rural areas had been tackled with some success through national as well as international efforts.  However, much remained to be done to fulfil the goals outlined in the Habitat Agenda.  Persisting poverty in the developing world, above all, had been identified as a root cause of unsatisfactory performance in human settlements.  Consequently, poverty eradication should be the priority task.  While individual governments had the primary responsibility for the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, international support was also essential in assisting their efforts.


In the case of the Republic of Korea, he said, the two objectives of human settlements development -– adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development -– had together constituted the key elements in its

national development strategies.  His Government had been implementing new housing policies, enabling low-income, non-home-owning citizens to enjoy stable housing services.  It had accomplished that through such policy measures as low-interest loans and the building of public rental housing units, while leaving the housing demands of the middle and upper class to market mechanisms.


GARETH HOWELL, International Labour Organization (ILO), said there was a persistent and unacceptable gap between the needs and rights of poor people and the chance for them to build a decent life.  The international community must match the desire of millions to live in sustainable, secure settlements with their need for work.  Through pro-poor investment, like labour-based slum upgrading, many jobs were created.  Much more could be done through supporting micro and small enterprises, and improving social protection for their workers.


Jobs were at the heart of urban upgrading, he said.  If the huge cities of the new century were to succeed, work for the poor must improve.  More and better jobs would lead to better living conditions and to a decent environment in urban settlements.  The ILO’s mandate was to promote policies and institutions for social justice and drive employment.  That included respect for fundamental principles and rights at work, promoting social dialogue, and strengthening and extending social protection.  Concerted action was the indispensable building block for transforming impoverished urban settlements into prosperous, sustainable “Cities at Work”.


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