a room not thirteen feet either way, slept twelve men
and women, two or three in bunks set in a sort of alcove,
the rest on the floor."
These homeless children "are to be found all over the
city …. where the neighbourhood offers a chance of picking
up a living at daytime and of "turning in" at night with
a promise of security from surprise. In warm weather a
truck in the street, a convenient out-house, or a dug-out
in a hay-barge at the wharf make good bunks."
quotes easily describe conditions in slums and squatter
settlements in any city in any developing country today,
but, in fact, they were written over a hundred years ago
by Jacob August Riis. He emigrated to North America from
Denmark in 1870, and when Riis finally managed to get
a job as a police reporter, he described the squalor and
humiliation he experienced in the slums and tenements
of New York. Riis went onto to become a leading social
reformer, and his landmark book published in 1890, 'How
the other half lives', inspired New Yorkers, including
Theodore Roosevelt, to initiate long needed reforms in
providing housing and shelter for the poor.
is not the only journalist to have given a voice to the
homeless and to have fought for their right to better
housing. In the 19th century, industrialization in Europe
and America led to rapid urbanization. The population
of London went from about 800,000 in 1800 to over 6.5
million in 1900; during the same period, Paris grew from
one-half to over 3 million; and by 1900 New York's population
had swelled to 4.2 million. This explosion meant that
the poor lived in dark, airless and unsanitary tenements,
often without windows, where they were regularly exploited
by rapacious landlords and politicians. With the advent
of the mass media, the cause of the poor was taken up
by many illustrious journalists and authors. Dickens,
Mayhew and Zola, amongst others, wrote articles and novels
that revealed to their readers the appalling conditions
in human settlements. Such writers were instrumental in
changing the policies of their time.
over a hundred years later, the task is not over. At the
start of the urban millennium, when over half of humanity
will live in cities and towns, there is a pressing need
for the public to be made aware of the problems of urbanization.
Though rates of urbanization in the developed world and
in Latin America and the Caribbean have stabilized at
around 75 per cent or above, Africa and Asia -- which
are both still predominantly rural -- face an explosive
demographic shift, as their urban populations surge from
about 35 per cent to over 50 per cent in the next 30 years.
It is estimated that, between 1990 and 1995 alone, the
cities in the developing world grew by 263 million people
-- the equivalent of another Los Angeles every three months.
Every day there are an additional 180,000 people in cities
and towns all over the world.
process of urbanization must be viewed against the backdrop
of globalization and the industrialization of the developing
world. In today's international economy, cities are forced
to compete with one another to attract capital. Local
authorities everywhere are investing heavily in infrastructure
and housing to attract multi-national investment. But
evidence suggests that, even in cities like New York and
London, globalization has led to an increasing polarization
between the rich and the poor.
the developing world, where migrants continue to flock
to urban areas for jobs, the situation is worse. Over
50 per cent of the population in cities in the developing
world live in unplanned, spontaneous settlements and slums.
It is also estimated that at least 36 per cent of all
households, and 41 per cent of all woman-headed households,
live below the locally-defined poverty level. Though it
is difficult to estimate, it appears that the urbanization
and feminization of poverty have resulted in almost a
billion poor people living in urban areas without adequate
shelter and basic services.
just as a century ago, there is a need for journalists
to inform the public about the living conditions of the
urban poor; to ask why such conditions continue; and to
exchange ideas on possible solutions and proven best practices.
+ 5, the special session of the United Nations General
Assembly that will be held in New York from 6 to 8 June
2001, is dedicated to raising awareness about the problems
and prospects of urbanization. This is a critical time
for the future of human settlements. The success of Istanbul
+ 5 depends as much on the participation of journalists
as on Governments, representatives of local authorities
and civil society actors like non-governmental organisations,
the private sector and academic researchers.
As gate-keepers to the global and local media, journalists
are essential partners in informing the world about the
event and the issues involved. This is not just a matter
of discussing the diplomatic background to the negotiations
of international instruments in New York, it is about
alerting local citizens to the conditions in their backyards
and to what can and should be done. Important questions
should be asked and answered: Have Governments delivered
on the commitments made at Habitat II? If not, why not?
We call on investigative journalists in the developed
and developing worlds to find out more about the state
of their cities and towns and the living conditions of
Executive Director of the United Nations Centre for Human
Settlements, I invite the media to join Habitat in the
challenging task of ensuring adequate shelter for all
and sustainable human settlements in the urban millennium.
I call upon journalists to continue working in the tradition
begun by people like Jacob Riis, Charles Dickens, Henry
Mayhew and Emile Zola. We honour them best by giving a
voice to the voiceless.
by the Executive Director:
…The environmental future of the planet is closely linked
to the management of our cities, towns and villages.
…The relationship between the environment and human settlements
is like the proverbial chicken and egg paradox. Good environmental
governance requires good urban governance and vice versa.
are in the business of promoting a culture of solidarity
and inclusiveness in all human settlements. Cities will
not become liveable places without learning from the solidarity
which is practised in villages where everyone is provided
for, however modestly. In my village, I never saw anyone
sleeping under a tree.
humanity enters the 21st century-the urban millennium,
a consensus is emerging that good governance will mean
the difference between success and failure.
…There is a need for a sea change in the management approach
of many city governments. We need a revolution in local
government attitudes so that they become demand driven
and flexible, as opposed to bureaucratic and unresponsive.
… The welfare of over a billion people who are homeless
or live without adequate shelter and basic services depends
on the combined efforts of all our partners, Governments,
local authorities, parliamentarians, non-governmental
organizations and the private sector. Together we can
improve the living conditions in our cities, towns and
…The exclusion of the poor from the benefits of urban
life is a daily reminder of the urgent need for greater
social and civic responsibility. …Partnership is indeed
the key for successful implementation of the Habitat Agenda.
…It cannot be a matter of "our agenda versus theirs".
We must collaborate if we are to succeed.
…Poverty elimination starts with listening to the poor,
fostering their initiatives and giving them a chance.
Unless this is done poverty reduction efforts will continue
to remain illusory.
…Good urban governance implies that Governments respond
to and are accountable to all urban residents, including
is making the 21st century the century of cities. The
challenge is how to make cities a better place for the
majority of the people.
…The poor are not just passive objects. Most often they
are solving their own problems, but Governments are failing
to recognise their efforts. Instead of harnessing their
energy they are discouraging the poor from participating
in the improvement of their own living conditions.
further information, please contact:
Sharad Shankardass, Spokesperson, or
Zahra A. Hassan,
Media & Press Relations Unit,
Tel: (254 2) 623153, 623151,
Fax: (254 2) 624060,