All of us gathered here today share a common concern about the future of our cities and other settlements and the process of urbanization world-wide. As we embark on the urban millennium, when over one-half of humanity already lives in cities and towns - with even the most rural societies in one way or the other integrated into the global network of cities and towns - the task is evermore challenging. Whether we want to eradicate poverty or eliminate homelessness, combat crime or corruption; whether we wish to reduce environmental pollution, or mitigate the effects of natural and/or man-made disasters, we are gathered here to make common cause for the sustainable development of our living environments - our habitats.
The Habitat Agenda provides us with signposts into that common future, of a future of sustainable human settlements and adequate shelter for all. That international consensus was the single-most important achievement of Istanbul in 1996.
The evaluation of the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, with about 100 countries having submitted their reports, clearly demonstrates that the international community shares a common purpose, the political will to face the global urban challenge and the desire to work collectively in search of effective strategies to achieve our objectives. This stock taking exercise has shown that problems cannot be willed away and homelessness and squalid living conditions will not disappear by decree. It requires from each one of us, be it as individuals, members of civil society groups, local authorities, national governments or international organizations to make provision of adequate shelter our priority in both word and deed. At all these levels resources need to be invested into the implementation of the Habitat Agenda.
For as my own report on the review of the implementation of the Habitat Agenda concludes, Distinguished Delegates, progress has not been what it should be. Although commendable progress has been made, 25 per cent of humanity is still without adequate shelter. We must do better.
For this to happen, I believe that the principal objectives of the Habitat Agenda have to be more mainstreamed into the political agenda of the international community. An opportunity for this is now provided by the Millennium Declaration, the international community's political blueprint for the 21st century.
The Millennium Declaration's focus on slum upgrading - on cities without slums - and its pledge of adequate shelter for 100 million slum dwellers by 2020 as fundamental to achieving its overall objective of poverty alleviation, confirms the centrality of the Habitat Agenda to achieving sustainable development internationally and the universality of its message of adequate shelter for all. With this inclusion, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Habitat Agenda has moved centre-stage and the implications of this must be noted by all of us and addressed by this Special Session.
For shelter, along with food and clothing, are the most basic building blocks of any poverty alleviation strategy or policy, Something must have gone awfully wrong when we formulate strategies and adopt programme frameworks to fight poverty without including shelter delivery as one key element. The poor, everywhere, have inadequate shelter. We cannot hope to improve the health of the poor without improving their housing and turning slums and tenements into liveable neighbourhoods. We cannot hope to educate children, to bring light into their lives, if there is no light in their homes.
And a future of liveable neighbourhoods and healthy communities, of cities without slums, is not possible if cities do not work, are not inclusive, are divided politically, economically and socially. This alarming trend is on the rise everywhere, and in all countries. The Global Report on Human Settlements and the State of World's Cities Report, prepared and launched by UNCHS (Habitat) at this Session, convincingly demonstrate this. However, this trend of divided cities characterised by haves and haves not is most critical in the developing countries. More often than not, the poorest among these countries are the most rapidly urbanizing and their cities simply cannot cope. We have situations where up to 70% of the urban population is condemned to a life in slums and squatter settlements without basic infrastructure services including sanitation and without security. It is in such situations that infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS are flourishing. What is more, women, and the children they support, dominate these excluded groups. It is, Mr. President, a dramatic situation requiring concerted national action and international co-operation and support backed by solidarity at all levels.
Mayors, as leaders and managers of cities and city governments, are the first to be called upon to witness and respond to the daily calls for help from their constituents. As our key partners in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, they need to have the capacity and capabilities to improve the lives of their citizens and their living environment.
For without empowered local authorities and without good governance at the city level, we cannot hope to make inroads on poverty and improve the lives of the billions already living in cities, not to speak of the hundreds of millions who will be there in a few years to come. While exploiting the economic opportunities presented by globalization, cities need to have effective policies and instruments in place to mitigate its adverse effects on their citizens.
Experience from the developed countries suggests that with economic development and structural transformation, rural populations move to cities to exploit the opportunities that cities ultimately present. While the majority of new arrivals in cities find themselves in slums, and often in living conditions worse than those left behind in the countryside, it is the expectation that they will eventually be better off that pushes people into cities and towns. It is an irreversible process - which is why development policies and strategies cannot afford to continue to ignore urban economies and their dynamics. In the immediate and short-term, however, strategies to promote rural development and improve opportunities in rural townships are also urgently required to make this transformation manageable. In Africa, which is now more urbanized than Asia, with 37.4% of the population in cities in towns as compared to 36.6% for Asia, wars and civil strife emerge as the single most important factor behind very rapid urbanization. Restoration of peace and security in the African countryside is a prerequisite for any meaningful and sustainable development effort and the implementation of the Habitat Agenda.
As focal point for the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, UNCHS (Habitat) has adopted a new strategic vision and launched global campaigns on good urban governance and security of tenure. The two are designed to be vehicles to mobilize the international community and to strategically focus the efforts of Governments, local authorities, parliamentarians, non-governmental organizations and all other Habitat Partners. Only with such a focussed approach, around which international cooperation can be built, can we hope to move adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development forward nationally and locally. But this will also require that advocacy be linked with follow-up investment , with real change on the ground, and this is exactly what Habitat's partnership with the World Bank in launching the Cities Alliance hopes to achieve.
Distinguished Delegates, there is no doubt, as we embark on the urban millennium, that fostering and monitoring international cooperation to implement the Habitat Agenda and to contribute to our broader objectives of poverty alleviation and sustainable development, will require further strengthening of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements to enable it to function as an effective focal point for monitoring progress, for facilitating partnership and cooperation, raising awareness, for exchanging information and to support national and local action. It is difficult to monitor and co-ordinate the Habitat Agenda from the periphery of the United Nations system.
Deepening international cooperation among national governments local authorities, parliamentarians, non-governmental organizations and other civil society partners will also require a more continuous policy dialogue amongst them and new instruments for that purpose. I therefore look forward to the work of the Urban Forum, which has been established by the Commission on Human Settlements and brings together national governments and Habitat Partners to strengthen cooperation along common lines for the implementation of the Habitat Agenda. The first meeting of the Urban Forum will take place in Nairobi in May 2002 and it will consider the substantive follow-up to this Special Session as well as help to prepare the human settlements dimension of Rio+10 in Johannnesburg next year. Mr. President, human settlements and the environment are like the proverbial chicken-egg paradox: while distinct, they are closely linked and influence each other. Indeed, with rapid advances in technology, human settlements now dictate the state of the environment, rather than the other way around. We have to grapple with this reality.
Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates,
As it is becoming abundantly clear through all that is being reviewed and said at this special session, implementing the Habitat Agenda and its twin goals will be a core challenge of the international community in the decades to come. It is my sincere hope that as a consequence of this meeting here in New York, we will be better armed to face this challenge. For my part, as Executive Director of Habitat, I am determined to live up to the Centre's compact with the poor, and with your help I hope to be able to strengthen UNCHS (Habitat) to take on this task. I thank you all for the support and cooperation you extended to me and the Secretariat in the preparation of this session, and I look forward to your continuing support so that we can realize the vision of the Habitat Agenda of a world of better cities and other human settlements in all parts of the world, and of a decent home for women, men and children everywhere.
I thank you for your attention.