5 June 2001


Press Briefing


Cities worldwide were demanding greater political autonomy and financial capacity to reverse the rapid growth of urban poverty, Joan Clos, the Mayor of Barcelona, told correspondents today at a Headquarters press conference, on the eve of the General Assembly's Special Session on human settlements development.

[Following a day-long meeting of mayors and local authorities, the Final Declaration of the Second World Assembly of Cities and Local Authorities will be presented to Secretary-General Kofi Annan later today at a meeting chaired by General Assembly President Harri Holkeri.] 

Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) welcomed Mr. Clos, who is also Chair of World Associations of Cities and Local Authorities Coordination, as well as the other speakers:

Kirk Watson, Mayor of Austin, Texas, and Chair of the International Union of Local Authorities; Alan Lloyd, President of the International Union of Local Authorities; and Akwasi Opong-Fosu, Mayor of Tepa, Ghana, and Chairperson of the African Union of Local Authorities. 

Ms. Tibaijuka said that the speakers were also members of the United Nations Local Advisory Committee of Local Authorities, a 16-member Committee that had been established by the Commission for Human Settlements two years ago to "personalize" the partnership between the United Nations and local authorities in implementing the Habitat Agenda.  The Habitat Agenda was a local agenda, and she had benefited much from the advice of local authorities.  The United Nations would benefit greatly from enhancing cooperation with the people who ran the cities and settlements.

Mr. Clos said that the First World Assembly of Local Authorities had demanded representation and a dialogue with the United Nations.  That dialogue had been structured through Habitat and the Advisory Committee.  As problems of urban poverty grew worldwide, establishing feasible policies via collaboration with local authorities was critical.  Alone, city officials could not stop the negative trends, but they should be part of the solution.

A correspondent noted that people were moving, not only from rural to urban areas, but from continent to continent, region to region.  Were Africans moving through Spain to settle in European cities, like Barcelona? she asked Mayor Clos.

Mr. Clos said that in all of Europe there was a huge immigration process underway, not just from Africa or northern Africa, but from Eastern Europe and South America.  Each country had its own policies, but the weight of incoming people was considerable.  Europe’s population had grown at a rate of three per cent per year in the past four years.  Countries sought to advance individual policies in step with the diversification of their societies, but meanwhile, immigrants were settling in both big cities and in rural communities. 

Mr. Lloyd added that Europe posed a particular problem because of the genocide that had occurred in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.  The ensuing migration had exacerbated the situation throughout Europe, including in his own

country, the United Kingdom.  People were settling wherever they wished, and governments had few plans in place to deal with the problem. 

Replying to a question about the controversy over an invitation of 18 May to New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Mr. Clos said he was not aware of a problem "on our side".  Probably, Mr. Giuliani had a lot of work and therefore could not attend, he added.

Asked whether the mayors and city authorities felt kinship with representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which had not been heard at the United Nations, Mr. Clos said that had been the focus of his presence here.  Until the 1996 Habitat Conference in Istanbul, he had had the feeling that cities were not being considered in the United Nations system.  Indeed, the United Nations was a system of nations, but throughout the history of relations with the Organization, the only way cities could relate to the system was as NGOs -- a semantic contradiction at the very least.   

Since Istanbul, all of that had changed, he continued, as cities played a greater role.  In a global world, local problems and solutions were becoming a "hot topic".  There was no way to solve the huge problems in the outskirts of cities without taking account of local governments.  The failure of some programmes, even those with a lot of resources, had demonstrated that money alone was not the solution.  In that sense, city government could play a role.  In the 21st century, people were not going to live in the big cities:  they were going to live in the slums outside the big cities.

Local authorities had already achieved one success, namely winning acceptance by the United Nation system of their Advisory Committee to Habitat, he told another questioner.  The main goal now was to convince the Organization that local authorities should be politically and economically empowered in order to truly engage in the fight against the poverty of the big-city slums of the present century.  There were signs that such success would be attained. 

Mayor Watson of Austin, Texas, said that such a goal was absolutely essential.  What was being discovered all the time was that local governments "are ultimately where dreams meet reality and ideas turn to action".  In addition to money, power and ability were needed to implement those ideas.  In Texas, some of the strongest international ties were with Mexico.  There was a much better response now from region to region and city to city, and local programmes were having an international impact.

He recalled the deaths last year of four Spanish-speaking immigrants working in the United States.  They were carrying thousands of dollars in their pockets because they had no means of storing their money safely in banks.  It was later learned that they had not even reported prior assaults to the police.  A programme had recently been devised enabling immigrants to use a prominent bank in Texas to deposit their money or transfer it back home. 

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.