Address
by
M. Slaheddine BELAID
Minister of Equipment and Housing
At the Special U.N General Assembly Session on reviewing And assessing the Habitat Agenda
NEW-YORK 6 - 8 June 2001

Mr. Chairman,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of Tunisia and its President, His Excellency Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, I am pleased to say how proud we are of holding this Twenty-Fifth Special Session of the General Assembly for an overall review and appraisal of the implementation of the Agenda of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) adopted in Istanbul in June 1996, an agenda that is aimed at further consolidating the foundations of comprehensive development and well-being for all peoples and at enabling current, generations to safeguard the essential and necessary components of a decent life for future generations.

I am also pleased to extend my thanks to the United Nations, its Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, the U.N. Center for Human Settlements, and its Executive Director, Mrs. Anna Kajumolo Tibaijuka, for the excellent organization which has enabled this session to start in most favorable conditions.

Mr. Chairman,

Tunisia has taken part in all the regional and international events paving the way for this special session. Our sizeable delegation includes experts as well as Agenda partners in Parliament, local authorities, the private sector, and associations. We came to New York with a national report developed and enthusiastically implemented, on instructions from His Excellency the President of the Republic, by all national proactive elites, government bodies, non governmental organizations, and individual experts.

Based on objective and detailed indicators, the Report shows that Tunisia has endeavored to set up the legal framework and the institutions required for a methodical planning of urban development, growing urbanization, organized utilization of the national territory, involvement of municipalities and regional as well as local bodies in improving the management of human settlements so as to keep abreast of the growing urbanization rate, from 61 % in 1994 up to 62,8 % in 2000.

Tunisia has addressed this phenomenon by taking a number of steps aimed at developing land areas, increasing the organized supply of lowincome plots, providing for appropriate mechanisms to establish a carefully-designed urban planning, paving the way for an urban expansion based on a master plan to develop the national territory and master plans, for developing cities taking into account the need to preserve fertile farm land. These are mechanisms implementing one of the mottoes of the UN Conference - "sustainable development in a rapidly urbanizing world".

As outlined in our report, Tunisia was able to develop and implement specific national strategies aimed at promoting fairness and equality, relying on the citizen as such, without gender-based discrimination, opening the gates for every form of initiative within free bodies and associations. Hence, we were able to score significant success, as the number of shelters exceeded the number of households by 13 % in 1999 and the number of people owning the shelters they live in is as high as 78,2 %. In addition, most of our urban settlements and houses are fitted with basic services. Connection to the power grid rose significantly, from 86 % in 1994 to 94,6 % in 1999 ; connection to drinkable water was nearly 75,2 % in 1999 ; connection of shelters to the sanitation network in urban communities reached 67,7 % during the same period.

We share the view of the international community that sustainable balanced development of cities and urban communities can only be achieved through programs aimed at eradicating poverty (in Tunisia, the poverty rate has declined sharply from 6,2% in1995 to 4,2 % in 2000 ) assisting low-income groups, and striving to improve the living conditions of ail citizens in rural areas. To this end, President Zine El Abidine Ben Alï bas, in his October 1999 Agenda for the future, decided to eradicate by 2004 all remaining dilapidated shelters accounting for 1,2 % of the overall shelter stock. Thus, Tunisia will have succeeded in attaining the first goal set by this august Conference, i.e. "Adequate shelter for all".

Mr. Chairman,

[Tunisia has always led the way and seriously contributed to all United Nations meetings aimed at promoting the principles of international cooperation and solidarity, at building a world founded on the belief in a common destiny and the need to work together to achieve well-being for all, as well as security and peace for everybody. Tunisia expresses the hope that this special session on human settlements will open the gates of hope for mankind to find its way, at the dawn of this new century, to a cohabitation that preserves everybody's right, eradicates selfishness, and allows individuals to develop new relations with other people, based on a balance between a safe environment and sustainable development. Aware of the interdependence of these two dimensions, our country has developed a national program for cleanliness and environmental protection; it has also designed projects aimed at fighting pollution, desertification, erosion, and floods, at rationalizing the utilization of its natural resources, setting up natural reserves, leisure parks, and raising the awareness of citizens, pupils and students about environmental issues]

We hope that the debate on assessing the implementation of the Habitat II Agenda will result in unified concepts and a deeper understanding of the link between the international strategy and the various national strategies. The correlation between the issues posed by rampant urbanization within a context of rapid globalization of the economy and the need to meet the requirements of citizens has, in most cases, conferred an international dimension to such issues.

Hence the Tunisian initiative, expressed by its President, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, calling for a World Solidarity Fund whose basic function is to provide the international community with a mechanism to eradicate poverty and promote least-favored regions in the world, to be funded through donations and voluntary.contributions.

This call is founded on, a personal conviction of His Excellency that it is no longer possible to imagine a balanced or safe world or countries without decent living conditions for all. The initiative is also based on a successful national experience, started in 1993 , providing for a National Solidarity Fund to be set up. Within a very short period of time, not exceeding seven years, it has allowed for mobilizing 550 million Tunisian dinars (the equivalent in dollars) benefiting more than 1450 remote and deprived areas set deep into rural areas or in the heart of large cities. Thus, based. on the adequate implementation of the Fund's strategy, nearly 200.000 households benefited from basic services such as roads, drinkable water,  electricity, as well as income generation, employment, and incorporation Within the nation's comprehensive development cycle. In the Urban 21 International Conference held in Berlin in early July 2000 we had highlighted the efficiency of such tools in anchoring rural population to their original areas and in restricting rural-urban migration. This experience can be expanded to many other countries worldwide.

The interest manifested by visitors to Tunisia from friendly and sisterly, nations in the projects of the National Solidarity Fund and their wish to benefit from this pioneering program has urged President dine El Abidine Ben Ali to decide to make Tunisia's experience available to the international community in its efforts to promote mankind and to raise its living standards.

[ Furthermore, Tunisia's experience has established the close link between shelter and employment. In this way , it has been successful in developing a new instrument also based on solidarity, called the 21-21 National Employment Fund aimed at promoting employment and improving the income of men, women, youth, and school dropouts. The Fund also develops programs needed to generate income and provide new opportunities by providing adequate training in areas of specialization needed by the labor market, including new information and communication technologies ]

Mr. Chairman,

Tunisia wishes to greet all those who have contributed to the organization of this  important international event and calls on the international community, including governments, organizations, and associations to show more solidarity and mutual assistance. Tunisia reaffirms its readiness to take part in all international, regional, and bilateral efforts aimed at effecting the mottoes of human rights for decent living conditions.

Thank you for your attention.