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Profile of Dr. Wally N’Dow Secretary-General of Habitat II

Today, the lives of more than a billion people—the poor and the homeless—are intimately intertwined with the success of an undertaking being directed by Dr. Wally N’Dow. Tomorrow, when more than half the world is urbanized, the poor will be poorer, the number of ill-housed and homeless will be greater, and a global majority will be affected by what he does.

Dr. N’Dow is the Secretary-General of Habitat II, the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements to be held in Istanbul, Turkey, in June 1996. His mandate is to organize a global meeting that will face up to the human settlements crisis that all countries, rich and poor alike, now share in one way or another. United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali appointed Dr. N’Dow in February 1994, and he took over just two weeks before the Conference’s first Preparatory Committee meeting convened in April 1994 in Geneva, Switzerland, where he lost no time in stating his views on what he felt the Conference was all about.

After Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali sounded the keynote, dubbing the Conference “The City Summit”, Dr. N’Dow told the delegates that as recently as 1950, some 83 per cent of the world’s population had still lived in rural areas, but that now, less than half a century later, “A whole new world”, an urban world, is being created. At the same time, he warned, even though the inevitable future of the planet is urban, “We dare not overlook the billions who still live in the rural areas, especially in Africa.” For them, he said, no less than for all those trapped in the worst that cities have to offer, today’s shelter crisis provides a volatile catalyst for social conflict and political instability, with “every day a day of lost human potential, of broken dreams and unfulfilled hope”.

Dr. N’Dow was born 52 years ago in Bansang, the Gambia. Earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Veterinary Medicine from the University of East Africa in Nairobi, he was admitted to the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, where he received a diploma in Tropical Veterinary Medicine. Returning home, he worked for the Gambian Ministry of Agriculture, where he became interested in development issues. He felt that this was an area of increasing importance for his country, and he used every opportunity to learn more, working with various bilateral assistance programmes, and on task forces and working groups of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development as a government official and consultant.

That path took him to the 1974 World Food Conference in Rome, where he was instrumental in the organization of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Council. Already active in the Sahel relief effort, he played an active role in the United Nations Sahel Office, becoming the Regional Director for Africa in 1981, heading a team of experts supporting efforts in 22 countries in East, West and Central Africa to help their Governments respond to disasters.

In 1985, the United Nations mounted a massive new drought relief programme in Africa, and Dr. N’Dow was asked by Bradford Morse, then the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, to join the relief effort as head of external relations. A series of key UNDP assignments followed. In 1986, he was Chief of the East African Division of the Sudano-Sahelian Office, and in 1988, UNDP Resident Representative in the United Republic of Tanzania.

When James Gustave Speth became the new UNDP Administrator in July 1993, he appointed Dr. N’Dow to a board recommending restructuring changes in UNDP, an assignment he carried out concurrently with his responsibilities in Tanzania. His appointment as Secretary-General of Habitat II, which followed by a few weeks his appointment as Assistant Secretary-General of the UN Centre for Human Settlements in Nairobi, Kenya, now leads him in a new direction.

“We are”, he says, “embarked on one of the most important undertakings of these closing years of the twentieth century. I cannot stress too strongly that the crisis of shelter that we face both in our cities and in the vast stretches of remaining rural areas is a crisis of truly global proportions. Our urban problems alone are overwhelming nations, and we are running out of time. We desperately need new solutions, new policies and new tools.”

“I know there are great threats confronting the international community in Bosnia and Rwanda and other places where the peace of the world is under attack. But I cannot emphasize too strongly that what is happening in our cities is nothing less than one of the greatest threats to international peace and security tomorrow. The job of Habitat II is to defuse this threat.”

Dr. N’Dow was married in 1970 to Salimatta Foon, then a Registrar of Courts in the Gambia. They have three children and one grandchild.

For more information contact:
Department of Public Information
Room S-1040
United Nations
New York, NY 10017
Tel: (212) 963-3771
Fax (212) 963-1186
E-Mail: vasic@un.org


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