New York
June 6th, 2001

Mr. Chairman,

    During the 1990's, Uruguay, like other countries in South America, opened up to the demands of a globalizing world. During this period, a series of economic adjustments that appeared unavoidable, were undertaken. At flee same time and in anticipation of the predictably negative impact of these changes on Uruguayan society, social policies were developed to mitigate the inevitable dislocations.

    Within this framework and following the Habitat II Summit, Uruguay brought its public policies in the areas of housing, land-use planning and the environment into line with the integrating concept of Habitat.

    The National Government adopted a number of innovative strategies to deal with the consequences of uncoordinated actions in the field of human settlements, by strengthening regional forums, diversifying lines of access to housing with special emphasis on channelling direct public subsidies to the most disadvantaged sectors, launching major projects for the protection and preservation of the environment and promoting urban master plans in coordination with Government departments.

    In terms of its regional policies, Uruguay came out solidly in support of the Mercosur process. To that end, the Government, in coordination with local administrations and with technical cooperation from France and South Africa, developed strategic plans to promote the physical integration of the country in the region, by locating in the national territory the Southern Cone Road and Development Axis (Santiago - Buenos Aires - Uruguay - Sao Paulo).

    My delegation would also like to underline the relevance of the regional plan of action on HABITAT and the support given to it, which we acknowledge as an essential strategic platform. To this respect, we deem of "great importance the implementation of the recommendations approved In the Declaration of Santiago last October, as well as the considerations expressed at the Ministerial Forum on Housing and Urbanism of the Latin American and Caribbean Countries -MINURVI-.

    At the subregional level, mention should be made of the South-Western Uruguay Strategic Plan for the construction of the bi-national bridge over the River Plate linking Argentina and Uruguay. In the extreme east of the Road Axis, urban planning in the cities of the region bordering Brazil is further testimony to the drive towards integration. The central region of the country, historically lagging in development, is currently the beneficiary of a regional development and land-use planning project.

    Through its decentralization policies, the Government is attempting to shift its system of redistribution of resources from the national to the departmental level.

    During this period, systems for access to housing were diversified but continue to be based on two key principles:

(a) The direct transfer of public subsidies from genuine and sustainable resources from the National Housing and Urban Fund; and

(b) The differentiated participation of the different actors (State, financial agents, promoters, builders) according to their specific roles.

    Public sector initiatives have been directed during this period mainly to older age groups with limited resources and to addressing the problem of unplanned settlements.

    To this end, a low-cost housing programme was launched for the benefit of non-working low-income groups. Under this programme, beneficiaries receive lifetime benefits of excellent quality housing located preferably in central and intermediate areas of cities. In order to ensure the sustainability of the system, the dwellings are administered and maintained by the State.

    The State is seeking to counter the growing phenomenon of unplanned and makeshift settlements in various ways:

(a) Making available large numbers of lots with infrastructural services already in place, a supply of materials and technical ssistance through NGOs for potential squatters, will increase the supply of legally available urban land.

(b) Repopulating consolidated areas of cities that were being depopulated. This plan will promote the repopulating of an area with considerable installed capacity and patrimonial value, as is the case of the historical quarters of Montevideo.

(c) Creating a guarantee fund for leases that will facilitate the rental of the under-occupied housing stock, in the first instance, to young people.

(d) The implementation of a programme, with technical and financial support from the IDB, for the improvement of both the social and urban infrastructure of the squatter settlements with consolidation potential.

    Lastly, the State has organized a competition for ideas for creative projects to encourage participation by the private sector in finding housing solutions for low to middle income sectors. It is looking forward to the participation of financial agents and building promoters through the development of instruments capable of creating partnerships between private capital and public subsidies which may give way to new forms of action, including the restoration of old abandoned industrial plants as well as the cooperation of other NGOs in finding housing solutions to match the demand.

    Advances in the field of protection of natural areas, biodiversity and sustainable development have been focused on the assessment of extensive regions with special emphasis on the coastal areas of the River Plate, the Atlantic Ocean and the basin of the Merim lagoon (ECOPLATA projects and the Programme for Promoting Biodiversity in the Eastern Wetlands).

    The main elements of the commitments given in the national plan for habitat II have been undertaken by the national Government and by most of the local administrations. However, these social policy actions have failed to reverse the trend towards the deterioration of many urban areas, as a consequence of unemployment, the restructuring of traditional economic sectors and marginalization.

    In conclusion and consistent with the fundamental values of social democracy, of which Uruguay has been an example and a spokesperson in the concert of nations, our government reiterates its firm commitment to the future revitalization of the Habitat Programme as an instrument for channelling the civilising mission of the first few decades of this century towards the restoration of equity and justice so that when we speak of humanity as a family this is not merely a figure of speech.

    Thank you very much.