Mr. President, Distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me begin by adding my delegation's and my personal congratulations to you and your distinguished colleagues of the Bureau on your respective elections. I am convinced that given your proven skills and able leadership, this conference will be brought to a successful conclusion. Allow me also to associate my country's position with the statement made by the Presidency of the European Union.
Five years after HABITAT II we have come together again, to reconfirm our political will to accomplish the two main goals of the Habitat Agenda.
The implementation of Habitat Agenda is a major challenge for my country and its adoption coincides with a period of dynamic changes in Greece at all levels which are related to both external and internal factors.
The problems we face in our human settlements are of a particular and complicated nature. We should not ignore, for example, that any part of Greek territory bears a many centuries' old cultural heritage which should be preserved and protected.
We in Greece are daily faced with difficult such dilemmas particularly when development has to take place.
It is a fact that important and positive steps have been taken in the last five years concerning all aspects of quality of life in both urban and rural areas. All these and many of the difficulties we face as well as our future priorities are contained in our National Report prepared for this Special Session of the General Assembly.
In the housing sector, where, traditionally, the country greatly depends on private initiatives, action of the public sector (Government, local authorities, etc.) is based on the provision for tax relieves and benefits, interest rate subsidies for first time homebuyers and the programs of the Workers Housing Organization. Our efforts are intensified to meet the housing needs and social integration of vulnerable social groups such as the repatriated ethnic Greeks from countries of the former Soviet Union, as well as the roma.
Particular efforts are being made in order to cope with frequent natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods. These efforts relate both to the rehabilitation of the people affected and the establishment of methods and means to reduce the degree of vulnerability of constructions and built environment of Human Settlements.
Furthermore, Greece faces a new challenge due to the influx of a considerable number of political and economic refugees. The efforts in this area aim at guaranteeing all necessary means for their social integration among which housing is a priority. Lastly, special efforts are being made towards improving housing quality in terms of energy, performance, structural adequacy, basic infrastructure and community services.
Of particular importance is the balanced development of the national human settlements system, which is characterized by a wide variety in terms of structure, problems and options. This has led to the upgrading and appropriate adjustment of planning and design mechanisms and approaches to face the diversity of Human Settlements at all levels of national territory and especially in mountainous, rural, island and coastal areas. The completion of the major transportation and communication network that is under way as well as the national cadastre are expected to contribute significantly to the balanced development of our settlements.
In the large urban centers and also
in the medium and small size cities action is focusing on the improvement
of the quality of the built environment mainly through:
- renewal of the deteriorated urban areas,
- restoration and re-use of abandoned buildings,
- improvement of infrastructure,
- control of illegal building
- restriction of unjustified urban space expansions and
- protection of peri-urban and non?urban areas.
The implementation of the constructions program for the year 2004 Olympic Games in Athens has already contributed to the radical upgrading of urban infrastructure.
Let me add that Greece strongly believes that policies for the development of rural areas and the improvement of quality of life in our villages contribute substantially to the full and balanced sustainable development for the whole country.
We realize that the implementation of the Habitat Agenda requires collective efforts and coordination of actions of all stakeholders involved in all sectors of human activities and at all levels of governance. We place particular emphasis in the crucial role of local Authorities. Good governance at the local level which promotes comprehensive approaches, participatory processes and transparency constitute the driving force towards sustainable Human Settlements development.
Within this framework the recent reorganization of municipalities and communes towards larger administrative entities, combined with decentralization of decision making and the transfer of financial resources, constitutes a major achievement for our country.
Let me here insert a note concerning the history of HABITAT. By this, I refer to the efforts that started forty years ago by distinguished Greek architects and planners in cooperation with other international personalities in various fields. Conscious of the need for the international community to cope with the eventual and unavoidable global urbanization phenomenon and of the need for the adoption of a comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach to human settlements, these personalities have tried to upgrade and expand the initial program of the U.N. on Housing, Building and Planning towards the holistic concept of "Human Settlements" and demonstrate the necessity to give priority to natural environment issues and the quality of the total spectrum of Human Settlements.
These efforts have led to the Vancouver Conference, HABITAT I, where in recognition of this contribution a moment of silence at the Plenary was devoted to the memory of C.A. Doxiadis, the first Greek initiator of this effort, a year after his death.
Let me also remind that polis, policy and politismos (culture) in greek are terms deriving from the same root of the Greek language. We understand that HABITAT is concerned with pulling together the issues faced at the United Nations conferences on the environment, population, food, the status of women and the whole balance of the world economic order and many others. For it is in settlements that the effects of all these particular issues come together. It is in settlements that mankind achieves happiness, justice and dignity or suffers rejection, despair and deepening violence.
Thank you Mr. President.