H.E. Mr. Abraha Asfaha
Minister of Public Works, Government of the State of Eritrea,

Twenty-fifth Special Session of the General Assembly

New York
June 7, 2001

Mr. President,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour for me to address the twenty-fifth special session of the United Nations General Assembly on behalf of the State of Eritrea.

Five years after Istanbul, we are meeting here in New York to review and appraise the implementation of the Habitat Agenda and renew our commitments for further actions and initiatives to deal with old and new situations.

While my country cannot claim the successful implementation of the twin goals of the Istanbul Declaration and its agenda, owing to the limited resources at its disposal, considerable efforts are being carried out to address some of the fundamental issues that are regarded vital in meeting the housing demands and sustainable human settlements. To mention a few, the land proclamation of 1994 and security of tenure are two important legal measures that have fundamentally changed access to land use and ownership of properties in Eritrea.

One of the first important steps in the urban housing policy is the legal and administrative measure that are taken to resolve problems related to security of tenure, once and for all.
The second piece of legislation pertains to the land proclamation, presumably difficult to implement, but largely believed to promote growth by making land available to business and residential purposes. But more importantly, the legislative measure is introduced to ensure unhindered and equitable access to land and properties by women, irrespective of their marital status.

The latter reform, enshrined in the constitution of the State of Eritrea, is central to the empowerment of women for a sustainable development of the country. These legislative measures and others, including the labor laws, are introduced on the basis of non-discrimination and are primarily aimed at ensuring uniform geographic development while closing the social and economic gaps between gender, age group, social status and disabled persons.

Lately, my government, in partnership with United Nations Center for Human Settlements (HABITAT), has been able to launch a low cost housing development programme by involving the low-income community to participate in the construction of their own shelter using local materials.

For these types of programmes to expand and be sustainable, my government is attempting to create conducive environment that will promote the active participation of the private sector and all other stakeholders, especially the resident participation approach, which can be instrumental for combating and alleviating poverty.

To narrow the gap of access to social services between rural and urban centers, my government has been actively engaged in the construction of physical and social infrastructures even in the remotest areas of the country.

This modest but important step towards responding adequately to the housing needs and other social services is taking place against the backdrop of the legacies of occupation, conflict and invasion that have adversely impacted the development of the country. The border conflict between my country and Ethiopia, in the past three years, that affected about 1.6 million people has created different categories of victims: the internally displaced people (IDPs), voluntary refugee returnees and expellees with each group demanding specific response to its needs.

Moreover, the interplay between war and drought in certain regions of the country is pushing the social safety nets and the government's resources to the limit. In this regard, my delegation is particularly grateful for the inclusion of vulnerable groups such as the IDPs and refugees in the present draft declaration, which, I believe will be adopted by this special session.

Mr. President,

Before I conclude my brief statement, let me share with this august Assembly our experience with regard to the importance of urban governance as stated in the report of the Executive Director of Habitat, which my government fully subscribes to. The principles and goals of improved urban governance try to create close relationship between the decision making body and the executing local authority. While Eritrea has adopted decentralization as a policy and has put the administrative structures in place, the lack of strong institutional and financial bases is hampering the transfer of administrative capability to local bodies. The strengthening of institutional framework is therefore very vital for the attainment of improved urban governance. Furthermore, I wish to make some preliminary remarks about the concept of partnership with local authorities. For this concept to be successful, the participation of the private sector and NGOs, including twining of cities, should be done in full cooperation and coordination of the donor community and the central authority.

Mr. President,

Let me seize this moment to renew my government's strong political commitment towards the full implementation of the Declaration of Istanbul + 5.

Thank you.