Mr President

As part of last year's Millennium Summit, the Prime Minister committed New Zealand to a wide range of principles and development targets for the coming years, many of which are relevant to our meeting today. These include reaffirmation of the principles of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and specific time-bound goals on access to basic services, including health, education, and safe drinking water. The Millennium Declaration also committed UN members to seeking "significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers" by 2020. The commitment of our leaders to these goals, along with the urgent need to address the effects of our rapidly increasing global population, make this a timely moment to review progress in implementing the Habitat Agenda.

Mr President

The core Habitat principles of sustainable development, good urban governance and adequate shelter for all currently underpin New Zealand government policy. New Zealanders are for the most part well housed. We are a nation of home-owners: over 70% of all New Zealand permanent dwellings were owner-occupied in 1996. Problems of inadequate or overcrowded housing are infrequent and difficult to measure. Tenants and homeowners are protected by, and answerable to, a robust legislative framework. This establishes basic rights for tenants, and design standards for building adequacy, so as to meet health, sanitation and safety requirements. Human settlements planning, management and development is effectively provided for by existing legislation, with clear and mutually agreed roles for central, regional and local levels of government. The New Zealand Government is committed to facilitating access to affordable and sustainable housing for people on low incomes, and providing appropriate housing for people with special needs, thereby contributing to the well-being of communities and individuals.

New Zealand is a country in which 85% of the population live in urban areas and towns. At the same time, we are heavily dependent on our rural economy for our ongoing prosperity. Given this complex and co-dependent relationship between our city-dwelling majority and our agrarian economic backbone, the Government is particularly concerned to preserve and enrich the linkages between our urban and rural settlements. In this respect, we are very pleased to endorse the call - made at this Special Session by the Secretary-General - for the implementation of the Habitat agenda to be undertaken in a manner cognisant of the needs of rural communities.

New Zealand's recognition of the importance of its country settlements has lead the government, as part of its broader sustainable development approach, to review its policies in various key areas of relevance to Habitat. Policy reviews are taking place in the areas of sustainable growth, transport, measurement of social development, environmental policy, waste management, energy efficiency and local government. Our review of local government legislation will seek to give local governments more clearly defined purpose and greater flexibility in terms of their activities, and to make them more accessible and responsive to their local communities. Greater decentralisation and encouragement of enhanced civic engagement is in fact a key element of current government policy in a number of areas, most recently provision of health services. Government officials are also currently giving thought to ways of ensuring greater integration and coordination of efforts across the New Zealand government, and between government, the private sector and civil society, in order to promote a sustainable development approach.

Mr President

The Habitat Agenda is also of relevance to our wider region. At present, urban communities in the Pacific region are not large in either relative or absolute global terms. However, with urban populations projected to grow by as much as 3.2% annually over the next thirty years, this situation may change rapidly. Already, many of our development partners are beginning to experience problems associated with rapid urbanisation, including growing pollution and income inequality, as well as increasing problems with access to adequate sanitation and clean water. Issues related to use and ownership of land also continue to pose challenges. We hope that UNCHS will continue to consider the unique human settlements development challenges faced by many Pacific island countries, particularly in terms of their limited natural resources, ecologies, and vulnerability to natural disasters.

Mr President

For the Commission on Human Settlements to remain an effective and relevant organisation, and for the Habitat Agenda to achieve its goals, both must have a strategic focus. The issue of human settlements development is potentially as broad as the experience of human development itself. Few topics on the development agenda do not potentially have salience for Habitat. However, it is only in a few areas, notably its "strategic points of entry", that Habitat can claim comparative advantage over other agencies. To be a truly effective and credible advocate, it must concentrate on core areas of expertise, and coordinate with other agencies to ensure that human settlements issues are mainstreamed into others' activities. The recent establishment of a Habitat Task Management System is a valuable step in this regard. We applaud efforts to maintain such strategic focus to date, and urge the Executive Director to continue to intensify them in the future.

Mr President, as we approach next year's World Summit for Sustainable Development, increasing attention will be paid to all aspects of sustainable development, including human settlements. It will be important for UNCHS to play a constructive role in preparations for this event, and for the results of this Special Session to feed into it effectively.