A Committee of the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CONGO)



Excellencies, Delegates and Fellow Participants,
It is a distinct honour to be able to address you today as Chair of the NGO Committee on Human Settlements and Co-coordinator of the International Facilitating Group for NGOs which had been established for Habitat II at Istanbul and was re?instated in Nairobi during the preparatory process. More than 2,500 NGOs have been accredited to UNCHS (Habitat), many of them representing grassroots organizations. Perhaps more than any of the UN conferences of the 1990s and because of the all-encompassing nature of Habitat issues, we are hearing the people's voices. They are tired of being referred to as the "dollar per day" workers by pundits of the international aid industry. The conservative estimate of 1.3 billion persons in need of improved shelter should remind us that degraded living environments and enforced homelessness are inexcusable conditions at this stage of our collective human development.

Expectations of the Habitat Agenda.

We have come a long way from the Vancouver Declaration on Human Settlements and the Vancouver Action Plan of the first Habitat Conference in 1976, but the glaring disparities in economic and social opportunities in human settlements mentioned then continue to be persistent issues worldwide. During Habitat II many participants acknowledged that living conditions had not improved during that preceding generation for the vast majority of the world's poorer inhabitants and that the expanding slums and squatter settlements were testimony to the pervasive deterioration of environmental and socio-economic conditions. The conference deliberations led to the Habitat Agenda with its recommendations for action under two main themes -- Affordable housing for all, and Sustainable human settlements in an urbanizing world. NGO members of the Committee have initiated research projects, participated in relevant community events and continue to render volunteer technical services towards realizing goals of the Habitat Agenda, especially at the local level.

The afore-mentioned two themes were augmented by two campaigns -- security of tenure and good urban governance. The NGO Committee is preparing a compendium of cases of secure tenure from examples worldwide as a contribution to UNCHS. Members are participating in Best Practices projects and the current series of workshops being undertaken by the World Bank group and the UN relating to urban governance, especially those focused on financing for urban development. The NGO Committee on Human Settlements cooperates with other organizations in providing information on all aspects of the Habitat Agenda and underscores UNCHS collaboration with international initiatives to reduce poverty, for example the Urban Management Programme with UNDP and Sustainable Cities Programme with UNEP. Some members are involved in the UN system-wide antipoverty strategies and their links to private sector partnerships, particularly for the creation of better livelihoods and the quest for affordable shelter.

We are encouraged by the response of Member States to resolution A/res/55/194, 5 January 2001, which called for the inclusion of "...partner Groups in broadbased, gender-balanced national delegations". However many NGOs have been disappointed by actions taken during the Preparatory process which sought to impede their role as partners with Habitat, one of the unique features of this process which had been approved at the Conference in Istanbul. We are also concerned about the hard line taken by some Member States in connection to people's right to shelter -- a right already enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) and reaffirmed in the Istanbul Declaration and the Habitat Agenda. We are convinced that the right to decent living conditions applied to all citizens will not adversely affect the economies of concerned countries, but rather add to the value and assets of the communities involved and have a beneficial multiplier effect on the capacities and resources of the poor men  and even poorer women.

We would like to participate in more research in the UN system, particularly Habitat, on regulatory reforms. We are aware of the manner in which restrictive or costly regulations impede the provision of affordable housing, marginalize communities from the planning and decision-making bodies, circumscribe against certain livelihoods and devalue the participation of the poor in activities affecting the quality of their lives.

In conclusion, we remain committed to the goals of the Habitat Agenda, subscribe to the principles in the Draft Declaration on Cities, and look forward to continued collaboration with UNCHS. We would like to extend our thanks and deep appreciation to the Executive Director for her generous support and the kind cooperation of her staff in making it possible for the NGO Committee and the International Facilitating Group for NGOs to convene the NGO Forum. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank those Member States who honored us with a briefing.

Narelle Townsend
Chair, NGO Committee on Human Settlements