Summit on Sustainable Development
Department of Public Information - News and Media Services Division - New York
26 August-4 September 2002
27 August 2002
PRESS CONFERENCE ON SUSTAINABLE URBANIZATION
"Sustainable urbanization as a means of overcoming fundamental problems of environmental degradation and poverty" was the joint message of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UN-Habitat) and Habitat Agenda partners to the World Summit on Sustainable Development, correspondents were told at a press briefing by the Coalition for Sustainable Urbanization this afternoon.
That message had been discussed and agreed upon at the First Urban Forum, held in Nairobi last May. To date, over 40 partners representing governments, local authorities, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations and the private sector have joined the Coalition in a series of initiatives to achieve urban development in a sustainable manner.
Taking part in today's briefing were Executive Director of UN-Habitat, Anna Tibaijuka; South Africa's Minister of Housing, S.D. Mthembi-Mahanyele; President of International Union of Local Authorities and of World Association of Cities and Local Authorities Coordination, Alan Lloyd; President of United Towns Organization, Mercedes Bresso; and Mayor of Monterrey, Mexico, Felipe de Jesus Cantu.
Introducing the concept of sustainable urbanization as one of the major challenges facing the Summit, Ms. Tibaijuka stressed the importance of tackling the reality of the changing demographic situation. With half of the world's population now living in urban areas and the other half increasingly dependent upon cities for their economic, social and political development, the time had come to take a close look at the phenomenon of rapid urbanization. Without proper investment, the issues of urban poverty and environmental degradation were becoming ever more urgent, with a large number of people living in slums.
In the experience of UN-Habitat, local actors, especially local authorities and their partners needed help to improve their planning and management capacity, she continued. Cities needed help in order to realize their crucial contributions to sustainable development. The Habitat Agenda grappled with the issues of adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements. Under current conditions, local planning, management and sound governance were acquiring increased importance.
Ms. Mthembi-Mahanyele described her country's experience in overcoming the challenges of urban development while tackling the competing agenda of social development versus preserving the environment. Introducing sound urban practices, South Africa was following the guidelines provided by the Habitat Agenda. In order to provide adequate housing, the Government was giving subsidies to the needy and trying to empower people to make their own decisions regarding their living conditions. Among the major issues were basic services and amenities, infrastructure and energy. With local communities' participation, housing had been provided for over 8 million people in under six years. In an integrated approach to development, it was important to align the budget with the needs and the challenges.
Felipe de Jesus Cantu presented the situation in Monterrey, saying that since the International Conference on Financing for Development, which had taken place in his city, it had become clear that financing was directly linked to development. Development of urban communities required significant resources, and in that context it became particularly important to seek adequate financing on a democratic basis. Better use of existing funds was also a priority. Sustainability could be achieved through conservation and direct involvement of communities in decision-making.
Mr. Lloyd emphasized the role of local authorities in the efforts to mainstream sustainable development. The problem of urbanization needed to be addressed at both international and local levels. Referring to the ongoing Local Government Session (August 27-30) -- the largest parallel event to the World Summit -- he said that a local governments' declaration to the Summit would be finalized on Friday. Still in the draft form, it had a number of references to cooperation between local governments and UN-Habitat.
Continuing, he referred to the work of the United Nations Association of Local Authorities, which had been established as an advisory body to UN-Habitat to strengthen that agency's partnership with local governments on the issue of urbanization. Mayors from various parts of the world were meeting on a regular basis, providing advice to UN-Habitat -- and eventually the General Assembly -- on the means to better implement the Habitat Agenda.
Ms. Bresso added that, within the framework of the Local Government Session, it was very important to address the challenges of urban development. To be discussed during that event were the issues of making consistent plans for social development, social inclusion and urban services. The Summit must become aware of the need to provide greater support to implementing Agenda 21 on a local level in order to integrate sustainable development in urban society and overcome poverty. To achieve concrete results, it was necessary to implement existing agreements at the local level.
Responding to a question, Ms. Tibaijuka said that UN-Habitat was promoting the concept of security of tenure, which was very important to tackling the problem of slums. As up to 60 per cent of urban populations were living without titles, it was not productive for local authorities to evict them. The poor needed access to the city as a source of livelihood. Also needed was affordable housing for the poor. The Habitat Agenda encouraged local authorities -- when relocations had to take place -- to conduct dialogue with the people and federations of slum dwellers. In India, for example, some 20,000 families had been relocated from a dangerous area in a peaceful and sustainable manner.