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United Nations Global Issues

Human Settlements

When the UN was founded in1945, two thirds of the world’s people lived in rural settings. By 2000, the population balance had shifted, with half of humanity now living in cities. Moreover, it is expected that by 2050, two thirds of world’s people –– some 6 billion of them –– will be living in cities. And while cities are a major hub of national production and consumption –– economic and social processes that generate wealth and opportunity – they also create disease, crime, pollution and poverty.

In many cities, especially in developing countries, slum dwellers constitute more than half of the urban population, with little or no access to shelter, water, and sanitation. The United Nations Human Settlements Programme –– UN-HABITAT –– was established in 1978 to improve that situation. It is also mandated with achieving the Millennium Development Goal of improving the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers –– 10 per cent of the global slum population –– by the year 2020.

In 2002, the agency’s mandate was strengthened and its status elevated to that of a fully fledged programme of the UN system. That revitalization placed it squarely in the mainstream of the UN’s development agenda for poverty reduction, with a more streamlined and effective structure and staff, and more relevant and focused set of programmes and priorities.

UN-HABITAT’s current focus is on the achievement of land and housing for all; participatory planning and governance; environmentally sound infrastructure and services; and innovative housing and urban finance. Spearheading these efforts is a global campaign on sustainable urbanization.

In addition to a wide variety of programmes in support of the urban population, UN-HABITAT is supporting the development of a Sustainable Urban Development Network (SUD-Net) –– an innovative network of global partners. SUD-Net works at local level to build the capacities of national governments, strengthen the power of decision-makers of local authorities and promote the inclusion of the community in the decision-making process.

The United Nations system observes the first Monday of October each year as World Habitat Day.

Cities are not just brick and mortar: they symbolize the dreams, aspirations and hopes of societies. The management of a city’s human, social, cultural and intellectual assets is, therefore, as important for harmonious urban development as is the management of a city’s physical assets.

State of the World’s Cities 2008/2009