GLOBAL FAIRNESS ‘A PREREQUISITE FOR REMOVAL OF DEBILITATING ENVIRONMENTS’, INDIA’S MINISTER OF URBAN DEVELOPMENT TELL SPECIAL HABITAT SESSION
GLOBAL FAIRNESS ‘A PREREQUISITE FOR REMOVAL OF DEBILITATING ENVIRONMENTS’, INDIA’S MINISTER OF URBAN DEVELOPMENT TELL SPECIAL HABITAT SESSION
General Assembly Plenary
Twenty-fifth Special Session
2nd Meeting (PM)
GLOBAL FAIRNESS ‘A PREREQUISITE FOR REMOVAL OF DEBILITATING ENVIRONMENTS’,
INDIA’S MINISTER OF URBAN DEVELOPMENT TELL SPECIAL HABITAT SESSION
The problem of shelter was the problem of the epoch, the twenty-fifth special session of the General Assembly for an overall review and appraisal of the implementation of the outcome of the second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) was told this afternoon as it continued its general debate.
India’s Minister for Urban Development and Poverty Alleviation said the world of the twenty-first century would be an urban one, and its well-being would depend upon the manner in which the problems of urban politics, poverty, pollution, productivity, shortages, planning and governance were tackled. Clearly, the overall world scene was marked by deeper disparities than in the past. Global fairness was an essential prerequisite for the removal of debilitating environments.
The Minister for Settlements and Regional Infrastructure of Indonesia drew attention to the negative impact on settlement and development efforts caused by natural and human-made disasters. His Government had taken several steps to address those issues, including the provision of temporary shelters, water supply and appropriate sanitation. Faced with local communal conflicts, it had also undertaken reconciliation efforts, reconstruction work, and facilitation of economic recovery. Given the complexity and enormity of the problems being faced, he welcomed, as did other delegations, international support and cooperation in the effort to develop appropriate solutions.
In Belize, the urban population had grown by 62 per cent in the past
30 years, and overcrowded cities now presented new challenges for already limited local governments, that country’s representative said. Ageing and overstressed infrastructure were increasingly inadequate; urban schools were overcrowded; rising urban crime disrupted once-peaceful neighbourhoods; and traffic clogged the streets. An ambitious plan launched in 1998 had, at its core, lower taxation, job creation and training, productivity promotion, and access to credit. The plan, however noteworthy, was limited. Like the rest of the developing world, Belize recognized the importance of shared responsibility, and appealed to its developed partners to help develop its capacities.
The representative of Pakistan said an important problem specific to urban poverty in many developing countries was the challenge posed by wars and conflicts and consequent influx of refugees from neighbouring countries. The United Nations
should take bold, unbiased and practical decisions for conflict prevention in volatile regions. The United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should evolve a strategy for provision of shelter and other basic services to internally displaced people in areas unaffected by the conflicts within their country’s borders. This would help check the expansion of settlement crises to the cities of neighbouring countries.
Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of Habitat, said an evaluation of the Habitat Agenda, with about 100 countries having submitted their reports, clearly demonstrated that the international community shared 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 its objectives.
Progress, however, though commendable, had not been what it should be, as some 25 per cent of humanity was still without shelter, she said, stressing that the international community must do better. For this to happen, the principal objectives of the Habitat Agenda must be more mainstreamed into the political agenda of the international community. An opportunity for this is now provided by the Millenium Declaration, the international community’s political blueprint for the twenty-first century.
Statements were also made this afternoon by the Minister of Middle Classes, Tourism and Housing of Luxembourg; the Minister for Housing and Lands of Barbados; the Minister for Housing and Urban Development of Swaziland; the Special Secretary for Urban Development of Brazil; the Minister for Construction of China; the Minister for Housing and Social Development of the Bahamas; the Secretary of State for Housing of Belgium; the Minister for Housing and Local Government of Malaysia; and the State Secretary, Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development of Norway.
The special session also heard from the Minister for Environmental Protection and Spatial Planning of Croatia; the Minister for Regional Development and Housing of Poland; the Minister for Physical Infrastructure, National and Regional Development, Environment and Town Planning of Mali; the Minister for Housing, Utilities and Urban Communities of Egypt; the Minister, President of the Bank of Housing of Nicaragua; the Secretary of State for Housing of Portugal; and the Vice-Minister of State of Housing and Construction of Peru.
The President of the World Association of Cities and Local Authorities Coordination, Joan Clos, Mayor of Barcelona, also spoke.
The representatives of Djibouti, Austria, United Kingdom, Kazakhstan, Spain, Colombia, Bangladesh, Denmark and Guatemala, and the State Secretary of Switzerland spoke, as well.
The special session will continue tomorrow, 7 June, at 9 a.m.
The General Assembly this afternoon continued its twenty-fifth special session for an overall review and appraisal of the implementation of the outcome of the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II). [For background information on the session, see Press Release HAB/172, of 4 June.]
FERNAND BODEN, Minister of Middle Classes, Tourism and Housing of Luxembourg: Our Government contributes to the implementation of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) commitments, both nationally and internationally. While our economy has experienced marked and sustained growth accompanied by an increase in population, Luxembourg was the only western State to envisage an increase in population growth by 30 per cent in the next 20 years. At the same time, housing production is stagnating. This has affected prices and compelled the Government to focus priority attention on the issue as it endeavours to reconcile population and economic growth with a sound, harmonious natural and human environment. Particularly, it seeks to protect natural resources, ensure water quality, limit air and water pollution, and better manage household waste.
Sustainable and harmonious development is a priority for both the countryside and the city. Prioritizing adequate housing has led to the formulation of a national plan which establishes a coherent political, economic and social map for ensuring sustained economic development. It is a guiding instrument designed to integrate policies and define objectives for both urban and rural development. A Habitat book forms a “housing X-ray” through which an expert can propose specific measures for improvement and renewal. The Government has also elaborated an ambitious programme to rebuild old steel industry sites and provide for human settlements. In terms of good administrative governance, Luxembourg favours structural and democratic reform and seeks to create a personal link between citizen and State policy.
In a participatory society, a citizen’s representative or mediator, charged with analysing grievances about public administration, should be heard. Luxembourg supports international and intergovernmental action in this regard. As a founding member of the United Nations and the European Union, Luxembourg has always endeavoured to accord to that role the necessary political commitment. Indeed, it is ranked twenty-fifth among countries that contribute to agencies of the Organization working in the area of development. Access to housing determines human development, and, in turn, human development is the best guarantee for peace and stability. It is the shared responsibility of States to ensure implementation of the Habitat’s goals.
GLINE CLARKE, Minister for Housing and Lands of Barbados: The review is timely since it comes at a juncture when the Centre for Human Settlements is being reorganized and when the phenomenon of globalization is becoming entrenched. The National Habitat Committee has identified a number of new issues that now challenge the realization of the twin goals of adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements in an urbanizing world.
Foremost among those issues is the rising cost of land as the demand for land on the small island is getting progressively stronger. Barbados has established a land-banking programme through which the Government systematically acquires and vests land in the relevant social agencies. Since 1996, much progress has been made in urban development. We established the Urban Development Commission to fast-track the implementation of an Urban Renewal Programme. Its work targets the poor and is, indeed, an indispensable element of my country’s poverty alleviation programme.
Tapping into the positive aspects of globalization, we are currently examining alternative building technologies which are cheaper and as durable as local materials, and also hurricane-resistant. We are also examining our laws with a view to ensuring that poor households are not rented sub-standard housing. In addition, we have instituted a building code to effect an improved housing stock generally, including reduced vulnerability to naturally occurring events, such as hurricanes.
ALBERT H.N. SHABANGU, Minister for Housing and Urban Development of Swaziland: I reaffirm my country’s commitment to the goals and principles of the Habitat Agenda. My Government has put forward an enabling legislative and policy framework for achieving sustainable human settlements development. This has been followed by programmes and projects. To this end, Swaziland, in partnership with the World Bank, is currently undertaking the upgrading of informal human settlements in our two cities, which should benefit 15,000 families.
On the subject of urban governance, my Government has introduced democratic elections for local authorities and is committed to building the capacity of local authorities. To this end, an increasingly vibrant national association of local authorities and managers has been formed and has played an important role in influencing and advocating national policies and legislation.
Notwithstanding the achievements already mentioned, Swaziland faces a number of political, cultural and financial challenges. One challenge we faced was dealing with the secure land tenure concept. While the Habitat concept is very clear on what it entails, in our country it touches on political and cultural issues that can only be approached with great caution. However, through broad consultations, progress is being made.
OVIDIO ANTÔNIO DE ANGELIS, Special Secretary for Urban Development of Brazil: Significant progress has been achieved since Habitat II, but daily experience has shown that striking a balance between the goals of poverty eradication, social justice and environmental concerns, and providing equal opportunities for all, remains a daunting challenge. The international climate has been largely unfavourable. Throughout the 1990s, economic growth has been modest, more especially in Latin America, which suffered the constraining effects of successive global financial crises.
Despite the negative domestic impact of this adverse international scenario, our Government was able to move ahead in implementing the Istanbul commitments. The political determination embodied in the outcome of Habitat II remains alive and has been a central plank in governmental policy over the years. Significant social investments have been made in the fields of health, education, water quality and sanitation, job creation and the fostering of social inclusion. The decisive contribution made by civil society to initiatives aimed at alleviating social exclusion should be underscored. Much has been achieved, including increased life expectancy and decreased infant mortality.
We are equally concerned about the sustainability of human settlements. Municipalities that present relatively low human development levels have been targeted through ambitious sustainable development projects. In partnership with the local community and private enterprise, the federal Government has sought to foster action in sectors offering high growth potential, whether in agriculture, trade or crafts. Nevertheless, much remains to be done in pursuit of the goal of equal opportunities, quality education, and citizenship-building for all, including in the more remote parts of the country.
We support the launching of the world campaign on urban governance and security of land tenure -- issues which play a leading role in achieving the wider goals set out by the Agenda. One of the remaining challenges is the inadequacy of institutional and human resources in developing countries. There is a clear need to enhance technical and financial cooperation between developed and developing countries to strengthen institutions and local authorities. We reaffirm our commitment to identifying the obstacles and the best means of overcoming them, and to recognizing the novel challenges before us and the need for creative answers to our aspirations.
YU ZHENG SHENG, Minister for Construction of China: We should be aware of the fact that the global human settlements issue, especially in developing countries, remains serious and far from being solved. It is essential to strengthen international cooperation in the field of human settlements. The Chinese Government has placed housing construction and human settlements improvement at the top of its development agenda. In the past five years, about 6.47 billion square metres of housing have been constructed in China, 3.1 billion square metres in the urban region.
Among other achievements are the preservation and development of urban culture, promotion of an urbanization strategy with Chinese characteristics, rapid development of urban infrastructure, remarkable improvement of urban environment by integrating pollution control and environmental protection, improvement of laws and regulations, disaster prevention and post-disaster rehabilitation. In the field of eradication of poverty and promotion of employment, social security systems have been established for vulnerable groups such as the poor, senior and disabled. The development of private, joint venture and equity enterprises has been encouraged to provide more opportunities for employment and poverty eradication.
The Chinese Government reiterates that economic development and poverty eradication are essential for the fundamental solution of human settlements issues of developing countries. Respect for the conditions of each country and self-decision making are basic principles for solving human settlements problems. Strengthening international cooperation is an important way of solving the human settlements issue. The Government attaches great importance to the wide cooperation and exchange with Habitat, relevant international organizations and countries on the basis of the purposes and principles of the Charter. As the most populous and biggest developing country, China will make its contributions to the improvement of global human settlements. Let us work together to create a better tomorrow for the world.
ALGERNON S.P.B. ALLEN, Minister for Housing and Social Development of the Bahamas: The Bahamas is totally committed to the twin goals of adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development in an urbanizing world.
We realize that a sound economy is necessary for the allocation of resources, particularly from mortgage lending institutions for urban development. An ambitious investment restructuring and fiscal discipline has resulted in many Bahamians of middle and low income qualifying for mortgage financing. As a consequence, home construction has reached an unprecedented high.
The Government has waived customs duties for building materials in the remote and less developed islands of the archipelago for specific periods to encourage persons in those islands and person who wish to return to those islands to build homes far below market cost. The Government has also launched an aggressive “rebirth” and “new birth” programme designed to rehabilitate or cause the rebirth of traditional communities.
Despite our best efforts, we are confronted with small areas of urban degradation caused by: absentee landlords; abandonment of traditional family houses by new suburban families; influx of illegal immigrants with differing social values and standards of living; and families devastated by drug and alcohol abuse. We are, however, concentrating our focused resources in these areas along with a myriad of social partners and programmes.
ALAIN HUTCHINSON, Secretary of State for Housing of Belgium: My country associates itself with the statement made on behalf of the European Union. The fate of those most at risk has not improved, and slums have grown. The adoption of the Habitat Agenda concretized the right to adequate housing for all. This fundamental right has been included in Belgium’s Constitution since 1994. It states that everyone has the right to decent housing in a decent neighbourhood at an affordable price, and regional governments must see that this provision is implemented. Housing codes, according to region, have been adopted since the late 1990s, with a view to sustainable human settlements development.
The Government deals with such critical areas as the reduction of poverty and the provision and conservation of energy. Regional administrations focus on strengthening the economic and social fabric of society and promoting investments. Belgium has long addressed the challenge of large cities, and both federal and regional governments are carrying out an integrated policy. It has also created a “large cities policy”, as well as an “urban security policy”.
Housing is a fundamental vital need of human beings and the obligation of public authorities. These must provide sufficient habitable spaces for those who cannot do so themselves. Housing must also be appropriate in terms of security, quality and space, and commensurate with the economic and social condition of the country. This does not mean that everyone can claim ownership, but it is the obligation of governments to make housing available to everyone. Hopefully, during the special session, Member States will reaffirm their commitments to achieving sustainable human settlements, and seek ways of following up implementation of the declaration to be adopted here.
ERNA WITOELAR, Minister for Settlements and Regional Infrastructure of Indonesia: Regrettably, over the past years, Indonesia has experienced economic and political crisis which has severely affected the implementation of the Habitat Agenda. This has been further aggravated by natural and human-made disasters such as floods, earthquakes, drought, forest fires and local communal conflicts. The latter have resulted in the increased existence of internally displaced persons, with shelter problems for more than a million people.
Nevertheless, Indonesia’s commitment to the Habitat Agenda remains strong, even though we are still encountering significant constraints in our efforts to implement it. In this context, the need for international cooperation has become more urgent than ever. The Government places high priority not only on increasing the supply of shelters, but also on making them more affordable to lower income people. In addition, the Government has developed policies for ensuring equal access to land, credit facilities, adequate housing and access to basic services. It has also undertaken numerous action-oriented measures to deal with the problem of poverty.
Faced with natural and human-made disasters, the Government has taken several steps, including emergency rescue, which includes the provision of temporary shelters, water supply and appropriate sanitation. It has also undertaken reconciliation efforts, reconstruction work, and facilitation of economic recovery. Given the complexity and enormity of the problems being faced, we welcome international support and cooperation in the effort to develop appropriate solutions.
DATO’ SERI ONG KA TING, Minister for Housing and Local Government of Malaysia: With globalization and greater information flows, people’s expectations have heightened. This poses greater challenges for governments, particularly in developing countries. Housing conditions that were adequate before are no longer acceptable. The questions are, how do we manage the forces of globalization and its impact on urbanization, and how do we ensure that city dwellers worldwide have equitable benefits?
In Malaysia, we have taken proactive measures by introducing our Urbanization Master Plan, a National Housing Policy, more comprehensive national town and country planning policies, and several relevant action plans. In support of the goals of providing the necessary physical and social infrastructure for the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, Malaysia has introduced her own programmes to provide shelter for all. This includes the Zero-Squatter Policy and the Integrated People’s Housing Programme for Squatter Resettlement.
We have achieved a measure of success in our efforts to provide shelter for all and a sustainable urban environment. This was made possible by the joint efforts of all concerned –- Government, local authorities, financing institutions, the private sector and the target groups themselves. We believe that this formula of joint responsibility can work at the international level, as well. In this regard, we must make a firm and clear commitment to build both physical and social infrastructure in the developing countries, in particular, the least developed countries.
SVERRE BUGGE, State Secretary, Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development of Norway: Despite agreement in Istanbul that the deterioration in conditions of human settlements had reached crisis proportions, and despite the commitment to the full and progressive realization of the right to housing, the Istanbul situation has worsened in many cases. An increasing number of people lack access to decent housing and security of tenure. We must improve the living conditions of those living in poverty and those who have no access to decent housing or basic services. The situation with respect to women is especially serious.
Our task at this session is to reaffirm the commitments made at Habitat II and to propose measures for further implementation of the Habitat Agenda. What is needed now, first and foremost, is political will and concrete action aimed at eliminating the obstacles -– and this means eliminating poverty. The first priority must be to intensify the fight against poverty. Accelerating urbanization, especially in the developing countries, is another major challenge. Work on urbanization issues under the Cities Alliance initiative is a promising example of the new partnerships emerging in the United Nations system. The Cities Alliance has our full support, as it provides an overall framework for our joint efforts in this regard.
In Istanbul, we also committed ourselves to developing societies that make efficient use of resources without taxing the carrying capacity of ecosystems. Economic growth and increasing prosperity in many industrialized countries are increasingly draining resources. Human settlements -– the built environment -– have a serious impact on the natural environment; sustainable human settlements development is a key to the sustainable development of any society. For this reason, we need to ensure that the human settlements dimension is given its rightful place in preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa next year.
The declaration adopted at this special session must describe the present situation in the human settlement field, define the challenges that lie ahead and provide direction for future collaborative efforts. It should also present a sharp political message by highlighting our key messages to the world. This session is an opportunity to inspire governments at all levels, civil society and all other Habitat partners to reconfirm the commitments made in Istanbul and work even harder to implement those commitments.
BOŽO KOVAČEVIĆ, Minister for Environmental Protection and Spatial Planning of Croatia: Croatia has been undertaking a number of activities in order to overcome the inherent problems of a country in transition and to provide impetus for further economic growth. The Government currently faces an immediate demand for reconstruction of war-torn areas. One of the priorities of Croatia’s spatial planning policy is the provision of equal opportunities for a healthy and safe life through the construction of sustainable human settlements within the existing infrastructures.
In order to promote gender equality in the development of human settlements, the Government has established a Commission for Gender Equality Issues. In elaborating a new National Policy for the period 2001-2005, the Commission has included a chapter focusing on women and the environment. A Welfare-Supported Housing Construction Programme is being implemented. Croatia will process statistical data in accordance with the Habitat methodology, while a pilot project for data monitoring under Habitat methodology has been approved.
We strongly believe that this special session will act as a catalyst for future initiatives and actions to overcome identified obstacles which have hindered the implementation of the Habitat Agenda. International cooperation has played and will continue to play an important role in this regard. The partnership between governments, local authorities, non-governmental organizations and other groups of civil society plays a vital role in the process as a whole. We expect that the declaration to be adopted will provide both impetus and a new blueprint to steer us towards the full realization of the objectives of the Habitat Agenda in the new millennium.
JERZY KROPIWNICKI, Minister for Regional Development and Construction of Poland: Sustainable development of human settlements has a positive impact on the living conditions of societies, especially the family. Improvement of living conditions is reflected in the growth of a sense of security, it contributes to eradication of poverty and homelessness, and creates conditions for the development of the individual and the family. Guided by the recommendations of Istanbul, Poland promotes and applies the principles of sustainable development, which have been included in the nation’s Constitution, obligating public authorities to take into consideration the good of the family in the planning of social and economic policies.
The Government has been implementing the programme of “National Profamily Policy”, which targets the improvement of housing conditions and the limitation of existing negative trends in population development. It has adopted as priorities: further legislative work aimed at securing shelter for the maximum number of families; active policy of public authorities in the eradication of poverty; activities related to the implementation of the principles of sustainable development; support for the development of civil society; and constant development of the quality of international and supranational cooperation.
I appreciate the significance of the declaration, a document that can be translated into concrete activities aimed at the improvement of life-quality in human settlements. The paragraphs relating to the support, consolidation and protection of the family deserve special attention. Poland also appreciates the significance of decentralization of decision-making processes and greater transparency of decision-making by public authorities.
SOUMEILA CISSE, Minister for Physical Infrastructure, National and Regional Development, Environment and Town Planning of Mali: I strongly welcome the initiative of the United Nations system in convening this meeting –- Mali is keenly interested in Habitat issues. Mali’s urban development policy is aimed at strengthening cooperation between all development and settlement actors.
Our country has enormous problems linked to growing urbanization caused by an exploding population and rural exodus. Despite noble ideals pursued in the area of urban policy, much still remains to be resolved. Decentralization of Mali is without a doubt the best way to achieve fundamental democracy, as it favours the involvement and engagement of the citizens concerned.
The national strategy of Mali to combat poverty is a key in its efforts to address housing problems. Addressing habitat issues means addressing linked problems such as sanitation and health. International cooperation, good governance and stability are essential. The social nature of the problem must be understood. The challenge is immense. It is important to bear in mind that the problem of one part of the world affects all people. The solution will be global or it won’t be at all.
SHRI JAGMOHAN, Minister for Urban Development and Poverty Alleviation of India: India has recognized that the problem of shelter is the problem of the epoch. The world of the twenty-first century will be an urban world, and our well-being will depend upon the manner in which the problems of urban politics, urban poverty, urban pollution, urban productivity, urban shortages, urban planning and urban governance are tackled. The Government has taken various measures aimed at providing shelter for all. In 1998, a comprehensive Housing and Habitat Policy was adopted, keeping in view the provisions of the Habitat Agenda.
Should we not ask ourselves to what extent –- after the numerous international initiatives taken -- the ground-level reality has changed for most of the people living in developing countries, who comprise three fourths of the human race? Is it not true that many more are shelterless now, inhabiting stinking slums, drinking polluted water or inhaling poisonous air? Should we not look into the deeper implications of the fact that during all these years, while we have been passing resolutions and observing days and decades, there have emerged, on the one side, a group of nations that are highly prosperous, and on the other, a much larger group of poor, populous and technologically weak nations?
Clearly the overall scene is marked by deeper disparities than before. Global fairness is an essential prerequisite for the removal of debilitating environments. Donor countries have pledged 0.7 per cent of their gross national product (GNP) to their less fortunate brethren, but are still struggling to fulfil even a third of this commitment. We attach much importance to a comprehensive review of the commitments made at Istanbul. Clearly, considerable progress has been achieved, but a plethora of gaps and obstacles is still evident. The need now is to renew these commitments and reinforce them through practical measures for actual implementation. To achieve this, we would like to see Habitat further strengthened as the principal instrument of international cooperation on all Habitat-related matters.
MOHAMED IBRAHIM SOLIMAN, Minister for Housing, Utilities and Urban Communities of Egypt: Egypt confirms its commitment to the Habitat Agenda. With respect to housing, we have consolidated the right to adequate housing for all, in particular, lower-income people. Some 487 housing units were created, for which the Government contributed 20 per cent of the cost. Two pilot housing projects are under way, including one for young people and another that will crystallize solidarity between the rich and poor. Many slums have been improved, and the betterment of more than 400 squatter areas is also under way.
Concerning equal opportunity, $750 million has been provided in “easy” credit loans, mostly to families. We are also restructuring the water and sanitation sector and devising legislation to cover construction and urbanization projects. We have improved social security pensions, increased access to rural development funds, and organized a national conference on social development and women. More Egyptian women have acceded to high posts. Child mortality rates have declined, along with crime, unemployment and illiteracy. Among environmental steps, we are adopting measures to avoid natural disasters and cope with their aftermath.
We are also concerned in Egypt about the threats and aggressions from Israeli aircraft and artillery against the Palestinians, including the targeting of urban centres. One legal reality relating to the theme of our session is on our minds, namely, the legitimate transfer of authority to citizens of the occupied territories. The Assembly and Security Council have repeatedly affirmed that this applied to all territories occupied since 1967. We call on Israel to comply with all relevant resolutions, including with respect to the seizure of lands, obstructions of movement and threat to Palestinian peace and security.
MARCO AURELIO SANCHEZ, Minister, President of the Bank of Housing of Nicaragua: The housing situation of the Nicaraguan people is extremely difficult in both quantity and quality, especially in rural areas. The creation of the Urban and Rural Institute in 1998 was a reaction to that situation. The Institute is a decentralized State entity in charge of national programming of city and rural housing development. Its duties are promoting, facilitating and diversifying housing, with the participation of the national and foreign private sector.
The Institute has implemented a subsidizing programme for housing development, subsidizing down payments for houses in the urban areas of Managua, the poorest peasantry in the rural areas, and non-governmental organizations in the housing sector. It has also implemented the Programmes of Human Settlements, which aim to address the housing problems of the poorest sectors of the rural and urban population, which are not able to gain access to decent housing. They also address problems of the peasant population displaced by natural disasters.
The Institute has submitted to the President the draft of its organic law in order to expedite its procedure before the National Assembly. Our Government calls upon delegations to continue to fight together for a better world, one able to provide future generations with decent housing conditions within the integral and sustainable development frame.
LEONOR COUTINHO, Secretary of State for Housing of Portugal: Portugal is among the European Union countries where urbanization is on the rise, resulting in the physical and environmental degradation of the old city centres. One of our major achievements is the national rehousing programmes, which include pluri-dimensional approaches such as the creation of public spaces that promote a sense of community and the respect of all aspects related to quality of life. Urban rehabilitation programmes take into account that these goals can only be successfully achieved through an integrated effort in the architectural, urban, social, economical and environmental dimensions.
Distressed urban areas have been one of our main concerns. Measures have been taken to integrate these areas in the urban setting through the improvement of the physical environment, the renovation of housing stock, building conservation and access to services. In addition to these integrated programmes, a variety of financial and fiscal measures have been implemented in order to promote affordable housing for different income groups.
Portugal has enacted the Spatial and Urban Planning Act, approved two years after Istanbul. This global and integrated urban policy is aimed at achieving a balanced and poly-centric urban network, through the consideration of the specific needs of rural areas, the rehabilitation and regeneration of suburbs, the revitalization of old city centres, the adequate provision of services and infrastructures, the urban environment, and a sustainable urban policy that takes into account the conservation and management of national resources and ecosystems. In all these processes, public participation and involvement are guaranteed by law.
RAUL FLOREZ GARCIA RADA, Vice-Minister of Housing and Construction of Peru: Our country has been undergoing a process of democratic "re-institutionalization" for the past six months, seeking to create the conditions for overcoming a decade of political crisis marked by centralism and structural corruption. Peru is characterized by its bio-diversity, heterogeneity and its great potential of natural, historic and human resources. Its vast territory is rugged, with fragile ecosystems. Three fourths of our people live in cities, and half of the population is poor, with 15 per cent extremely poor. Nevertheless, the dwellings of this population offer notable examples of local social solidarity.
During the past decade, the State took care of the housing problem through isolated but effective institutions. When the integral, explicit and coordinated policies were eliminated, however, the housing sector, urban development and territorial order were destroyed. Local governments were weakened and the access of civil society to the decision-making process was restricted. In addition, ground-roots organizations were politically manipulated. As a result, the housing problem worsened for low-income sectors. The transition Government is rebuilding the public housing and urban development sector and reinforcing local governments. It is also creating conditions to attract private sector resources and international cooperation.
The Government is working with the ground-roots organizations to design housing and urban development policies and programmes. It is also proposing models of territorial order and strategies of urban consolidation to create jobs in the cities. These policy measures are in accordance with the basic principles of Habitat II. The habitat problems of Peru can be resolved on the basis of a State initiative that promotes civic commitment and solidarity, participation and training, devotion to public service and the mobilization and efficient management of available resources.
AMINA ABDI ADEN (Djibouti): In recent years, the motive role of cities in the development process has been recognized, and it has been possible to gauge cities’ growing dependence on a globalized economic environment and the complexity of the challenges facing them. The same concerns have prompted action by the Government and the identification of priorities at the national level. The current session gives our countries a chance to take stock of progress achieved in addressing urban issues and to consider lessons learned, with a view to setting a course for the future.
Sustainable urban development has been reflected in all the policies undertaken to implement the Habitat Agenda. In terms of urban planning, a review of the master plans of the major cities has been undertaken, involving a whole set of socio-economic and development aspects. Representatives of civil society have been included in government efforts to evaluate Djibouti’s urban shortcomings.
Special funds for financing infrastructure have been created and new modes of solidarity have been identified. Emphasis in Djibouti’s urban initiatives has been placed on the development of the production of building-ready lots for low-income people and the construction of low-income housing, among others. The goals of Habitat II are a priority for Djibouti. The harmonious and sustainable development of our country is at stake.
STUART W. LESLIE (Belize): The correlation between the commitments made at Istanbul and in the Millennium Declaration -- to free all from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty -- will help focus our efforts on adequate shelter for all, as well as sustainable human settlements and development in an urbanizing world. With respect to globalization, there is a popular understanding that meaningful, sustainable globalization must include all people. When the major protagonists of the globalization process ignore this message, people suffer and billions are denied access to proper drinking water, adequate health care, basic education, and decent shelter.
Greater access to improved food supplies, cost-effective low- and medium-income housing, and better management of the world ecology can all become positive aspects of globalization through a shared partnership. We must work together to ensure that these potential successes serve as the building blocks of a just and sustainable globalization. If we are to help our poor, governments must provide access to quality education, technology, and credit, and people must be made to feel that they are contributors to the nation’s economic development.
In Belize, the urban population has grown by 62 per cent in the past
30 years. Overcrowded cities now pose new challenges for already limited local governments. Ageing and overstressed infrastructure is becoming increasingly inadequate; urban schools are overcrowded; rising urban crime disrupts once peaceful neighbourhoods; and traffic clogs our streets, creating new forms of rage and intolerance. We must remedy this situation by improving our infrastructure, better managing our space and adopting programmes to improve the quality of life in both our urban and rural communities. Local governments are crucial to this endeavour, for their involvement in community life brings about meaningful participation and provides greater transparency.
In a country where more than 30 per cent of the people are poor and mainly women, consideration must be given to alleviating poverty from a multi-sectoral perspective. An ambitious plan launched in 1998 seeks to realize growth with equity in both rural and urban areas. At its core is lower taxation, job creation and training, the promotion of productivity, and access to credit. Such a plan, however noteworthy, is limited. Like the rest of the developing world, Belize recognizes the importance of a shared responsibility. We once again appeal to our developed partners to recognize our vulnerabilities and help develop our capacities to modernize by sharing technologies and helping us protect our environment and manage our natural resources.
GEORG LENNKH (Austria): Poverty eradication is the first objective on the list of international development goals, and cities are formidable engines of growth and income generation. Urbanization, however, brings out the best and worst of all possible worlds. Nowhere is the divide between rich and poor greater. The effects of globalization are amplified by the growth of cities. The undeniable benefits of globalization come first to the cities, but they come with an even higher pressure exerted upon the poor: rising prices, scarcity of land, and diminishing public goods. This is where the challenge for our future work lies.
Let me pick out one example: water, where Austrian development cooperation has been particularly active. At the beginning of the new millennium, more than a billion people still lack access to clean water and approximately 3 billion live without access to hygienic sanitary installations. Long-term sustainable water management on the regional level improves the standard of living of the population and maintains a sustainable water supply for future generations.
In Austria, both the Habitat Agenda and Agenda 21 are implemented by the federal Government, the nine provinces and their local authorities, representing a total of more than 2,000 municipalities. Such a spreading out of responsibilities offers a favourable prerequisite for the independence of local authorities, as well as for bottom-up strategies of popular participation. The questions of urbanization have to become integral parts of our development agenda. Participatory development in its broadest sense has to be integrated with the approach to solving the problems of urbanization.
JOHN HODGES (United Kingdom): I associate myself with the statement made on behalf of the European Union. This special session offers an important opportunity to review, reflect and report on our experiences of the past five years in light of our commitment to achieving the goals of the Habitat Agenda, and to look to the future. In our report to the session, we focus on our commitment to creating inclusive cities, through poverty reduction, a respect for human rights, and the empowerment of excluded and underprivileged groups. This commitment applies to what we do both at home and abroad, and in our report, we have presented a summary of our domestic and international action side by side within the Habitat reporting framework.
Achieving the 2015 international development targets as they relate to health, education, gender, the environment, and poverty reduction in all areas provides the preconditions for realizing the Habitat Agenda. In this regard, we have produced a Strategy for Meeting the Challenge of Poverty in Urban Areas, to guide our international development cooperation efforts and aid our partners in their efforts to implement the Habitat Agenda. The Strategy highlights the important role being played by the United Nations, in general, and Habitat, in particular, in helping combat world poverty.
We are also pleased to support the work of the Commonwealth Consultative Group on Human Settlements, which brings us into a working arrangement to
focus on implementing the Habitat Agenda in the 50 developing countries of the Commonwealth. They have a stated emphasis on the need for demonstrated progress towards adequate shelter for all, with security of tenure, and access to essential services in every community by 2015. This target complements that of the Millennium Declaration, which seeks to improve the lives of 100 million slum dwellers within the next 20 years. The Cities Alliance, which brings together the combined resources of Habitat with the World Bank, the Regional Banks, the World Association of Cities and Local Authorities, and 10 of the bilateral donors, is already delivering real results on the ground.
SHAMSHAD AHMAD (Pakistan): Unsustainable migration to urban areas leads to progressive deterioration of civic amenities. The consequent threat of social disintegration, in turn, increases poverty. The real challenge for the international community is how to break this vicious cycle. In today’s globalized world, development in every sphere is characterized by asymmetrical patterns. Human settlements are no exception. Cities and urban areas occupy only 2 per cent of the earth’s land, yet contain 50 per cent of its population and consume 45 per cent of its resources. The global urban population will double in the next two decades.
Ironically, the abject poverty in the cities of the developing world contrasts sharply with the concentrated affluence of the cities in the developed world. Globalization, which many had fancied for its bounties, is turning out to be a bane in our societies. Its dividends have been blatantly unequal. If global society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are well off. The Government of Pakistan has taken a number of measures to achieve the two objectives of Istanbul and the Habitat Agenda. Allocation of significant resources for eradication of poverty and accelerating the grant of legal tenure status to slum dwellers are some of its initiatives.
An important problem specific to urban poverty in many developing countries is the challenge posed by wars and conflicts and the consequent flux of refugees to neighbouring countries. That flux distorts the economic, social and demographic patterns of human settlements. The United Nations should take bold, unbiased and practical decisions for conflict prevention in volatile regions. The Habitat and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should evolve a strategy for provision of shelter and other basic services to internally displaced people in areas unaffected by the conflicts within their country’s borders. This would help check the expansion of settlement crises to the cities of neighbouring countries.
MADINA B. JARBUSSYNOVA (Kazakhstan): Since 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, poverty has risen in Kazakhstan and is now a serious problem. A government programme aims at poverty reduction by creating income-generating opportunities, maintaining social services delivery, and strengthening social protection for vulnerable groups. In particular, the programme proposes to reduce by half the rate of unemployment in 2002.
The country faces major environmental problems as a result of the policies pursued during the Soviet period, which failed to take into account the cost of land, water and air degradation, and led to overuse of natural resources. The Government has now adopted a national Environmental Strategy and a National Environmental Action plan. The plans include environmental legislation and regulation, environmental management, promotion of cleaner technology, human resources development, and capacity-building for monitoring and enforcement.
In addition to devastating environmental problems, Kazakhstan has few available water resources. Poor and unsafe water services are responsible for deteriorating public health and increased expenditures on health, with the poor being affected most. The Government is conscious of the urgent need to improve water services through policy and institutional reforms, repair and rehabilitation of existing infrastructure. Public-private partnership can bring efficiency gains in the water-supply sector, and effective regulatory control can ensure that poor neighbourhoods are not neglected.
FERNANDO NASARRE Y DE GOICOECHEA, Director General of Housing, Architecture, and Urban Planning of the Ministry of Public Works of Spain: I share the view expressed by the President of the European Union, especially on the special role played by cities in promoting economic, social, and cultural development. The Habitat Agenda has guided our work at all levels of government. The Spanish Committee on Habitat serves as a meeting place for the promotion of the Habitat Agenda at the national level, through which we have promoted broad participation in the international United Nations Awards and in the Best Practices and Local Leadership Programme. The Spanish Practices presented at these Awards won international recognition. Thus, Spain has contributed to spreading a “culture of sustainability”.
Local efforts to turn to reality the principle of “adequate housing for all” have been outstanding. The most recent housing plan seeks to facilitate access of average- or low-income families to ownership of housing and rental opportunities. The landmark 1998 Law for International Cooperation for Development, among other provisions, recognizes the human being as protagonist and final recipient of the international cooperation-for-development policy. We have come a long way since Istanbul, but there are still many problems to solve. Cooperation must be strengthened in order to improve living conditions in our cities and in human settlements, in general. States are the mediators for establishing the international and local framework for coordination.
NICOLAS RIVAS (Colombia): Through great efforts, Colombia has made progress in implementing the Habitat Agenda. It actively participated in the preparatory process of the special session. In Colombia, housing supplies are considered an instrument for development, and housing production in the country has tripled over the last 25 years.
The Government has launched an urbanization programme intended to provide for families affected by violence. Colombia’s Political Constitution establishes, in article 51, the right to decent housing and says that the State shall provide the necessary conditions for making that right effective. For the first time, direct subsidies have been introduced to facilitate a housing solution for the poorest. INURBE, a governmental entity, provides for families which have no formal access to the labour market.
Colombia has 42 million inhabitants, of whom 72 per cent live in urban centres. Urban life is, therefore, predominant in the country. The challenge of urban planning cannot be tackled solely by the authorities. Public responsibilities are distributed among the State, consumers, producers and unions, among others. Armed conflicts has displaced many citizens. The challenge of providing decent housing, safe cities and eliminating crime can only be met by the commitment of citizens and support from the international community. The special session should identify the need for stronger and more aggressive implementation of the Habitat Agenda. Colombia supported strengthening the Habitat Centre.
ANWARUL KARIM CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh): The special session will be a wake-up call for the international community to fulfil its commitment to implementing the Habitat Agenda, focusing on adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development in an increasingly urbanized world. Bangladesh has been making determined efforts in key areas of human settlements. The Bangladesh National Report on the progress made since Habitat II -- comprising 20 key commitments emanating from the Habitat Agenda -- has been presented to the session.
The Government has created the necessary institutional structures, including the formation of the National Urban Observatory Committee and the Local Urban Observatory in major cities. It is hoped that those measures will allow us to connect to the Global Urban Observatory Network in its efforts to collect and disseminate relevant data and best practices on human settlements-related activities. The Government has been making its best efforts to reduce the plight of the urban and rural poor by providing major investment in education, health, agriculture, rural development and employment generation.
Review of the Habitat Agenda undertaken at the national, regional and international levels has underscored the importance of partnership in the context of the increasing interdependence of countries in the ongoing globalization process. It has also demonstrated that commitment at all levels is indispensable for providing secure and improved living conditions for the poor, promoting gender equality and inclusiveness in human settlements development, and intensifying efforts to improve governance, among others.
ELLEN MARGRETHE LØJ (Denmark): A large number of people live in unacceptable conditions in slum swellings; many are without homes. City environments are rapidly deteriorating, and pollution is often out of control. Positive interplay between rural and urban areas is a precondition for sustainable development. Thus, the developed countries must show more solidarity with the developing ones. They must develop a much more rational and effective use of resources, and join forces with the developing countries to combat poverty and improve human living conditions. Official development assistance (ODA) is indispensable if we are to reach these ambitious targets.
The Danish ODA to the poorest developing countries is 1 per cent of the Danish GNP. In addition, we attempt to earmark an extra half per cent of the GNP for special environmental and emergency activities. This enables us to assist low- and middle-income countries in improving the environment. One target area is industry and urban sites. Partnerships between governments and civil society is a keyword in Danish development assistance. The overall objective of our ODA is to promote sustainable development through poverty reduction. This is focused on broad economic growth, expansion of social sectors, and good governance.
The main responsibility for implementing the Habitat Agenda rests with the individual countries. It involves all actors and requires concerted efforts at all levels, especially the local level. In our own urban policy, we seek a bottom-up approach that is focused on local participation. One overall objective of the policy is to ensure that cities remain centres for growth and development. A key is combating urban segregation, which is a major barrier to integrated and sustainable urban development. By this, we seek to combat social exclusion in the housing market, in the city, as well as in society in general. Follow-up to the Habitat Agenda, in short, requires “good urban governance”.
LUIS RAUL ESTEVEZ LOPEZ (Guatemala): One of Guatemala’s most recent achievements has been the formulation of the National Housing and Human Settlements Policy, which aims to provide access to adequate housing for Guatemalan families, with priority for those living in extreme poverty, and other vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. This policy has been prepared through a process of consultation with various sectors of civil society, actors in the area of real estate development and the financing of housing.
Since 1996, institutional, technical and financial bases have been established in order to permit the attainment of a worthy and adequate solution to the housing problem. Concrete measures that have been taken include the granting of subsidies and loans for housing, the creation of an investment trust to bring about a secondary market of guaranteed mortgages, and the granting of ownership of plots of State-owned land for the settlement of squatters.
Our policies regarding human settlements are reflected in the 2000-2004 Social Policy Matrix. They provide for a reordering of public institutions that provide support to the housing sector and a more fruitful association with private institutions. They also include long-term financial mechanisms. Measures have also been taken to promote dialogue and conciliation for the resolution of conflicts and the adoption of policies in the field of human settlements.
PETER GURTNER, State Secretary of Switzerland: Last year, my country adopted a new Constitution committed to promoting sustainable development at all levels. That goes for the Habitat Agenda and its various aspects. Urban areas represent focal points of economic and other activity and are very important for their countries. The spread of residential areas is increasing the degradation of urban areas and is posing problems to local authorities that do not have adequate resources. The cities concerned depend on the solidarity of other regions and authorities.
The need to provide adequate shelter for all has been stressed in the new Constitution. Housing, like food, security or education, is a fundamental human need, and the State must help those people who cannot meet that need themselves. Favourable economic and political conditions must be set in place. Partnership between the public and private sectors in Switzerland is key.
Cooperation for urban development is guided by the idea that urban and rural development are interdependent. Cooperation is directed to the poorest urban dwellers and seeks to make them promoters of their own development. Local governance, decentralization and capacity-building are among factors stressed by the Government, which is involved in the international dialogue on the issues at hand. Habitat II must become a symbol of real change leading towards greater democracy and more opportunities for all.
ANNA TIBAIJUKA, Executive Director of Habitat: The evaluation 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. It requires each of us to make provision of adequate shelter our priority in both word and deed. Resources need to be invested in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda.
Progress, though commendable, has not been what it should be, as some 25 per cent of humanity is still without shelter. We must do better. For this to happen, the principal objectives of the Habitat Agenda must 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 twenty-first century.
Shelter, food and clothing are the most basic building blocks of any poverty-alleviation strategy. A future of livable neighbourhoods and healthy communities is not possible if cities do not work, are not inclusive, or are divided politically, economically and socially. Mayors, as leaders and managers of cities and city governments, are the first to be called upon to witness and respond to daily calls for help from their constituents. As our key partners in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, they need to have the capacity to improve the lives of their citizens and their living environment. 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 living there in the years to come.
As focal point for the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements 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 and civil society and all other Habitat partners. Only with such a focused approach, around which international cooperation can be built, can we hope to move the Habitat Agenda goals forward nationally and locally. But this will require that advocacy be linked with follow-up investment and real change on the ground.
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 Habitat to enable it to function as an effective focal point. Deepening international cooperation among national governments, local authorities, parliamentarians, non-governmental organizations and others will also require a more continuous policy dialogue and new instruments for that purpose. I, therefore, look forward to the work of the Urban Forum, which has been established by Habitat to strengthen cooperation.
JOAN CLOS, President of the World Association of Cities and Local Authorities Coordination, and Mayor of Barcelona: The Istanbul Conference was a historical event that provided sufficient impetus to build a process of unification of cities and local governments. We have developed a solid relationship with Habitat, thanks to the efforts of the Executive Director and the Advisory Committee on Local Authorities. The signals from the world’s cities are daunting. Urban growth will continue over the coming decades. Meanwhile, poverty and environmental degradation remain common occurrences in many cites worldwide.
In the new international order, local authorities should be bolstered both in political and economic terms. These new circumstances call for thorough and prompt political reforms aimed at decentralization and the increased power of local governments. It is not possible to tackle poverty concentrated in mega-cities if we fail to devise local governments with the forceful capacity for action. With unaccustomed speed, the world is becoming small, on the one hand, but more global, on the other hand. Everything and everyone travels more, including people, capital, diseases and nutrition problems. At the same time, we
have many shared goals –- water supply, control of air pollution, and traffic management. Urban safety and security, as well as assistance to migrants in the outlying areas, are essential. In the developed world, such problems are managed in the normal course of things.
We are here on behalf of grass-roots governments to deliver the following message: we are ready to play our rightful role, for which we require proper recognition by the nations. The designers of the United Nations were inspired rulers. Now, years later, this Assembly has adopted the Millennium Declaration, which embodies an awareness of new challenges and the need for a change of course with an intense search for solution to the emerging problems of our time. Some think that we are too late in controlling environmental and social inequalities and problems of urban growth, and that we have wasted the decade of the 1990s.
There is immense energy in the cities and local governments of the world, which could be mobilized in the right direction. In the global world, good local government is the other side of the coin in ensuring social balance, cohesion, and solidarity -– all of which are vital to prevent the new emerging order from falling into the vicious circle of ever-greater insecurity and unease. Cities can and should be the driving force behind daily peaceful coexistence. We are duty-bound and entitled to avoid past mistakes. The mayors believe there is a real and effective role for local government. What we need is a government of the cities that is stronger, more responsive and more democratic. Every day, hundreds of thousands of mayor must tackles consequences of decisions taken far from their own scope of authority.
The mayors should be relied upon and consulted. There can be no genuine economic or social development without them. We form a coherent whole, a network that embraces all the cities of the world. We are ready to make progress on the basic principles of the Millennium Declaration and to work from city to city to meet the most pressing needs of the new phenomenon of “hyper-urbanization”.
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