H.E. MR. STUART W. LESLIE
PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE OF BELIZE
TO THE UNITED NATIONS
Ladies and Gentlemen.
In Istanbul we committed ourselves to ensuring adequate shelter for all and to exercise diligence in making human settlements safe, healthy, livable, equitable, productive and sustainable. We are gathered now to evaluate our performance, renew our commitment to these important goals and seek new approaches to creating a better standard of living for our people. While this is an occasion to revisit our achievements since Istanbul, we must also be aware of the mandate issued to us by our heads of State and Government at the Millennium Summit as articulated in the Declaration that "we must spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than a billion of them are currently subjected.3 This strong existing correlation aid in focusing our efforts at this Special Session on adequate shelter for all as well as sustainable human settlements and development in an urbanizing world.
For some years now, we have been faced with the reality of economic globalization, some of us with great hope and others with equal concern and while there may be as many interpretations as there are nations represented here today, there is a popular understanding that meaningful, sustainable globalization must include all our people. When the major protagonists of globalization ignore this message, people suffer and billions are denied access to proper drinking water, adequate health care, basic education, decent shelter and consequently are exposed to debilitating diseases. Yet, our concern, though legitimate, should not cause us to lose sight of the benefits globalization can bring us. Greater access to improved food supplies, cost effective low and medium income housing and better management of the world ecology can all become positive aspects of globalization, but this can only be realized through a shared partnership. We must therefore, work together to make these potential successes serve as the building blocks of a globalization that is just and sustainable, moving those who live in dire poverty to greater sustainable development while placing those of us who live on the margins in a more secure position in the global economy. For if we are to help our poor, we who govern must provide a climate where those who most need have access to quality education, technology, credit and be made to feel that they are contributors to the nation's economic development.
To better empower our citizens we must be aware of the continuous changes
in our societies. Today, large numbers of people are moving away from small
towns and villages in search of a, better life in the urban centers. In
Belize we have witnessed over the past 30 years a 62 percent growth in
the urban population. This overcrowding of our cities creates new challenges
for already limited local governments. Ageing and overstressed infrastructure
are becoming increasingly inadequate; urban schools are overcrowded; rising
urban crime disrupt once peaceful neighbourhoods and traffic clog our streets
creating new forms of rage and intolerance. Once quiet neighborhoods where
people felt safe have become noisy and residents spend valuable resources
to protect their children and secure valuable possessions. Where there
was once a community spirit, people now practice the old adage of, hear
no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil. We must work to remedy this situation
by improving our infrastructure, better manage our space and adopt programmes
to improve the quality of life in our urban and rural communities. Local
governments are crucial to this endeavour and require the autonomy to govern
their communities. For it is in these communities and neighbourhoods that
our families grow and prosper, this is where they participate in the life
of the nation and it is from here they get the support of our institutions.
Their involvement in the life of local communities brings about meaningful
participation and provides greater transparency making government's business
to the people..
In a country where more than 30 percent of the people are poor, most
of whom are women; consideration must be given to poverty alleviation from
a mufti sectoral perspective. Utilizing the assets available to us, Belize
recognizes the need to invest in its human resources, therefore improving
the productive capacity of the people, especially the poor. The Prime Minister
of Belize, in his statement before the first sitting of Parliament in 1998,
committed his government to providing a higher standard of living for Belizean
men and women, he said, "The cornerstone of our strategy is our growth
economics, which will attract many new investments and create thousands
of new , jobs with just conditions and wages for workers. This will involve
a massive national housing program, an infrastructure development scheme
and new agriculture, tourism and industry projects." In addition, he called
on Belizeans to seriously address the needs of the poor. In fulfillment
of this promise, the government of Belize has undertaken a five year National
Poverty Elimination Strategy and Action Plan which addresses poverty alleviation,
reduction and elimination in the short, medium and long-term.
This plan seeks to realize growth with equity in both rural and urban areas. At its core is lower taxation; job creation that enhances society's ability to produce and provide a higher standard of living; promote productivity; provide access to credit and the acquisition and enhancement of skills. The immediate actions taken to achieve these objectives included the elimination of personal income tax to anyone earning less than US$10,000 annually, the creation of small farmers and business banks, increased funding for the Social Investment Fund, which places an emphasis on funding programmes for women, the introduction of a National Health Insurance System and a massive housing scheme aimed at building 10,000 new homes in Belize. Together with the private sector, the NGO community and local govemments, Belizeans are confident about Belize's economic development in spite of the setbacks caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and Keith in 2000, which collectively cost Belizeans more than US$300,000,000 in damages.
Although these accomplishments are noteworthy, we realize that they are limited. Like the rest of the developing world, Belize recognizes the importance of a shared responsibility. It is for this reason that we once again appeal to our developed partners to recognize our vulnerabilities and help to develop our capacities to modernize by sharing technologies, assist in protecting of our environment and managing our natural resources. The international funding agencies must aid developing countries to prevent future crisis and help provide the necessary resources to help us move from the margins of economic development to greater economic prosperity.
This occasion challenges us to do more. We cannot leave this place without an admission of the urgency for action. The more than one hundred million people who are homeless and the many who are starving must be provided the opportunity for a dignified life. It is as much our collective responsibility as it is each of our government's responsibility to ensure that we do more and that we do more now. Aware of this urgency and in the spirit of action, Belize reaffirms its commitments to the Habitat Agenda and urge all members of our human family to continue working toward the attainment of a truly just world where all have equal access to adequate shelter and the other basic rights to which we all ascribe.