Honourable Mangala Samaraweera
Minister of Urban Development, Construction & Public Utilities

At the Twenty-fifth Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly
for Overall Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of the Outcome of the
United Nations Conference on Human Settlements
(Habitat II)

New York
June 7, 2001


Mr. President,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to address this Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka.

Mr. President, firstly, let me extend the warm felicitations of the President of Sri Lanka, Her Excellency Madam Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, to this special session of the UN General Assembly, who, in keeping with the commitments made at the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements in 1996, has given top most priority in her Government's "Vision 21" Policy Programme, to Sustainable Human Settlements Development. On behalf of the Sri Lanka delegation and on my behalf, let me extend our special thanks to the Secretary General of the United Nations, His Excellency Mr. Kofi Annan, for his strong support for the implementation of the Habitat Agenda. I would also like to convey our appreciation to Ms. Anna Tibaijuka, the Executive Director of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, for her invaluable support and contribution to this Special Session.

We, the Member States of the UN have assembled here to review and appraise the progress made in the implementation of "Habitat II", identify the obstacles and emerging issues relating to sustainable human settlements development and to set out future plans of action for the implementation of the Habitat Agenda.

Mr. President, our country report examines the progress made in Sri Lanka in the sphere of human settlements development, since "Habitat II" in Istanbul in 1996. The global report presented by the Executive Director of UNCHS, has identified the main areas of concern to be addressed by this special session, for future action.

Mr. President, I am very happy to report to this Assembly, that the Government of Sri Lanka has been actively involved in translating the Habitat Agenda into action during the last five years, particularly in promoting planned physical and urban settlements development.

The constitution of Sri Lanka guarantees the "right to adequate shelter". Accordingly, necessary policies and legislation have been introduced to facilitate the process of ensuring shelter for all.

The national ratio of home ownership in Sri Lanka is 80%. However, in urban areas it stands at 60% due to the high value of land, usage of large stock rental housing and other categories of shelter.

In order to ensure "adequate shelter for all", Sri Lanka is now in the process of increasing her national housing stock through private-public partnerships; encouraging individual house builders by creating a conducive social market and legal environments; and relocating slum and shanty dwellers in new sustainable and self-sufficient compact townships.

In the sphere of Shelter Development, basic guidelines and directions for the country's human settlements development extending over a period of three decades beyond 2010 have been drawn up. The Presidential Task Force on Housing & Urban Development, initiated by the President of Sri Lanka in 1998, the first of its kind in post independent Sri Lanka, has prepared a comprehensive Plan for human settlement development at national, provincial and local levels.

The urban population of Sri Lanka constitutes 30% of the country's total population at present and it is likely to reach 45% and 65% by 2015 and 2030 respectively. Taking into consideration the trend of Sri Lanka's urban population growth, the Government has undertaken an extensive physical development plan for the next 30 years, within the overall context of its national economic development strategy.

According to latest statistics, the population component under the national poverty line in Sri Lanka, has been reduced from 27% to 22% during the last five years, while the per capita GNP has increased from US$ 588 to US$ 855. Furthermore, the annual growth rate of GDP of the country has been maintained at an average of S% during the period from 1996 to 2000, while the average level of investment and savings during the same period recorded 25% of GDP. Furthermore, in order to create a conducive environment for foreign investment in all sectors relating to human settlements development, the Constitution of Sri Lanka provides guaranteed protection.

The issue of sub-standard housing is one of the most serious development challenges facing Sri Lanka in the next decade. For instance, 51 % of Colombo's total population live in slums and shanties, while only 42% of the National housing stock is permanent.

Therefore, improving the quality of the National Housing Stock, ensuring security of tenure, provision of urban infrastructure, development of capital and secondary housing markets, mobilisation of public - private partnership in shelter development to ensure sustainable human settlements, human resources development and strengthening local authorities including empowerment of civil society are some of the major challenges that Sri Lanka needs to address.

To overcome the shelter problem of the slum and shanty dwellers in Colombo, who represent half of its population, an innovative, fully market based, self - financing, voluntary re-housing programme with full participation of the private sector and the community, called "Sustainable Townships Programme" is being implemented. This programme will offer the urban poor an option to "trade-off" the unencumbered land on which they live without a title, for a modern apartment constructed within a compact township. This programme, which is already underway, envisages the construction of 50,000 such units by 2005. In addition to the "Sustainable Townships Programme" the Urban Settlements Improvement Project arid other supplementary plans are being implemented targeting under-served settlements within the City of Colombo. Also the enabling shelter development programmes are being promoted in other urban and rural areas, fisheries and plantation sectors with a view to provide "adequate shelter for all" by the year 2010.

Mr. President, the UNCHS-Sri Lanka partnership is a very long-standing one. Currently UNCHS is involved in two major projects in Colombo, i.e. the Urban Management Project and the Sustainable Colombo Co-area Project. However, we hope that the UNCHS would have a hard holistic look at the social dichotomy that exists in the City of Colombo, where the affluent and poorest of the poor share it fifty-fifty. It is our view that no sustainable shelter development can be expected in Colombo, unless and until we address the shelter problem of the unfortunate 51% of the City.

Sri Lanka believes that there must be a greater global partnership for co-operation in the fields of financial and technical assistance to strengthen the capacities of the developing countries to enable them to cope with growing problems pertaining to human settlements development in an ever-urbanising world. The real challenge before us in the urban millennium is to demonstrate our "political will" to establish effective institutional mechanisms to implement the measures agreed upon here. But the "political will" of the developing countries will be reduced to a mere slogan unless the same is mobilised within the developed countries to ensure a fair and regular flow of assistance to developing countries in order to achieve the common objectives of the Habitat Agenda.

Mr. President, on behalf of the government of Sri Lanka, let me emphasise that we are committed not only to implement the Habitat Agenda, but also to consolidate our solidarity with all the member countries who are looking forward to a new order in ensuring International Cooperation in the context of the rapidly expanding urbanisation and globalisation process.

In conclusion, I wish the Twenty-fifth Special Session of the UN General Assembly to be a great success.

Thank You.