Twenty-Fifth Special Session of the General Assembly for an Overall Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of the Outcome of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II)
the Permanent Representative
of Italy to the United Nations
Ambassador Sergio Vento
Head of Delegation
(New York, 7 June 2001)
Italy fully supports the statement made by Sweden in its capacity as President of the European Union.
Italy was a strong supporter of the UN conference on Human Settlements in Istanbul in 1996, when it held the EU presidency. Our support for the Habitat Agenda remains undiminished today, as we meet five years later to review implementation of its objectives. Our ongoing support is most clearly manifested by the large delegation sent here by the Foreign Ministry's General Directorate for Development Cooperation, including the Deputy Director General, as well as the many representatives of the Ministry of Public Works, civil society, and local authorities. Indeed, our 1948 Constitution already embraces the goals of sustainable urban development in its reference to the right "to enjoy the cultural heritage and the landscape."
The structure of Italy in both topographic and administrative terms is a model of decentralization. This feature makes it an excellent test case for the innovative measures that the Habitat Agenda prescribes to tackle the problems of rapid urbanization.
Traditionally the majority of the Italian population has lived in cities and towns. Our urban population is concentrated in a network of vibrant small and medium-sized centers. This arrangement gives rise to a strong social and economic system that provides for a relatively high standard of living, taking into consideration, of course, long-standing regional disparities.
Among the matters that Italian municipalities are entitled to deal with autonomously, under the leadership of democratically elected mayors, are several that pertain to local development, particularly the development of the territory. This means that urban and local sustainability policies tend to be drafted at the local level. This decentralized system is what enabled Italy to find solutions to one of the great historic issues, the need for housing and basic services in the post-war period.
In order to promote "transparent, responsible, accountable, just, effective and efficient governance of town and cities", more complex policies based on an integrated rather than a sectoral approach should be implemented at various levels. In the 1990s Italy experienced deep economic and demographic changes, which included a freeze in our population growth, a birth rate below the European average, and a growing percentage of the elderly. On the plus side, there was a rise in the general standard of living. However, like several other industrialized countries, there has not been a corresponding decrease in the number of people living in poverty.
These demographic and economic trends are reflected in urban change patterns, since cities tend to change through renewal and revitalization rather than expansion. Our historic centers have already been extensively restored and new developments are primarily in brownfield sites. In the five years since Istanbul, there has been greater support for programmes to revitalize peripheral areas, and a rich experience in the area of urban regeneration policies. This is producing more livable areas in our cities.
Access to affordable housing is one of the chief issues addressed by our legislation. During the last few years there has been a sharp increase in the number of immigrant workers (the rate is now 2.2% of the total population) and the traditional local wardens of housing policy have been hard put to handle this unexpected structural phenomenon. In fact, approximately 40% of immigrants live in precarious accommodations.
The picture for the environment is mixed. Despite some emissions reductions, not all the changes hoped for in consumption and production patterns became a reality. Petrol consumption has doubled in ten years, and the percentage of private cars on the urban roadways has increased by one-third. Upgrading of our extensive rail system, including freight, is moving too slowly. The consumption of potable water is expected to grow consistently, although in a few areas there are still periodic water shortages and there is still room to improve the necessary filtration facilities. Finally, Italy has experienced several hydrogeological disasters-possibly due to climate change-which have led to greater awareness of the insufficiency of a strictly local approach to development, and of the need for more efficient coordination with national policies.
Let me not neglect some of our major accomplishments: for the first time, we achieved the goal of preserving at least 10% of the national territory through the establishment of natural parks and reserves. Recent actions have sought to harmonize the goals of sustainability, local development and urban renewal. In the spirit of the Habitat Agenda, such programs are aimed at enhancing the capacity of local communities to cope with future challenges, through investments in structural improvements or human development. In this light, investing in the empowerment of women, children, and the elderly does not represent a social cost but rather a contribution to the overall quality of life.
There are limits on the progress that can be made through strictly local action. For example, poverty, immigration and environmental hazards are global challenges that should be addressed through cooperative efforts between every level of government, from local administrations to the international institutions
As for international cooperation, Italy confirms its commitment to increase the percentage of our budget dedicated to programmes that implement the Habitat Agenda. Our renewed development cooperation policy gives priority to poverty eradication programs that seek to provide basic infrastructures and access to safe drinking water, create new urban services, upgrade informal settlements and stimulate capacity- and institution- building.
Our development cooperation policies tend more and more to follow the empowerment and enablement strategies recommended by the Habitat Agenda. In concrete, this means giving more importance to activities that support local organizations in the definition of their urban strategies through capacity- and institution-building initiatives.
Some of our most recent programs address the preservation and revitalization of the cultural heritage, particularly in connection with areas of poverty. In 1999 Florence hosted a World Bank Conference titled "Culture Counts," whose emphasis was that the loss of culture and identity provokes natural and man-made damages, whose toll is ultimately much higher than the short-term costs.
The goals of adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlement development are crucial to both economic, social and cultural development and to environmental protection. This is why we support the Habitat Agenda actions to promote peace and justice and to prevent natural or man-made disasters. In this light, we stress the importance of strengthening coordination within the UN system, and we recognize the specific, reinforced role of the UN Center for Human Settlements. To this end, I am pleased to announce that just yesterday the Italian authorities approved a substantial increase in our voluntary contribution to the Center.
Thank you Mr. President