New York
June 6, 2001

Mr. President,

Distinguished Delegates,

It is an honour for me to address the Special Session of the General Assembly, on behalf of the Republic of Cyprus. I sincerely believe that the high level of representation of all Member-States of the United Nations signifies the universal awareness of the critical state of human settlements throughout the globe and the existence of the political will to address existing challenges in a meaningful way. Cyprus has aligned itself with the statement delivered by the Swedish Presidency of the European Union, and I will thus limit my statement to some issues of particular concern to my Government.

Cyprus achieved significant socio-economic growth between independence, in 1960, and 1974. In 1974, the Turkish invasion caused an upheaval of unprecedented magnitude, whose repercussions continue to affect Cyprus to-date. Despite substantial economic growth achieved since 1974 and the considerable improvement of living and working conditions, the enforced division of the insular territory undermines the future of Cyprus and its sustainable development. There is no doubt that the major problem facing Cyprus stems from the prolonged severance of the centuries-old settlement system, the natural environment and the social fabric of our multi-cultural society. This unnatural and anachronistic deformation lies at the heart of most other major problems in Cyprus, like the sudden expansion of urban centers in the government controlled areas, due to the influx of refugees from the occupied part of the island, the immense pressure exerted on scarce natural resources, the deformation of demographic characteristics of the population of Cyprus, due to ethnic cleansing and the illegal influx of settlers from Turkey and the destruction of a very rich cultural heritage.

I also mention in this respect the systematic change of official toponyms in the occupied areas that have survived through centuries, in an attempt to eradicate the historical, cultural and national heritage of the area, in violation of the resolutions of the United Nations Conferences on the Standardization of Geographical Names.

Settlements in Cyprus are being affected by most of the typical problems facing the rest of Europe. The dominance of private cars, traffic congestion in the central parts of urban centres, atmospheric pollution, urban sprawl, the conflict between central quarters and the urban periphery, etc have become commonplace problems of our major cities and hinder efforts to achieve sustainable development.

At the same time, rural settlements are experiencing a variety of problems. Those along the coastline are under severe development pressure for tourism and their environmental integrity is threatened. In contrast, in the hinterland, there are numerous villages suffering from the results of economic stagnation, population losses, the ageing of their remaining inhabitants, inadequate infrastructure and insufficient social facilities.

Regional disparities in the Government controlled area of Cyprus are being dealt with through the implementation of special development programs, policies and projects, promoting regional development and the bridging of the gap between more and less developed areas of the island.

The Government of Cyprus is aware of the situation affecting the occupied part of the island and the considerable development gap with Government controlled areas. Our Government is taking into consideration the needs of the whole of Cyprus, irrespective of the results of occupation. Plans for the social and economic integration of Turkish Cypriots with the rest of the citizens of the Republic are constantly under review and updating.

Our Government fully endorses the principle of subsidiarity, a concept that is central to the management of contemporary human settlements. A well-planned process for the transfer of decision-making competencies, as well as resources, from central government to local authorities is being implemented. We feel confident that the process of promoting a grassroot approach will lead to the establishment of a more productive relationship between the two tiers of government and that citizens will be encouraged to participate more actively into local affairs.

In the first fifteen years after the Turkish invasion, national housing policy focused almost exclusively on addressing the urgent need for providing decent temporary accommodation for one-third of the population of Cyprus, which was forcefully displaced from its ancestral homes and settlements. Cyprus has succeeded in this task and today 58,000 refugee families live under acceptable housing conditions, waiting for their eventual return to beloved places in the occupied part of the island.

The very active private sector, which dominates the housing market in Cyprus, is supplemented by semi-government agencies, specializing on housing financing and housing development. These agencies have gradually expanded their activities and they have succeeded in adequately addressing the needs of low to medium income groups.

Since the HABITAT II Conference in Istanbul, housing policies and programmes are under constant review, in order to integrate contemporary approaches and objectives. Recently, the Government has taken steps for the integration of the multiple, but rather fragmented housing programmes into a comprehensive National Housing Strategy.

During the 1990's public policy focused on the implementation of planning legislation and the promotion of sustainable development. One of the major objectives of the planning system relates to the improvement of living and working conditions of the population as a whole.

The state of the environment in Cyprus still allows for new considerations and priorities to be incorporated into national, social and economic development policies. The insular characteristics of Cyprus, in conjunction with pressures on scarce natural resources, fully justify the extreme sensitivity of local ecosystems. It is for this reason that the Government, in cooperation with local authorities and local communities, has incorporated environmental considerations and quality indices into most sectoral policies, such as the tourism and service sectors, the use on renewable energy sources, the agricultural policy, etc.

Mr. President,

I would like to take this opportunity to inform the Assembly that the Government of the Republic of Cyprus has decided to increase its voluntary contribution by 50%, for the further promotion of the HABITAT Agenda.

The Republic of Cyprus is expected to join the European Union in the near future and our Government is working intensively in order to achieve this ambitious objective. Cyprus should be reunited and all its inhabitants, Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Armenians, Latins and Maronites should be entitled to enjoy human rights and offered with an opportunity to cooperate with each other, in order to build their own common, peaceful and prosperous future.

Thank you, Mr. President.