CONTINUING SPECIAL SESSION ON IMPLEMENTATION OF HABITAT AGENDA, ASSEMBLY STRESSES SHELTER FOR ALL, SUSTAINABLE SETTLEMENTS
CONTINUING SPECIAL SESSION ON IMPLEMENTATION OF HABITAT AGENDA, ASSEMBLY STRESSES SHELTER FOR ALL, SUSTAINABLE SETTLEMENTS
General Assembly Plenary
Twenty-fifth Special Session
3rd Meeting (AM)
CONTINUING SPECIAL SESSION ON IMPLEMENTATION OF HABITAT AGENDA,
ASSEMBLY STRESSES SHELTER FOR ALL, SUSTAINABLE SETTLEMENTS
Virtually any good urban development programme somehow found a niche in the Habitat Agenda, the Minister for Local Government and Housing of Zambia said this morning, during the continuation of the general debate of the twenty-fifth special session of the General Assembly on implementation of the outcome of the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), held in Istanbul in 1996.
This morning’s debate focused on the combination of successes and obstacles of individual countries, primarily in the developing world, in meeting the twin goals of the Habitat Agenda: adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development. The dramatic urbanization of the world’s population, and the pitfalls associated with its rapid pace, dominated the debate, while the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) Agenda prompted solutions.
Overnight, Zambia’s Housing Minister continued, the status of many Zambians had been transformed, from tenant to landlord, under an innovative housing policy that was enabling “sitting tenants” to purchase houses previously owned by the Government. While he fully supported the notion that the primary responsibility for implementing the Habitat Agenda lay with each State, an enabling global environment was also crucial.
The Vice-President of Kenya said that despite initiatives to develop housing and combat poverty in Africa, several challenges to implementation persisted. Among them were extreme poverty, illiteracy and disease. Moreover, the problem of human settlements could not be resolved in the face of conflicts and wars, which displaced thousands. Peace and security were prerequisites for sustainable human settlements and decent housing. As the world renews commitments to the Habitat Agenda, it must consolidate efforts to reverse those negative trends.
Uganda’s Minister of State for Works, Housing and Communications noted that, like other countries, Uganda had faced a number of challenges in implementing the Habitat Agenda, including poverty, unemployment and institutional weaknesses. He, therefore, stressed that poverty eradication and debt relief should form the core of the session’s final declaration. There was a dire need for development partners to enhance support for poverty eradication by contributing the internationally agreed target of 0.7 per cent of their gross national product.
Despite the successes achieved by a number of countries in the housing field, persistent problems must be addressed, said the First Deputy Chairman of the Committee for Construction, Housing and Municipal Economy of the Russian Federation. As his country faced additional problems due to a difficult period of large-scale market reforms, international cooperation took on a special significance. Nevertheless, through the housing reforms of the past decade, which were an integral part of the country’s economic reform, most Russians had become homeowners.
The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development of the United States said that expanding the number of homeowners remained a national priority because homeownership was the root of good citizenship. While its role was vital, the Government did not have all the answers, or a monopoly on compassion. At the same time, it was committed to working with community-based and non-governmental organizations, especially faith-based groups, to lift up the neediest citizens.
Statements were also made by the Vice-President of the United Republic of Tanzania, and the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Labour and Social Affairs of Albania.
Also speaking were the Minister of Urban Development, Construction and Public Utilities of Sri Lanka; the Government Councillor for Public Works and Social Affairs of Monaco; the Minister Delegate for Habitat of Burkina Faso; the Minister of State of Turkey; the Secretary of State for Local Government and Lands of the Gambia; the Secretary-General in the Ministry of National Economy of Oman; the Minister of Housing and Urban Renewal of Ireland; the Minister of National and Regional Development, Environment and Town Planning of Madagascar; and the Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing of Zimbabwe.
Further statements were made by the Minister of Housing and Agriculture of Bahrain; the Minister of Housing and Urban Development of Iran; the Vice-Minister of Construction of Viet Nam; the Vice-Minister of Public Works, Transportation and Housing of Romania; the State Secretary of Environment and Spatial Planning of Slovenia; and the Vice-Minister of Construction of Myanmar.
The representatives of Bolivia, Iraq, Bhutan, Philippines, Lebanon, Netherlands, Syria and Togo also spoke, as did representatives of the Habitat Professionals Forum and Global Parliamentarians for Habitat.
The twenty-fifth special session will meet again at 3 p.m. to continue its general debate.
The General Assembly this morning 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.]
OMAR ALI JUMA, Vice-President of the United Republic of Tanzania: The Government takes a holistic approach to sustainable human settlements. Despite their attendant negative impact on the environment, the agglomerations of mega-cities are, at the same time, dynamic centres of development. We place the issue of shelter in the context of overall socio-economic development, in order to improve the quality of life in the rural areas so as to dissuade rampant migration.
Poverty is at the root of environmental degradation and unsustainable human settlements. It is imperative that the rich countries should be willing to step up their support for our poverty-alleviation efforts. Developing countries are calling for immediate and full cancellation of bilateral and write-off of all multilateral debts, covering both those countries within and without the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. While it is generally recognized that trade is a major ingredient in the development of all countries, the share of least developed countries in international trade remains disappointingly low.
The United Republic of Tanzania expects that this meeting will result in overcoming obstacles encountered in implementing the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) Agenda, especially poverty; enhancement of the capacity-building of the revitalized Habitat Centre in Nairobi, so that it can contribute effectively to local initiative; and inviting governments, the United Nations and international organizations to strengthen the quality and consistency of their support to poverty eradication and sustainable human settlements development.
GEORGE SAITOTI, Vice-President of Kenya: We have made significant progress in creating an enabling environment to deal with social development and poverty eradication. For example, we have designed a long-term vision for poverty eradication in a scheme entitled “National Poverty Eradication Plan to the Year 2015”. The Government, civil society, and other partners are also addressing the issue of quality and safe living conditions in both rural and urban areas.
Nevertheless several challenges persist with respect to implementation of the Habitat Agenda. High levels of poverty plague many African nations. Africa also has a heavy burden of illiteracy, poverty and diseases. Indicators reveal that development has either stagnated or declined. As we renew commitments to the Habitat Agenda, we must consolidate our efforts to reverse these negative trends.
We fully support the initiative for establishing a global fund to fight poverty, consistent with the Havana Declaration. We also fully endorse the Okinawa Declaration in which Japan made a commitment of $3 billion to fight poverty. Implementation of the Habitat Agenda requires additional resources, yet over the past decade, official development assistance (ODA) to developing countries has declined. Although foreign direct investments increased substantially, much of this went to just a few developing countries outside Africa. The external debt problem also afflicts many developing countries.
We cannot resolve the problem of human settlements when conflicts and wars continue to displace people and force thousands to suffer as refugees. In addition, we cannot achieve the objectives of sustainable human settlements and the right to decent housing without peace and security. Also, we cannot afford to ignore the devastating effect of HIV/AIDS. We must take appropriate actions in responding to the effects of the disease on individual families and communities, including the provision of decent housing to AIDS victims.
MAKBULE CECO, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Labour and Social Affairs of Albania: During the past decade our country has made obvious progress towards democracy, civilization and Euro-Atlantic integration. It has seen progressive developments, but has also experienced dramatic events affecting the population –- especially the most vulnerable. Democratic values have had great support from the population.
The transition period in Albania has been very difficult, compared to other countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Since the beginning of the 1990s, Albania had experience vigorous urban growth under conditions of slow development. Some of the problems faced were the high flow of emigration and internal migration, degradation of health and social services, lack of infrastructure and social services.
Recently, the Government has taken a number of legal, financial and institutional actions to solve the problems related to the peripheral population of large cities. Albania is in the process of ratifying the European Social Charter and is studying the cost of implementing it. The Government has prepared the Action Plan for Population Settlement Strategy, which is based on cooperation between central and local government, between government and civil society, and between community and private business.
MEL MARTINEZ, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development of the United States: The United States is a land of immigrants and refugees who helped build our nation. For me to be standing here, as a refugee and a member of the Cabinet, says a great deal about freedom and the remarkable opportunities offered by participation in a free society. We call it the American Dream. The individual defines it for himself or herself, but access to housing, equal opportunities in choosing a place to live, and the right to own property are certainly at its core.
My Government applauds efforts that are translating the Habitat goals into real solutions helping real people. The United States has also made strides since Istanbul. Today, we have more than 6 million new homeowners and a record number of Americans have achieved homeownership. Expanding the number of homeowners remains a national priority, because we understand that homeownership is at the root of good citizenship. It plays a vital role in creating strong neighbourhoods and in helping families build real wealth. No matter where they live, no matter their income, everyone should have the opportunity to own their own home. “Everyone” includes women.
While its role is vital, we recognize that the Government does not have all the answers or a monopoly on compassion. President Bush is committed to working with community-based and non-governmental organizations -– especially faith-based groups -– to lift up the neediest among our citizens. The United States is, in many ways, defined by the opportunities it affords its citizens. This says something very powerful about the benefits of freedom. It helps explain why the American Dream compels us to share the harvests of our opportunities. As we work together in search of answers, let us recognize that solutions dictated by government will not work on their own. Instead, we must strive to expand self-sufficiency for individuals, strengthen families, and empower communities to shape their own futures and their own destinies.
MANGALA SAMARAWEERA, Minister for Urban Development, Construction and Public Utilities of Sri Lanka: We have been actively involved in translating the Habitat Agenda into action for the past five years, particularly in promoting planned physical and urban settlements development. Our constitution guarantees the “right to adequate shelter”. Accordingly, necessary policies and legislation have been introduced to facilitate the process of ensuring shelter for all.
The national ratio of home ownership in Sri Lanka is 80 per cent, but in urban area it stands at 60 per cent. Thus, in order to ensure adequate shelter for all, we are now in the process of increasing our national housing stock through private-public partnerships. We are encouraging individual home builders by creating a conducive social market and legal environments. We are also relocating slum and shanty dwellers to new sustainable and self-sufficient compact townships.
We have drawn up basic guidelines and directions for the country’s human settlements development, which extends over a period of three decades beyond 2010. We have also prepared a comprehensive plan for human settlement development at national, provincial and local levels. Our urban population represents 30 per cent of the total population at present, and is likely to reach 65 per cent by 2030. Taking this urbanization trend into account, the Government has undertaken an extensive physical development plan for the next 30 years, within the overall context of its national economic development strategy.
The real challenge, however, is to demonstrate the political will to establish effective institutional mechanisms to implement the agreed measures. But the political will of the developing countries will be a mere slogan unless the corresponding will is also mobilized in the developed countries, to ensure a fair and regular flow of assistance to developing countries as they strive to achieve our common objectives.
JOSÉ BADIA, Government Councillor for Public Works and Social Affairs of Monaco: The session should make it possible to affirm with greater strength the outcome of Habitat II. The authorities of my country, a city-State, share the universal objectives set forth at Istanbul. Monaco has an unusual experience in the area of human settlements because of a major obstacle to expansion –- its limited territory.
Monaco’s housing policy is endowed with a social and humanitarian character. The Government has encouraged the construction, in limited areas, of functional buildings that are well integrated into the environment. The poor, the elderly and the handicapped benefit from special government units, and recent legislative measures make it easier for the State to intervene to protect tenants from private landlords.
Cleanliness of the city and maintaining its public areas is a major concern of my Government. The work done to preserve air quality deserves to be underlined. The measures taken in that regard include maintenance of a regular flow of road traffic and promotion of public transport. The treatment and evacuation of waste water has also been improved. Monaco has joined the Cities Alliance against Poverty, to improve living conditions in urban areas. Through this programme, Monaco has initiated bilateral cooperation to address housing issues.
I.M.C. CHOMBO, Minister for Local Government, Public Works and National Housing of Zimbabwe: Like any developing country, ours is faced with problems, but our determination to implement the Habitat Agenda is unquestionable and some significant strides have been made. We see the team spirit created by the establishment of our National Habitat Committee as a major strategy for reducing the housing waiting lists that exist in every one of our urban centres. The Committee also assists in providing shelter in rural areas.
Some progress has been made in this context, but our national housing backlog now exceeds 1 million. The Government is moving away from being the direct provider of housing to a facilitator. We are encouraging the provision of housing through a number of approaches that involve the participation of local authorities, the private sector, donors, and the beneficiaries themselves. These approaches have resulted in the construction of more than 100,000 new houses since 1996. The Committee has also produced a National Housing Policy, which serves as the framework for further advances in housing.
We have also embarked on a process of decentralization, in which we are duty bound to ensure that local authorities are capable of handling the new powers entrusted to them. Thus, we are undertaking a capacity-building exercise in our councils, which is bearing fruit. And we are not concerned only with urban housing, since the majority of our people live in rural areas.
Our land reform programme is aimed at the equitable distribution of land and, subsequently, of economic benefits derived from agricultural production, our national mainstay. This programme was triggered by past imbalances, caused by the invasion of our country more than a century ago, when some 4,000 white families lived on 38.3 million acres of prime land, while 700,000 black families were squeezed onto 39.6 million acres of barren land.
JEJOUMA SANON, Minister Delegate for Habitat in the Ministry of Infrastructure, Habitat and Town Planning of Burkina Faso: My country has established a Habitat programme pursuant to the commitments made in Istanbul. In the area of housing and habitat, Burkina Faso has launched programmes to build housing and to promote and extend the use of local material, providing access to housing for low-income people. The latter programme’s first phase has proven highly satisfactory. This encourages us to call upon the Habitat Centre for action to implement the second phase of the programme. Financing remains the stumbling block in our efforts.
Good governance is essential in establishing a responsible and cohesive society, and Burkina Faso is committed to building a democratic society with respect for human rights and participation of women. We have, among other things, sensitized political parties to the place of women on their voting lists. Headway has also been made with the adoption of the status of local community agencies.
We have also drawn up a framework document for poverty-eradication. The goal is to create a supportive environment for economic growth and to enhance people’s opportunities to increase their income. My country is attending this session confident that our work will lead to positive conclusions, and endorses the recommendations that will be taken by delegations at this very important conference.
FARUK BAL, Minister of State of Turkey: It was a great honour for my country to host Habitat II five years ago. Thanks to the Agenda adopted there, we are witnessing many positive initiatives in the field of housing and greater efforts directed at sustainable development of human settlements. In recognition of the key concept of partnership, people from the Government and municipalities, from the private sector and NGOs, have come together in nearly 50 provinces of Turkey to develop and put into practice this Agenda.
The Turkish Constitution states that every person has the right to live in a healthy environment. It is, therefore, incumbent upon the State to take the necessary measures and meet the housing needs of its citizens. Given the high rate of urbanization in Turkey, providing housing along with the necessary infrastructure and services remains a top priority. I am sure this is a situation we share with other countries with high rates of urbanization.
Ensuring greater access and providing affordable houses is another priority. Unfortunately, we have had to follow these priorities against the background of major natural disasters. We have had to build nearly 42,000 prefabricated shelters and as many permanent ones. We are grateful for the solidarity shown by the international community, governments and NGOs, which contributed greatly to our relief work. In an increasingly interdependent world, achieving the goal of adequate shelter for all is a noble aim. This means we have to provide our cities with better infrastructure and social services.
MAMADOU NAI CEESAY, Secretary of State for Local Government and Lands of the Gambia: As a result of prevailing demographic trends and urbanization, meeting the demand for decent housing is proving increasingly elusive. The long-term objective of the housing sector aims at increasing production of decent housing stock on a more regular basis. Particular attention will be focused on difficult and inadequate access to land for housing, dependence on imported materials, the manpower and technical limitations of the construction industry, and the need for specialized housing finance institutions, such as housing banks and cooperatives.
It is estimated that by the year 2020, two thirds of the world population will live in towns and cities. This situation is of great concern to African governments, especially in the context of severe shortages in housing, infrastructure, increasing environmental and employment problems, and growing ineffectiveness of administrative systems.
Without the necessary climate of peace and stability, all proposed efforts to redress those problems will bear little fruit. This is why we believe that good governance, which guarantees peace and stability, must be the guiding principle. We have all witnessed the many wars and civil strife across Africa over the years. Such a state of affairs has hampered the continent’s ability to achieve the goals of the Habitat Agenda and the Istanbul Declaration.
MOHAMMED AL-KHUSSAIBY, Secretary-General, Ministry of National Economy of Oman: We have realized the importance of human settlements since the international community first attached importance to the idea in 1976 at
Habitat I. At that time, we adopted our first housing policy. The second plan is in place through 2020, and concentrates on improving the working conditions of our citizens, not only through economic growth but also by the reduction of disparities between regions and income categories. We have attempted to provide everyone with decent housing, especially low-income people, and to adopt comprehensive planning for land.
We continue to determine the habitat needs of our population while giving the private sector a greater role. We have also adopted the necessary criteria for town planning, involving the development of new settlements and the expansion of existing ones. In each of these plans, we have tried to achieve a balance. In line with the Habitat Agenda, we endorse the principle of the participation of civil society through the empowerment of local authorities. The relevant policies have been successful.
An equitable human settlements policy means providing affordable and decent shelter, without discrimination. At all levels, we have highlighted the fact that the ideas enshrined in the Habitat Agenda will be implemented in Oman. Habitat and human settlements, however, are international issues for which the whole world is responsible for them. An international approach should be adopted in order to solve problems and improve the social, environmental, and economic conditions prevailing in human settlements. We remain concerned about events in the Palestinian territories, as certain policies are creating further conflicts. This is a very negative development.
ROBERT MOLLOY, Minister for Housing and Urban Renewal of Ireland: The problem of urbanization, common to all participating countries in the Habitat Agenda, is of crucial importance to all of us in our national land-use, environmental and housing policies. In my country, the five years since Istanbul have coincided with the most sustained and intense period of economic growth. Irish cities, and Dublin in particular, have been the engine rooms of this economic success. However, this has brought new pressures. Our National Habitat Report reflects the sheer pace, scale and fundamental nature of the responses that have been required to meet these new challenges.
Our recent experience has demonstrated that cooperation between all partners, whether national or local governments, community or voluntary groups, employers or trade unions, is vital to building the consensus required to achieve social, economic and sustainable growth. This partnership is embodied in a national agreement, the Programme for Partnership and Fairness. There is also an emphasis on the development of local governance initiatives through, for example, Local Agenda 21. It includes the identification of targeted interventions in areas where cumulative disadvantage is acute.
The issue of ODA has engendered significant interest and debate in this special session, and we fully recognize its importance. At the Millennium Summit, Ireland gave a solemn undertaking that we would reach the target of 0.7 per cent of gross national product (GNP) for ODA by 2007. By 2003, Ireland will increase spending on ODA by 102 per cent over the 2000 level. While the problems are formidable, and overcoming them will test our resolve and ingenuity, we have seen that when faced with what seemed insurmountable problems, communities, municipalities and governments have risen to the challenge.
HERIVELONA RAMANANTSOA, Minister for National and Regional Development, Environment and Town Planning of Madagascar: Our Government has great interest in this World Summit. After Istanbul, Madagascar launched a national policy for human settlements aimed at finding ways of solving the dearth of housing units. We started by gathering together public and private, national and international institutions and focusing them on the goal of constructing 35,000 units in five years. It also made available a small plot of land (200 square metres) at a very low price under the slogan of “one plot for one house”.
In the coming 15 years, 35 per cent of our population will live in towns. Urbanization is relentless, but it can no longer be considered separately from rural development. Towns and countryside are dependent upon each other, and towns are becoming reception and service centres for the rural population. An urban programme to fight poverty has been formulated. Through consultations in the field among partners, the programme involves local government, ministries and financial institutions.
There will be a strengthening of our capacity to manage and plan coordination with local governments, and there will be an attempt to improve the conditions of the poor in order to give them access to housing. The plan for local and regional development aims at stimulation of trade between regions and towns. Regarding urban and social integration, the aim is to ensure inclusion of the poor and their participation in the benefits of growth. Support from development partners is, however, essential.
BATES NAMUYAMBA, Minister for Local Government and Housing of Zambia: Virtually any good urban development activity somehow finds a niche in the Habitat Agenda. We have continued to realize the two themes of the Agenda, namely, adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development. In the field of shelter, we have made significant strides in empowering the Zambian people with their own houses. We are implementing an innovative housing policy that has enabling sitting tenants to purchase houses previously owned by the government authorities. As a result, the status of many Zambians has been transformed, from tenant to landlord, virtually overnight.
We continue to empower those living in unplanned settlements by providing them security of tenure to their properties, including title to land. For almost 30 years, we have given people living in recognized informal urban settlements titles to land and allowed them to gradually build their houses. Our approach to adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development has stressed the importance of community participation.
We support the enabling strategy underpinning implementation of the Habitat Agenda. “Enablement” refers to capacity-building at all levels. But while we fully support the notion that the primary responsibility for implementation of the Agenda rests with each individual State, we also believe that an enabling global environment is essential.
Yet, how can Member States implement these programmes in an environment of overburdening external debt and poverty? This is an environment in which access to the international market remains restrictive, and new resources to aid implementation of the Agenda are lacking. The Agenda is full of recommendations which have our support. Hopefully, globalization will be part of the enabling process.
FRANCIS EDWARD BABU, Minister of State for Works, Housing and Communications of Uganda: My Government subscribes to the Addis Ababa Declaration on Human Settlements, which reaffirmed commitments to adequate shelter for all, sustainable human settlements, all-inclusive participation, and gender equality and mainstreaming. We look forward to seeing the major elements of that document incorporated in the session’s final declaration on “Cities and Other Human Settlements in the New Millennium”.
Like other Member States, Uganda has faced a number of challenges in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda. These include poverty, unemployment and institutional weaknesses. We, therefore, urge other Member States to ensure that poverty eradication and debt relief should form the core of the declaration. There is a dire need for our development partners to enhance support for poverty eradication by contributing the internationally agreed target of 0.7 per cent of their GNP in assistance.
I am proud to say that Uganda’s Constitution has vested ownership of land in the hands of its citizens. It recognizes all the different tenure systems under which land is held, including customary land tenure and freehold tenure. With regard to governance, Uganda has fully embraced decentralization and democratic governance. On management of the environment, a national authority has been set up and the statute empowers this authority to oversee all matters of environmental concern in the country.
SHAIKH KHALID ABDULLA AL-KHALIFA, Minister for Housing and Agriculture of Bahrain: Bahrain is witnessing a political democratic development whereby human rights, freedom of expression and parliamentary participation are further strengthened. Bahrain has, over the past five years, participated effectively at the national, regional and global levels in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, as reflected in our Country Report. It hosted the Arab regional meeting in preparation for Istanbul + 5, which resulted in the Manama Declaration. Bahrain and Habitat have a long history of close cooperation. This cooperation has resulted in a number of mutual programmes, including the establishment of the Bahrain Urban Indicator Programme and the Bahrain National Urban Observatory.
At the national level, Bahrain has taken progressive steps in the area of human settlements, in particular since its creation of the Ministry of Housing and Agriculture in 1975. Programmes and activities are guided by the principle of providing adequate housing for every family that does not own or cannot afford to build a house. This principle is enshrined in the Constitution of Bahrain, which says that the State shall provide housing for those with limited income.
Based on this, the Ministry has successfully undertaken multiple housing programmes and projects. As a result, around 62 per cent of the population are supported by these programmes. The Government has provided needy families with housing and other social services. These programmes are in line with the recommendations and resolutions of United Nations organizations. We look forward to the success of this session in laying the foundation for providing each family and each individual with a life in dignity, in a society whose present and future well-being is secure.
ALI ABDOL ALIZADEH, Minister for Housing and Urban Development of Iran: The crux of outstanding issues in the final document of the special session centres on how best we can muster our collective capabilities to fully implement what we agreed to in Istanbul. We have to admit that the challenges have become all the more difficult, due to the complicating impact of globalization, particularly in the developing world. While it is imperative to remain faithful to the letter and spirit of the Habitat Agenda, we need to agree on a practical implementation strategy.
One of the lessons learned at the national level is that access to land alone does not suffice for shelter provision. Following a 20-year experience, a shift at the level of national policy from the mere provision of land to the provision of housing has been effected. This shift has been accompanied with a more pronounced emphasis on private sector activity. The “rent-to-own” plan for young couples and female-headed households has proved to be a useful and popular policy. There has been emphasis on the elimination of monopolies, promotion of popular participation, enhancement of private-sector investment, and promotion of the role of local Islamic councils.
At the international level, we are indeed at the beginning of the urban millennium. But let us not forget the almost totally neglected rural millennia, particularly in the developing world. Worse than the rural plight is the precarious situation of refugees, a persisting global phenomenon which requires urgent global collective response, and whose plight can hardly find a more telling example than that of the oppressed Palestinian people. I cannot but end on a positive note: that the paradigm of Dialogue among Civilizations, thanks to President Khatami, provides the most appropriate framework and conduit for the promotion of a higher level of universal understanding and international cooperation. It is only through cooperation at all levels that the international community stands a chance of achieving the objectives of the Habitat Agenda.
NGUYEN TAN VAN, Vice-Minister of Construction of Viet Nam: Conscious of the significant role of human settlement in national socio-economic development, our Government has sought to address the issue, especially in urban areas. Since 1996, we have made considerable progress in this field. We have set out broad policies to eliminate our housing subsidies system, to shape the patterns of housing business towards a market-led enterprise, and to mobilize individual housing capacities, especially in urban areas.
In the past five years, nearly 30 million square metres of dwellings were built by individuals, including new and renovated construction. The Government has focused on providing shelter to the population of areas suffering from natural calamities and flooding, and on improving housing construction along the canals through urban areas and next to industrial regions. A great number of old houses have been renovated, and new blocks have been built with well developed infrastructures. Architecture that captures modern style and good interior-exterior quality has emerged.
Blocks of flats are encouraged in big cities to increase the housing supply for median- and low-income residents. Housing construction plans must be devised in accordance with land-use plans and population growth. Generally, poor housing conditions, however, continue to challenge a sustainable programme, especially in areas suffering from frequent storms and floods. As a developing country whose economy is now market-led, fiscal inefficiency remains serious, especially among the urban authorities. We, therefore, appreciate the assistance of all partners for our social and economic development, in general, and our housing development, in particular.
ILEANA TUREANU, State Secretary, Ministry of Public Works, Transport and Housing of Romania: Our Government is committed to supporting the Habitat Agenda and increasing the ability of all stakeholders to mobilize resources for solving housing issues. The major policies and actions of the Government are centred on continuous legislative activity in support of the sustainable development of human settlements and enhancing its role as facilitator and catalysing factor in the housing sector.
The specific programmes and policies spelled out in the National Programme for Spatial Development concentrate on the major issues that require government support to achieve the goals of socio-economic reform and sustainable development of human settlements. They relate to: transport infrastructure; water management; cultural and natural heritage; the network of human settlements; and prevention of natural disasters.
Housing ranks high on the agenda of the government programme for the period 2000-2004. After a decade of economic and social reform, it is largely recognized that housing is an important sector of the economy, with a substantial contribution to gross capital formation; it is also a key factor for the development of human settlements, for social stability and for the well-being of individuals and families. The basic attitude guiding government action is its commitment to achieving a competitive market economy.
SERGEY KRUGLIK, First Deputy Chairman of the Committee for Construction, Housing and Municipal Economy of the Russian Federation: Despite the successes achieved by a number of countries in this field, we cannot ignore the persistent and, in some cases, growing problems. The accelerating process of globalization contains considerable potential for speeding up economic and social development, but it can also increase the danger of marginalization and further exclusion of those countries that cannot integrate. Our work today should make its weighty contribution to ensuring that globalization becomes a positive force for all the world’s people.
The citizen’s right to housing is guaranteed by our Constitution. According to fundamental law, the poor and several other categories of citizens are provided with either free or affordable housing. Property rights are also protected by law. Recently, a number of new laws were passed ensuring social and legal protection of housing ownership by citizens, including minor members of the family. Indeed, the housing reforms of the past decade are an integral part of the country’s economic reform. As a result of that reform, by the end of 1999 approximately 60 per cent of the housing stock in Russia was privatized, and most Russians had become homeowners. At the same time, we have undertaken measures to empower the most vulnerable, socially unprotected and poorest populations. A programme of focused social assistance is being implemented in the form of subsidies for the payment of housing and utilities.
Some 73 per cent of our population lives in cities, and the improvement of urban development governance is one of our priorities. A most important task is ensuring the sustainability of urban infrastructures, including transportation systems. As we experience a difficult period of large-scale market reforms, we face additional problems in implementing the Habitat Agenda. In this context, international cooperation takes on a special significance as an important source of support for our efforts.
TOMAŽ KANCLER, State Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning of Slovenia: We align ourselves with the statement made yesterday on behalf of the European Union. Significant strides are being made with respect to land policy in Slovenia. They include formulation of an overall strategy for spatial development, for which the recommendations of the Habitat Agenda have served as a guide. The main principles of our concept are rational use of land, protection of our natural and cultural heritage, social cohesion, and economic development.
A vast range of landscapes and a multitude of small urban settlements mark our country, with a population of some 1.9 million. These characteristics are reflected in the uneven economic structure and polycentric development of a country with a dispersed settlement structure and population distribution. We are challenged to devise strategies that define their role within large city networks. While it is easier to achieve balanced structures within small city networks, it is a greater challenge to do so in the competitive climate of the larger European cities.
Processes like privatization are slowing down the development of real estate markets. We should, therefore, make a special effort to solve these complex problems. One of our most important needs is to modernize our land administration and information system, in order to ensure available land for development. We are implementing sustainable development goals as a priority in all of our new strategies, and are seeking to fulfil the goals of the Habitat Agenda as an ongoing process.
U TINT SWE, Deputy Minister of Construction of Myanmar: Considerable success has been achieved in our efforts to improve the living standards of the people through building physical and social infrastructure in transport, education and health facilities, with a view to developing all regions equally, closing the development gap between hilly regions and the plains, and narrowing the development gap between rural and urban areas. In the shelter sector, the Government has adopted different strategies for provision of land and housing. Alternative strategies have been implemented in areas such as urban expansion, relocation of services and redevelopment schemes.
In the area of urban governance, the Government has successfully implemented a series of decentralization initiatives that included the formation of the Yangon City Development Committee and the Mandalay City Development Committee, under the direct supervision of the Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council and the Prime Minister. In order to implement development projects in other major cities and towns, including border areas and rural regions, a new ministry was formed to cater to their needs.
The Government is attempting to raise the living standards of Myanmar’s people. We emphasize the harmonious and complementary development of rural and urban regions, with the ultimate aim of the emergence of a modern and developed nation.
ERWIN ORTIZ GANDALILLAS (Bolivia): The review of the implementation of Istanbul should take into account different components such as poverty, unemployment, natural disasters, and marginalization of vulnerable and indigenous groups, at the regional, national and international level -- but especially at the local level. One of the results of the eighteenth session of the Commission in Nairobi last February was the establishment of a committee of permanent representatives. That committee will fill the void that existed between the sessions of the Commission.
A fundamental aspect of implementation of the Agenda’s objectives is the role played by local authorities. On the international level, the globalization process has created a principle of cooperation with developing countries. But such cooperation must be expressed through the necessary direct transfers of financial resources, through ODA, debt forgiveness, and opening of markets. Without solidarity, without cooperation, it will be difficult for developing countries to meet the objectives of Istanbul.
Bolivia is exerting enormous efforts to implement those objectives, with a comprehensive approach on several issues. Bolivia’s new housing policy is based on the right to adequate shelter and the participation of its people. The Ministry is developing a policy of providing equal access to land, among other things. Programmes focus on the improvement of neighbourhoods and reconstruction of housing in urban zones damaged by natural disasters. Bolivia is also tackling, as a matter of priority, problems related to the eradication of poverty.
MOHAMMED Al-DOURI (Iraq): Iraq’s policy for improving human settlements has evolved, and a number of foundations and organizations have been founded. Investment has also been provided to ensure housing for large sectors of the population. Housing units and infrastructure have been built in a very few years. Unfortunately, the housing sector has suffered from external aggression from the coalition led by the United States. This has affected much of the country’s infrastructure. The use of weapons of mass destruction and the effects of depleted uranium have negatively impacted the environment.
Despite the complete embargo imposed on my country, Iraq has continued to strive to implement the Habitat Agenda. We have taken steps to reinforce the role and place of women in society and to ensure job opportunities. We have also encouraged joint projects between the public and private sector and strengthened local communities. Iraq, however, is still deprived of access to its own resources, and is subject to daily air raids. The lifting of the embargo, which has lost its raison d’être, is the only way to permanently resolve the housing problems of the country.
Iraq affirms the need to put an end to the embargo, to limit the effects of depleted uranium and to address the issue of trade liberalization agreements and their impact on developing countries. The occupation of Palestinian towns by the Zionist entity goes against international laws and resolutions. The international community must intervene to put an end to that aggression.
OM PRADHAN (Bhutan): The challenges of human settlements are compounded not only by rural-to-urban migrations within national boundaries, but also by trans-border migrations, sometimes on a massive scale, of destitute people in search of better livelihoods. This is a prominent feature in South Asia, where one fifth of the world’s population live and where poverty is rampant. It is, therefore, imperative that national efforts should be complemented by international cooperation in order to implement the Habitat Agenda successfully.
One of the main constraints on implementation in the developing countries is the lack of technical know-how and of other resources. This problem has to be addressed seriously, in the context both of ODA and concessional financing mechanisms. As far as Bhutan is concerned, in keeping with our people-centred socio-economic development policies, the Government provides assistance to all house owners, especially in the rural areas, by way of subsidized timber and group fire insurance. Every effort is being made to ensure sanitation and water supply and, where possible, provision of electricity.
One of the key national policy objectives is decentralization, which takes socio-economic activities right down to the town and village levels. This process has had a positive impact on environmental management, housing, sanitation, water supply, electricity, health and education facilities. To give further impetus to human settlements and improve sustainability of urban services, Bhutan has established a National Committee on Human Settlements.
RODOLFO G. BIAZON (Philippines): The right to adequate shelter is enshrined in our Constitution. In translating this mandate into concrete initiatives and measures, the Government has forged linkages with civil society, the private sector and academia. Since 1996, it has installed policies and legislation aimed at implementing the Habitat Agenda. To complement the efforts of the legislature, the executive branch has issued orders for curtailing professional squatting and squatting syndicates.
My country has encountered many impediments in the provision of adequate shelter to its people. These include governance problems, the El Niño and La Niña phenomena, the Asian financial crisis, and the continuous influx of people from rural to major urban centres. A steady increase in population in major cities and towns has exacerbated the housing shortage, as manifested in the proliferation of informal settler colonies. Increased migration has magnified other urban problems such as traffic congestion, difficulties in urban administration and management, and the lack of employment opportunities. Be that as it may, we affirm our commitment to resolving such problems.
In the next four years, our human settlements institutions will continue to establish programmes for the provision of adequate shelter and the promotion of sustainable development. It is paramount that we revisit the disciplines of elimination and prohibition of export subsidies and improvement of market access for developing countries through reduction in tariffs and the elimination of tariff peaks and tariff escalation on products of interest to developing countries. I urge developed countries to comply with the allocation of 0.7 per cent of their GNP for ODA.
SELIM TADMOURY (Lebanon): Globalization has had a real impact on human settlements at a time when towns are sharing technologies and exchanging ideas. At the same time, globalization has left a “huge gap” between the strongest, who have become richer, and the weakest, who have been deprived of their potential. Both sides are paying the price of globalization. The influence of globalization on large metropolitan areas, especially in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, has been the emergence of two categories of countries: those that have adapted and those that have not. It is up to the international community to alleviate the negative impact of globalization on human settlements.
Finding a solution to poverty means turning to both the private and public sectors, as well as to global financial institutions. Perhaps an international fund, under United Nations auspices, would help eradicate poverty and halve it by 2015. Legislation should allow us to reach our human settlements goals. Ownership laws and lower interest rates would help. At the same time, the cultural landscape should be preserved.
Lebanon has suffered a great deal from Israeli occupation in the south, where a large number of human settlements were destroyed. Other parts of Lebanon have also seen destruction of infrastructures over the past 15 years. At the same time, we have made much progress in restoring Beirut. The legal system is devising an urbanization project that would include reconstruction efforts for the northern and southern suburbs of the capital, and rehabilitate the human settlements in the southern part of the country.
DIRK JAN VAN DEN BERG (Netherlands): Reports prepared for this special session clearly indicate that we are still far away from the implementation of the Habitat Agenda. Istanbul + 5 offers us no time for complacency. On the contrary, there is an urgent need to focus on what still has to be done. The reports submitted by the Executive Director of Habitat present strong arguments that sound habitat policies should be cross-cutting and inclusive -- not just shelter, but also sanitation, health, sustainable construction, infrastructure, spatial planning and integrated urban development. This calls for a comprehensive approach at the national and local levels. This comprehensive approach must also be reflected in our policies on international cooperation.
Implementation is not a top-down issue. National governments have a major role to play, but they are dependent on local authorities and civil society at large. Local authorities are of key significance and should be enabled to achieve good governance. In many countries, an encouraging trend towards increased cooperation between local authorities and the private sector has become manifest and is providing many examples of mutual benefit. Civil society is also a key player in representing the interests of citizens in relation to human settlements issues. Women and women’s organizations play a decisive role in securing equal rights relating to security of rental and ownership tenure and to mortgages. However, women seeking the implementation of these rights meet obstacles. We should increase our efforts to overcome such obstacles.
This year, the Netherlands is commemorating the 100th birthday of its National Housing Act. A recently published policy paper has reviewed our accomplishments and has explored possible future policy lines in terms of human settlements development. For an urbanizing country like the Netherlands, it is important to involve and engage citizens and their organizations in the preparation and execution of integrated urban regeneration plans. The Dutch NGO “Habitat Platform” is actively engaged in promoting local participation in the Netherlands, and devotes a substantial part of its resources to raising awareness of global habitat issues.
MIKHAIL WEHBE (Syria): Governments should accord the question of special attention and elaborate plans to ensure adequate housing, as well as providing services to housing. My Government is making great efforts to achieve these goals and has laid down executive plans to guarantee their success. Among other protections, the law has restrictions on stripping ownership, and there are no barriers preventing women from acquiring land or mortgages.
Our residential policies include development trends aimed at providing basic services for the greatest number of the population. Efforts are also in place to curb migration to urban centres in order to improve the quality of life there. Enhancing international cooperation is an important step towards resolving the housing problem. Both national and international efforts are required. We believe that the developed countries must demonstrate the necessary political will to create an appropriate environment for the socio-economic development of the developing countries. The latter also have responsibilities that they must honour.
Improving human settlements should not distract us from focusing on the problems caused by natural and human-made disasters. In the Middle East, for example, the destruction of human settlements and degradation of the environment had been carried out by Israel, which had been persistent in its defiance of international treaties and resolutions. Today, there are more than 200 Israeli settlements in the occupied Syrian Golan. The relevant United Nations resolutions should be observed.
ROLAND KPOTSRA (Togo): The last century was not only characterized by scientific progress, but also by unbridled urbanization that will only accelerate in the years to come. That urbanization is unfortunately accompanied by a number of problems that will be very difficult to resolve. Half of the people of the planet are now living in cities. The growth in urbanization will be even more pronounced in developing countries.
In those countries, the poor functioning of city administration and rising crime and violence have had a negative impact on urban centres. Other factors, such as HIV/AIDS and increased poverty, have further exacerbated the situation. Facing those challenges, the international community continues to hold major international conferences, including Istanbul, and has committed to undertake action to reverse the deterioration of the quality of life by combating poverty and the degradation of the environment.
In implementing the Habitat Agenda, Togo -- despite the economic crisis in the country -- has undertaken action to ensure sustainable improvement in the quality of life of its people. It has adopted national population and environment policies. A national housing strategy is being drafted. All interested partners, including civil society and the private sector, have been closely involved in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda. That implementation can only be fully implemented, however, if the international community gives the necessary support. I welcome the growing role played by the United Nations system, in particular Habitat, to ensure that human settlements will be increasingly viable in every part of the world. It is up to the international community to work resolutely to ensure the implementation of the Habitat Agenda goals.
IRENE WIESE VON-OFEN, President, Habitat Professionals Forum: The Forum was established in 1999 at the initiative of the following organizations, under the auspices of Habitat: International Federation for Housing and Planning; International Union of Architects; International Federation of Surveyors; International Society of City and Regional Planners; Centre for African Settlement Studies and Development; and Arab Urban Development Institute.
Awareness of the issue at all levels of government is critical for the implementation of the Habitat Agenda. Governments should fulfil their commitments and civil society should understand that implementation of the principle of sustainability is a continuous learning process. A number of difficult processes must be resolved, including the varying pace worldwide of technical and economical structural changes, and those of more traditional social-political structures. Ecological processes, for which experts are needed, should also be examined.
On the technical side of the huge task of providing “shelter for all”, expertise is needed in a number of areas, including urban and regional planning, traffic and transportation, architecture and ecology, geography, health and culture, and sociology and law. Addressing the human side of this task requires the participation of individuals, families and women and children, as well as businesses and private enterprise. It should also be borne in mind that a change in physical structure leads to a change of social composition.
At the same time, contemporary architecture must respond with precision to social requirements, and architectural beauty should be a defining feature of the cities in which we live. Without sound land administration, there is no sustainable solution to housing problems. At the same time, architects should advocate beauty and harmony in the environment even in light of social problems, poverty and insufficient funding or government support. They should find ways of linking the provision of shelter for all with the creation of an urban identity and attention to social concerns.
ERNESTO GIL ELORDUY, Global Parliamentarians for Habitat: Peace is built on social equity and the progress of peoples. The new millennium leads us to reflect on the future of our societies in the face of globalization -- a challenge to which all States, governments and parliaments must rise. Since its establishment in 1987, our organization has sought to promote the sustainable development of human settlements and the goal of adequate shelter for all. This decision was both correct and timely. The participation of parliaments in the international agenda is of the utmost importance.
Cooperation between the United Nations system and legislative bodies is becoming increasingly necessary. We welcome the decision to ensure the legal integrity of the Habitat Centre, and we are confident that coordination with our
organization can be maintained in order to provide support and legal assistance to requesting countries. If we work together to promote the legislative implementation of the Habitat II Agenda, we will be able to more effectively implement its recommendations.
Global Parliamentarians will support the implementation of the programme of work of the Habitat Centre for the period 2001-2001, as it relates to the issuance of juridical ordinances that provide for secure land tenure in the context of an accelerated process of urbanization. There is a need for committed action on the part of parliamentarians to reinforce legislative action as essential for the democratic process, sustainable development and protection of the environment.
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