(Delivered by Andrew Kailembo, General Secretary, ICFTU African Regional Organization - ICFTU-AFRO)


Mr. Chairman and distinguished delegates,

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) has for many years contributed to the formulation and implementation of policies to improve human settlements in the context of sustainable development world-wide.

The Istanbul Declaration of Habitat II in June 1996 stated that the issues of poverty, shelter, urbanization, rapid population growth, overcrowding of towns, environment degradation are serious problems threatening global peace and stability. In this context it would be relevant for the delegates of this Special Session to know that to a large extent the aspirations of the Declaration have not been fulfilled as a result of lack of determined measures. Several international events following the Habitat II have recognised the lack of progress on several aspects of the Declaration.

Even the commitments of Habitat I to treat shelter and services as priority issues in government plans and policies have received little attention and the social sector is still considered a peripheral welfare activity. In addition, Governments have reduced public expenditure, particularly on capital programmes thus affecting the quality of life and living conditions.

The ICFTU and the IFBWW (International Federation of Building and Wood Workers) strongly believe that effective implementation of the decisions of the Habitat II is the key to bring about a change. During these five years since Habitat II, many more have become homeless as a result of civil war, drought, famine and also unsustainable development strategies adopted by many governments in the name of poverty and unemployment reduction.

The ICFTU is the world's largest union international which represents 155 million members in 148 countries represented by 221 affiliates. Its long-standing commitment is to secure social and economic justice for the poor and disadvantaged. Because of its composition, the ICFTU takes a global view on the eradication of poverty, promotion of employment, reduction of human sufferings and campaigns for a global economic and social order to create a better Habitat for all. During Habitat II the ICFTU reminded the governments to create and stimulate the economic conditions to enable working people to afford adequate housing.

Access to adequate housing as a basic human right is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In the context of review and appraisal of the implementation of Habitat II Declaration, the ICFTU and the international trade union movement believe that basic human freedoms and minimum rights to shelter, food and jobs are inseparable and pledge their support to measures that further these aims and hence to the success of this Special Session.

Rapid population growth poses one of the greatest challenges to the peoples of this planet. The implications of this for consumption, production, markets, education, services, the environment, investment, and peace are thus fundamental to all of us. In the backdrop of this, the world's population is urbanizing much faster than it is growing, in large measure, because of shrinking economic opportunities and the lack of amenities available in rural areas.

Rising urbanization also brings us to the plight of rising exploitation of unorganized labour, child labour, forced and bonded labour. Trade unions demand protection of their basic human rights and an end to their exploitation. The bulk of these labourers in cities are those workers who have migrated from rural areas for a better life.

The waste of natural resources, ecological and environmental degradation in rural as well as urban areas in developing countries is a dangerous phenomenon. The real costs to society of environmental degradation and its failure to deal with social deprivation are enormous.

The public sector plays a supportive role in economic development through finance and technical output and occupies a place of pride. The benefits that have accrued to the society from the public sector industries are both direct and indirect.

The construction industry has an enormous potential to become a major stimulus to economic growth and employment, but it requires a proper infrastructure for adequate protection of workers' rights, especially for union organization. The ICFTU urges all governments to respect the fundamental ILO Labour Standards - the core ILO Conventions on Freedom of Association and on the Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively. Trade unions demand that the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Right at Work be respected and guaranteed.

Governments should set up an urban poverty eradication fund to deal with growing urbanisation, unemployment and homelessness particularly among young workers. Community empowerment, sustainable support systems, skill upgrading and employment generation must be addressed. Rural development programmes should become part of national planning in order to mitigate pressure on urbanization.

Carefully targeted public and private investment in infrastructure including housing and land development can provide low cost quality housing. Housing Banks including scheduled banks should be encouraged to provide low interest loans. Suitable housing technology adapted to locally available and environmentally friendly options with a touch of innovativeness should be developed and popularized. Housing co-operatives should be encouraged. Trade unions and other NGOs should be brought in to work in partnership with governments, local authorities and the private sector on comprehensive shelter, infrastructure and rehabilitation programmes.

Women's empowerment must be strongly encouraged. The structures and institutions that perpetuate gender discrimination and social inequality must be reformed, and women must be enabled to gain access to, and control of, both material and information resources. Measures are required especially in developing countries to increase women's ability to earn an adequate income to achieve economic self-reliance.
In addition to increasing development assistance, the industrialized world must open their markets to goods and services from developing countries.

Mr. Chairman, this Special Session is an opportunity to ask for a definite commitment from countries to improve human settlements. The international trade union community hopes that a commitment to human rights espoused by many countries must include the right to "human security" which implies the rights to work, food and nutrition, education, health and shelter for all. It is now time to show how committed national governments and multilateral organizations are to address the urgent need for sustainable human settlements. Thank you.