ASSEMBLY HEARS VIEWS OF 30 SPEAKERS AS SECOND DAY OF SPECIAL SESSION ENDS
ASSEMBLY HEARS VIEWS OF 30 SPEAKERS AS SECOND DAY OF SPECIAL SESSION ENDS
General Assembly Plenary
Twenty-fifth Special Session
4th Meeting (PM)
ASSEMBLY HEARS VIEWS OF 30 SPEAKERS AS SECOND DAY OF SPECIAL SESSION ENDS
The world community, clear-sightedly and without smugness, must strive to overcome the risks attaching to the tide of urbanization, and seize its opportunities, the twenty-fifth special session of the General Assembly was told this afternoon as it continued its review of implementation of the outcome of the second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), held in Istanbul in 1996.
On the second day of the three-day session, the Minister for the Cities of France said that no one could pretend to ignore that the future of all countries will be played out primarily in the cities. The city must henceforth be viewed as a primary target for collective action and a genuine issue for government. The special session should not give anyone the slightest opportunity for back-pedaling on the commitments undertaken at Istanbul. Rather, it must ensure their correct implementation, in a constructive and motivating spirit.
The Minister of Town Planning and National and Regional Development of Senegal was concerned that most of the questions about the management of human settlements had gone unanswered. The special session must raise awareness of the need to step up efforts to eradicate insecurity and poverty, which were the major obstacles to instituting controlled urban growth and improved living conditions. Senegal’s enhanced community capacity had proved to be a decisive milestone in the search for harmonious development between towns and rural areas.
Canada’s Minister of Public Works and Services noted his country’s dedication to an inclusive society and stressed that the promotion of gender equality was a fundamental element of sustainable human settlements development. Through domestic and international activities, Canada would continue to promote the empowerment of women and their full and equal participation in all spheres of society.
Addressing a specific problem of implementation for island States, the representative of the Maldives said that in his country -- due to the fragmented nature of population distribution over a large number of small islands -- a new approach to regional planning on population concentration had been initiated. The inhabitants of islands with very small populations were encouraged to move to selected islands with bigger land area and development potential. The Government was able to carry out that programme by involving the public in its decisions.
Statements were also made by: the Director General of the National Office of Old-Age Insurance of Haiti; the Minister of Regional and Local Government and Housing of Namibia; the Minister of Construction and Housing of Israel; the
Minister of National and Regional Development, Town Planning, Habitat and Environment of Morocco; the Minister of Lands, Housing and the Environment of Botswana; the Minister of Equipment and Housing of Tunisia; the Minister of the Environment of Slovakia; and the Minister of Territorial Organization, Urbanization and Construction of Cambodia.
Further statements were made by: the Minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs of Saudi Arabia; the Minister of Public Works of Eritrea; the State Secretary of the Environment and Regional Development Ministry of Latvia; the Vice-Minister, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany; the Vice-Minister for Local Development of the Czech Republic; the Vice-Minister for Economy of Ukraine; and the Deputy-Minister, Ministry of Public Works and Urban Development of Yemen.
The representatives of Mongolia, Italy, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Bulgaria, Mauritius, Greece, Republic of Moldova, Malta and Kyrgyzstan also addressed the session, as did a representative of the NGO Committee on Human Settlements.
The representatives of Armenia and Egypt spoke in exercise of the right of reply, as did the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations.
The special session will meet tomorrow, 8 June, at 9 a.m. to continue its general debate.
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.]
JOSEPH OLIVA FRANKLIN, Director General of the National Office of Old-Aged Insurance of Haiti: With the rise of the policy of social housing, human settlements must stand as a priority. In Haiti, Habitat II has given human settlements an impetus towards a fresh policy. Since Istanbul, many efforts have been made, but there is a bottleneck that still acts as an obstacle: the insufficient production of housing units and a colossal housing deficit.
The insufficiency of technical resources to promote housing and social infrastructures is rooted in a lack of financial resources, in particular among local authorities. In resolving those problems, Haiti, with the assistance of the United Nations and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), has decided to set up an inter-sectional committee on human settlement to establish policies armed at achieving a better balance between economic development, protection of the environment, and improvement of the living condition of the poorest segment of the population. A study of the environmental profile of the capital, projects of residential blocks near the capital, and the project for creating a new city should also be mentioned.
The new Government, under President Aristide, is pursuing a programme of continuity, affecting roads, energy and housing. It intends to set up a land-planning programme. There will be a revision of land legislation, and an attempt will be made to make land available to all sectors of the population whatever their incomes. The rural area will not be neglected either, and special attention will be given to construction of administrative complexes. In the face of enormous investment needs, Haiti relies greatly on our partners to improve future prospects for the well-being of the people, in particular, the vulnerable groups, women and children.
NICKY IAMBO, Minister for Regional and Local Government and Housing of Namibia: Housing has been identified by the Government as a priority development area. Our Constitution emphasizes the promotion of equal access to adequate and affordable shelter, water, safe environment and other basic services as an integral part of fundamental rights and freedoms. The housing programme has enhanced the social and economic well-being of low-income families, enabling such groups to access land and enjoy security of tenure. Emphasis is placed on community participation in the construction of houses.
The promotion of a just society for all is reflected in legislation such as the Affirmative Action Act, Married Persons Equality Act, and the national policy on disability. A social housing programme has targeted old-age pensioners, persons with disabilities and destitutes. In spite of these efforts, HIV/AIDS and the scarcity of water have a negative impact on development projects intended to reduce poverty. Regarding economic development, the Government provides incentives for the informal business sector through a guaranteed credit scheme.
Decentralization of power to the regional and local authorities has progressively been carried out since 1998. Through the decentralization process, people at the grass-roots level are able to partake in the decision-making processes affecting their lives. On international cooperation, the Government will continue to coordinate with governments and other Habitat Agenda partners to exchange ideas and learn from their experiences in the struggle for adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlement. We will explore all possibilities at our disposal to achieve the said objectives.
Natan Sharansky, Minister of Construction and Housing of Israel: Israel’s allegiance to the Habitat Agenda places our citizens at the centre of all our policies for shelter and sustainable development. We have developed integrated housing solutions for various population groups, with strategies that recognize the differing needs and abilities of our citizens. In order to promote home ownership, we provide subsidized mortgages for all first-time homebuyers, based on established socio-economic criteria. Our high level of homeownership is quite remarkable in light of our history of immigrant absorption.
Certain delegations have regrettably chosen to appropriate today’s session to level unfounded political attacks against Israel, rather than contribute in a productive manner to the discussion. It seems as if for these countries, there are no pressing habitat problems other than those relating to Israel. I regret that I must depart from my intended statement to address these accusations.
In spite of our policy of restraint, we are accused of using excessive force. In fact, Israel is facing a campaign of unparalleled terror, orchestrated by the Palestinians. We empathize with their suffering, but stress that peace will only be realized when governments are accountable to their people, and truly committed to the advancement and welfare of their citizens. Israel is at the forefront of the free world against terrorism. The cessation of violence is not a matter to be negotiated, or to be switched on and off at will. It is a basic precondition of all the compromises entailed in the peace process. I wish to conclude by reaffirming my country’s commitment to the goals of the Habitat Agenda.
SEYDOU SY SALL, Minister for Town Planning and National and Regional Development of Senegal: This is a crucial time in the life of the United Nations, when most of the questions asked about the management of human settlements remain unanswered. This session must ensure that mankind becomes more aware of the crucial need to step up work to eradicate insecurity and poverty. These are the two major obstacles to instituting a controlled urban growth and improving the living conditions of urban populations.
Our new policy on human settlements reinforces existing policies and provides a framework for follow-up to Habitat II. We have had a new constitution since January, which guarantees the right to property for both men and women, and eliminates the impediments that flowed from certain laws and customs. Land acquisition is also granted to the handicapped and elderly.
Despite the difficulties encountered by workers in urban areas, Senegal has adopted a 10-year programme of urbanization in the Dakar region. It is intended to reinforce private initiative and promote a synergy among local authorities, the private sector, civil society and individuals. Housing will be promoted through regular contacts between the State and various partners. It is expected that 12,000 housing units will be produced annually.
The post-Habitat II infrastructure has been marked by an intensified policy of “social branching”. The problem of water shortages will be resolved by an effective water distribution system. A new land-holding policy will make it possible to control the land-holding situation of more than 1 million families and substantially improve their living standards. Land-holding restructuring and regulation will be carried out with international support. The new national programme to eradicate poverty is promising.
ALFONSO GAGLIANO, Minister for Public Works and Government Services of Canada: Canadians are fortunate to be relatively well housed. Citizens enjoy good access to housing markets and the financing necessary to home ownership. Housing-related technology is leading-edge. Our communities are economically and socially vibrant and increasingly environmentally conscious.
Canada is committed to advancing sustainable development and healthy housing practices to reduce energy consumption, to protect occupant health, to ensure quality water, and to encourage sustainable community planning and design. Canada will continue to work on both the domestic and international fronts to meet its sustainable development commitments. We pride ourselves on having an inclusive society –- one that encourages civic engagement and public participation. Through our progressive tax system, active measures and social safety net, Canada has been able to limit the social and economic costs of social exclusion.
The promotion of gender equality is a fundamental element of sustainable human settlements development. Through domestic and international activities, Canada will continue to promote the empowerment of women and their full and equal participation in all spheres of society. In recent years, Canada has substantially increased the collaboration and coordination of Canadian partners working in international cooperation and development.
CLAUDE BARTOLONE, Minister for the Cities of France: I fully associate myself with the statement made yesterday on behalf of the European Union. This closeness of views is not surprising, since all of us in Europe are unwaveringly loyal to the message of Istanbul. After Habitat II, no one can pretend to ignore that the future of our countries, in the North as in the South, will be played out primarily in cities. This special session must succeed in remobilizing international opinion as to the scope, acuteness and complexity of the challenges still facing all the world’s cities. For that, we need a vigorous and wilfully political final declaration which can have a real impact on world opinion.
If we are going to overcome the risks attaching to the tide of urbanization and seize its opportunities, we must do everything in our power to implement the Global Plan of Action adopted at Istanbul as swiftly as possible. France has resolutely embarked on the course set in Istanbul. Since 1996, major reforms have profoundly modernized our habitat and urban policy. The fight against exclusion and the exercise of the right to a home have received fresh impetus. Resources devoted to rehabilitating struggling neighbourhoods and socially reintegrating their inhabitants have been greatly increased. More generally, a new movement towards passing contracts between the Government, the territorial authorities and their partners in civil society has been fostered. Measures have also been taken to increase the local population’s participation, and to see that the city becomes again what it should never have stopped being – namely, a place of eminence for democracy and citizenship.
Public authorities have a decisive role to play. The market alone cannot make a city economically efficient, ecologically prudent and socially harmonious, any more than it can provide everyone with decent housing and acceptable services. The city must, henceforth, be viewed as a primary target for collective action and a genuine issue for government.
MOHAMED EL YANGHI, Minister for National and Regional Development, Town Planning, Habitat and Environment of Morocco: Morocco is committed to the Habitat Agenda, and measures are being taken to ensure the implementation of its principles. We have launched programmes for reconstruction and rehabilitation of settlements in our country. During 1998-2001, we have embarked on a pilot project of poverty prevention in three major cities, in collaboration with Habitat and the UNDP. This programme can be expected to be extended to other cities.
In this context, Morocco, in collaboration with Habitat, is organizing a fourth international forum on poverty, to be held in Marrakesh this year. We have just completed a democratic debate on land-use planning, which was participated in by all sectors of our society. A forward-looking draft national charter -– which, among other things, strengthens the role of women and civil society -- is the result.
We have committed ourselves to making good governance an effective management tool for human settlements and poverty eradication. The adoption of a new and more transparent text on public rendering, the implementation of a public plan for economic and social development, and efforts to increase participation of all citizens are among our initiatives. We support all measures that contribute to the strengthening of the Habitat Centre.
JACOB D. NKATE, Minister of Lands, Housing and the Environment of Botswana: The implementation of the Habitat Agenda is one of the greatest challenges of the twenty-first century, especially since the world is faced with ever-increasing rates of urbanization, poverty, lack of adequate shelter and the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In Botswana, the National Policy on Housing contains a number of projects now at various stages of implementation. The Government emphasizes facilitation as its major role, while other stakeholders, including the private sector, become involved in the servicing and development of land.
Another new aspect of the policy is the promotion of housing as an instrument for economic empowerment for poor citizens. The National Policy will extend the Self-Help Housing Programme into rural areas. This programme has so far benefited low-income households in the township areas. The National Settlement Policy aims at promoting sustainable settlement through the provision of services and infrastructure to the various levels of settlements. It recognizes the symbiotic relationship between urban and rural settlements and advocates for the promotion of their functional linkages. Issues of employment and job creation are also addressed by the policy.
The question of gender equality is topical internationally, and is one of the issues being addressed in Botswana. All gender-biased laws are at various stages of revision. The National Gender Programme is a comprehensive statement of the vision, objectives, strategies and actions which Botswana aspires to achieve in 20 years. Environment management is one of Botswana’s top priorities. Measures are being taken to reduce pollution of all kinds and ensure the implementation of local environmental plans. All efforts are carried out in a context of good governance characterized by gradual decentralization.
SLAHEDDINE BELAID, Minister of Equipment and Housing of Tunisia: Based on objective and detailed indicators, our National Report testifies to Tunisia’s efforts to set up the legal framework and institutions required for a methodical planning of urban development, organized utilization of the national territory, and involvement of municipalities and regional, as well as local, bodies in improving the management of human settlements in order to keep abreast of the growing urbanization rate, which stood at 62.8 per cent in 2000.
Tunisia has developed and implemented specific national strategies aimed at promoting fairness and equality, without gender-based discrimination, opening the gates for every form of initiative by free bodies and associations. Most of the country’s urban settlements and houses are fitted with basic services. Connection to the power grid rose significantly, as well as connection to potable water and to the sanitation network in urban communities. The poverty rate has declined sharply from 6.2 per cent in 1995 to 4.2 per cent in 2000. In the Agenda for the Future of 1999, the President decided to eradicate all remaining dilapidated shelters by 2004. Thus, Tunisia will have succeeded in attaining the first goal set: adequate shelter for all.
The correlation between the issues posed by rampant urbanization and the need to meet the requirements of citizens has conferred an international dimension to such issues. Hence, the Tunisian initiative to call for a World Solidarity Fund, with the basic function of providing the international community with a mechanism for eradicating poverty and promoting least-favoured regions of the world. It is to be funded through donations and voluntary contributions, and is founded on the conviction that it is no longer possible to imagine a balanced and safe world without decent living conditions for all.
LÁSZLÓ MIKLÓS, Minister of the Environment of Slovakia: Among the problems facing Slovakia in the area of housing and settlements are: increased social segregation; conflicts between the social and economic situation and market prices; problems with social dwellings; and the increasing age of the population, exacerbated by a low birth rate. To address the situation, the Government has taken or will take such measures as making housing a priority, elaborating effective legislation and reforming public administration, which will shift many housing and planning responsibilities to local and regional authorities.
Solving major environmental and development problems, such as sewage, water supply and waste management, is very costly. We encourage governments and international organizations to take into account the country-specific relations between settlement structure, natural and landscape conditions and environmental problems in defining the priorities for investment in sustainable development, particularly considering the priorities for different assistance and funding schemes.
In implementing the Habitat Agenda, cooperation with our neighbouring countries is important. Five years is a short period and implementation of the Agenda is just beginning. The special session is an opportunity for the international community to assess the work already done and express our political will to continue our activities to improve our cities and further promote the aims of Habitat II –- adequate shelter for all and sustainable development of human settlements.
IM CHHUN LIM, Minister of Territorial Organization, Urbanization and Construction of Cambodia: Cambodia is mainly a rural country. Less than 15 per cent of its population live in cities. However, there is a great possibility that the capital and other urban areas will see an influx from rural areas in the coming 10 years. To contain the risk of uncontrolled rural exodus, Cambodia stresses rural development and economic development of secondary towns by improving the infrastructure.
The problem of shelter and human settlement is both urban and rural. In rural areas, housing is very small but appropriate. Problems relate more to drinking water, flood control and security of land ownership. The Government has created a strategy for poverty reduction aimed at increasing income by promoting development of the private sector, improving the infrastructure and promoting good governance. In management of natural resources, measures are focused on hydraulic resources in order to promote availability of drinking water, irrigation and flood control. A new land law and improved registration will strengthen land tenure security.
The Government has also promoted projects to foster decentralization. Use of demined land for settlement is an example of this. Cambodia is endowed with an active civilian society and a strong non-governmental organization (NGO) sector, which will instil vigour into the improvement of human settlements. In the area of international cooperation, there are projects focused on settlement in urban areas supported by United Nations organizations and the United Kingdom. Those projects are helping in the implementation of the social policies of the Government and, through this, to improve the situation of human rights.
MOHAMMED AL-JARALLAH, Minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs of Saudi Arabia: Given the disparities in levels of development between nations and the differences in their circumstances, we expect the levels of achievement of the Habitat Agenda to vary between nations. At an early stage, my country introduced the practice of formulating strategies for sustainable human settlements development. This policy has promoted orderly urban settlements and the upgrading of services in both urban and rural areas.
Our National Spatial Development Strategy aims at promotion of a more spatially balanced distribution of population. We also strive to reduce rural to urban migration, eliminating interregional disparities in levels of development between the provinces. Efforts are also under way to formulate regional development strategies, which are essential tools for implementing the development strategies.
In our continuous efforts to improve the living environment in human settlements, we are formulating and endorsing a comprehensive strategy for sewage treatment and disposal, and solid waste recyling. This strategy includes policies and action-oriented programmes to develop this vital sector. It also defines the necessary responsibilities and financial resources to improve operational efficiency of this sector.
This development drive will continue with vigour. It will continue to prioritize investment in the development of our human resources. This ultimate objective cannot be achieved without the provision of adequate shelter for all and the provision of basic services. We will spare no effort to ensure sustainable development and serve as a model for other countries in shaping their development programmes.
ABREHA ASFEHA, Minister of Public Works of Eritrea: While my country cannot claim the successful implementation of the twin goals of the Istanbul Declaration, owing to the limited resources at its disposal, considerable efforts are being carried out to address some of the fundamental issues vital in meeting housing demands and achieving sustainable human settlements. The land reclamation project of 1994 and the principle of security of tenure have fundamentally changed access to land use and ownership of properties.
The land reclamation project, presumably difficult to implement, is intended to promote growth by making land available for business and residential purposes. But more importantly, a legislative measure has been introduced to ensure unhindered and equitable access to land and property by women, irrespective of their marital status. The latter reform, enshrined in the Constitution, is central to the empowerment of women. To narrow the gap of access to social services between rural and urban centres, my Government has been actively engaged in the construction of physical and social infrastructures even in the remotest areas of the country.
This modest but important step towards responding to the need for housing and other social services is taking place against the backdrop of the legacies of occupation, conflict and invasion, which have adversely impacted the development of the country. Moreover, the interplay between war and drought in certain regions of the country is pushing the social safety nets and the Government’s resources to the limit. While Eritrea has adopted decentralization as a policy and has put the administrative structures in place, the lack of strong institutional and financial bases is hampering the transfer of administrative capability to local bodies.
GUNTIS PUKITIS, State Secretary in the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development of Latvia: We have made remarkable progress in the transition to a market economy and democracy. Since 1996, stable growth of the economy has been achieved. For instance, last year’s gross domestic product growth (GDP was 6.6 per cent. Improvements in the legal framework have also been seen.
Priorities set by the Latvian Plan of Action for Habitat II are being gradually implemented -– the development of a network of inhabited localities and provision of possibilities for inhabitants to get suitable settlement and new construction. Reforms in the housing sector were started in the 1990s and are being carried out at present in the areas of privatization, restitution of property and the housing market. The Government is committed to further improving legislation related to housing issues and the development of a legal infrastructure for mortgage lending.
In addition to our accomplishments in the housing sector, we have achieved relevant improvements in different fields of environmental protection in recent years. Initiatives have been taken in the area of the water supply system and in waste management. Since 1996, Latvia has signed a large number of international agreements on housing, social development, combating poverty and environmental management. Multilateral programmes initiated by the United Nations, the European Union and the Nordic Council are also being carried out. Only through an integrated approach to human settlement issues on the international, national and local level will we be able to resolve them.
ERICH STATHER, Vice-Minister, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany: We have basically managed to provide decent shelter to large families with low incomes, as well as immigrants and elderly people, and we have considerably improved their living conditions. The housing market in Germany is now balanced, and the right to housing has been largely realized. In order to face the dangers of social tension and polarization in cities, the current urbanization promotion programme has been enhanced by a programme entitled “the social city”. In 2001, the Government spent some 850 million Deutschemarks for the promotion, upgrading and further development of cities.
In the area of community and urban development, Germany supports 242 projects worldwide, for which it contributes some €650 million. German cooperation in the area of development supports participation of civil society groups. More and more, our cities are building partnerships with cities in developing countries. Building human settlements is, first and foremost, the responsibility of national governments, but the global community must share in the responsibility in guaranteeing the future of the planet. New forms of international cooperation are necessary. Urbanization will continue into the century, while poverty remains intrinsically linked to cities.
At present, 1.5 billion people live on less than $1 per day, most of them in urban areas. That is why this special session should focus on reinforcing cities as engines of economic growth and places of social integration. Cities should not be centres of poverty, but rather, the ideal framework in which to overcome poverty. The production and consumption patterns of cities should provide their inhabitants with adequate living conditions and sustainable use of natural resources.
KAREL HAVLÍČEK, Deputy Minister for Regional Development of the Czech Republic: In the five years since Habitat II, the Czech Republic has continued to foster changes in the sphere of housing and human settlement. One of the recent milestones in this process was the adoption in 1999 of a strategic document known as the “Housing Policy Concept”, which traces past development in the housing sector and identifies challenges. This period has also seen a major public administration reform programme in our country, including the establishment of
14 new regions with elected representation.
Like many other delegations, we strongly feel that the Habitat Agenda should not be renegotiated while the mechanisms of implementation are still to be strengthened. Our efforts should, therefore, concentrate on the agreed framework of priorities within the Agenda to make it useful and manageable in terms of implementation for all countries. We will also maintain our interest in establishing, promoting and supporting municipal and regional networks of a pool of common and easy-to-measure indicators applicable for national reporting.
In implementing the Habitat Agenda, it is almost impossible to overstate the importance of regional, national and local approaches. We are well aware that the goals set by the Agenda may accelerate the housing policy reforms enacted by many countries and intensify regional and worldwide cooperation. We too are working hard to achieve those goals, and will continue our voluntary annual contributions to Habitat’s activities.
OLEKSANDR SHLAPAK, Vice-Minister for Economy of Ukraine: Ukraine’s report to the session, which is available, contains detailed information about the situation in our country. We are making radical changes as we move towards a market economy. Our Government is attempting to deal with the housing problems facing us and is devoted to fulfilling the Habitat Agenda.
Over the past few years, important legislation and other norms have been adopted, including a national plan of action to create a proper living environment and overcome poverty and unemployment. A national scheme for land-planning has also been developed. The construction of housing and the provision of housing units for various sectors of the population are guaranteed by a fund that has been set up. Reform in the economy for housing and improvement in the quality of services has also been made.
Globalization is having a clear effect on human settlements. Among other things, it has caused increases in unemployment, and has, in some cases, led to degradation of the environment. Special attention to the specifics of the process should be paid. Urbanization should not lead to further marginalization. The Director of Habitat has pointed out that globalization requires global measures -– the declaration adopted by this session will be an appropriate step towards providing adequate living conditions for all.
JARGALSAIKHANY ENKHSAIKHAN (Mongolia): Concentration of population in urban areas has its positive and negative aspects. Although cities are engines of growth, crossroads of ideas, and places of great intellectual innovation, the same cities can also be places of exploitation, disease, violent crime, unemployment and extreme poverty. In many countries, this situation is further aggravated by political and economic instability, as well as by natural disasters.
Many countries, including my own, have made progress towards fulfilling their Istanbul commitments. Evidently, however, there is a need to further develop cooperation at all levels, and to strengthen and make more effective the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) as the focal point for implementing the Agenda. The provision of adequate funding to the Centre is urgent. Population growth in the near future will occur mainly in urban areas and in the world’s poorest counties. Making cities sustainable will require integrated plans that link balanced development of rural and urban areas to poverty eradication.
In Mongolia, some 60 per cent of the population live in urban areas. One side effect has been the widening gap between rural and urban areas, between people with the skills to grasp opportunities and those who lack them. The nature and scope of poverty differ between urban and rural areas. While urban poverty is mostly characterized by low income as a result of production decline, increased unemployment, and inflation, rural poverty is prevalent among cattle breeders who lack access to productive assets, including livestock.
Poverty is also related to underdeveloped infrastructure, lack of market relations skills, and limited access to markets. Poverty in Mongolia is magnified by the harsh climate, where, on average, one third of household or institutional budgets is spent just on heating and shelter. Thus, nearly 20 per cent of our population was directly affected by natural disasters which struck for the past two years in a row. Many were forced to migrate to the capital, with every third person in search of work. As a result, the number of homeless is growing.
SERGIO VENTO (Italy): The structure of my country, both in topographic and administrative terms, is a model of decentralization. This feature makes it an excellent test case for the innovative measures prescribed in the Habitat Agenda for tackling the problems of rapid urbanization. The majority of our population has traditionally lived in cities and towns. The urban population is concentrated in a network of vibrant small- and medium-sized centres. This arrangement gives rise to a strong social and economic system that provides for a relatively high standard of living.
Italian municipalities deal with matters pertaining to local development, which means that urban and local sustainability policies tend to be drafted at the local level. This decentralized system has enabled Italy to find solutions to one of the great historic issues of the post-war period: the need for housing and basic services. The promotion of efficient local governance requires more complex policies based on an integrated, rather than sectoral, approach.
In the 1990s, Italy experienced deep economic and demographic changes, which included a freeze in our population growth, a birth rate below the European average, and a growing percentage of elderly people. On the plus side, there was a rise in the general standard of living, but as with like several other industrialized countries, there has not been a corresponding decrease in the number of people living in poverty. Access to affordable housing is one of the chief issues addressed by our legislation. In the last few years, there has been a sharp increase in the number of immigrant workers and the traditional local wardens of housing policy have been hard pressed to handle this unexpected structural phenomenon. In fact, some 40 per cent of immigrants live in precarious accommodations. There are limits on the progress that can be made through strictly local action. Certain concerns are global challenges, which should be addressed through the cooperative efforts of all levels of government.
YASHAR ALIYEV (Azerbaijan): Today, the world is at a crucial stage of its development. The ongoing process of globalization is accompanied by the accelerating pace of urbanization. For the first time in history, the majority of the world’s population will be living in cities. Meanwhile, some 100 million people are homeless and 1 billion people live in improper conditions. The main responsibility for addressing the challenges of urbanization rests with national governments. At the same time, without significant technical, financial and other kinds of assistance, the developing countries and economies in transition will not be in a position to deal effectively with the emerging large-scale problems caused by urbanization.
Creating appropriate living conditions is a priority task of our Government, which vigorously implements the Habitat Agenda and does its best to engage the representatives of the private sector and civil society in the process. In implementing the Habitat Agenda, the Government conducts democratic and economic reforms, carries out measures to eradicate poverty and offers its support to low-income families and other vulnerable social groups.
Unfortunately, the processes of democratization and economic reforms in Azerbaijan are hampered by the ongoing military aggression by Armenia, which has resulted in the occupation of 20 per cent of our territory.
In the occupied territories, more than 900 cities and towns, some 600 schools, 250 medical institutions, and all museums and historical and cultural monuments have been destroyed. Some 1 million Azerbaijanis -- representing every eighth citizen of the country -- have lost their homes and have been living in tents in unbearable conditions over the past nine years. A fundamental prerequisite for the successful implementation of the Habitat Agenda and national action programmes is comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the world.
AKSOLTAN ATAEVA (Turkmenistan): Only 10 years ago a newly independent State has emerged on the ruins of the former Soviet Union. We came to independence with a high mortality and disease rate and low health-care levels, and the housing problem was acute. Creation of favourable conditions for sustainable development is not possible without a firm legal basis and protection of the rights and liberties of citizens. Basic social rights of people are secured in the constitution and in commitments Turkmenistan has made before the international community.
During the years of independence, new branches of industry such as textiles, oil, gas and food were created. The energy capacity of the country was strengthened. Food security for the population was achieved. As the economy stabilized and real income has grown, the system of social assistance has become more focused on supporting the neediest people. Thousands of new improved apartments, living complexes with all necessary domestic services, new medical centres, parks and communication facilities were built. Industrial complexes that could be a threat to the environment have been moved far from settlement lines. The health and tourist industry has acquired a new life with the construction of several complexes on the shore of the Caspian Sea.
On behalf of the Government, let me express gratitude to the United Nations and its specialized agencies, which play an important role in scientific, technical and practical assistance in the implementation of many national programmes. Our goal is to make Turkmenistan a flourishing country, to turn it into a reliable home for each person. At the core of all State programmes is the aim of achieving sustained growth of the peoples' well-being, providing for their rights. To achieve these goals, we are open for close international cooperation.
STEFAN TAFROV (Bulgaria): The world has changed greatly during the last five years. This session is an opportunity to seek original and effective solutions to the scourges of exclusion, poverty and environmental degradation. Bulgaria welcomes the visionary spirit of the declaration to be adopted by the session. Strengthening Habitat is a crucial element for improving the situation. A global and integrated approach to the issues is needed.
In order to carry out the task entrusted to the session, the problems of poverty and marginalization, among other things, must be addressed. The exclusion of women, young people and children must be solved -– they must have full participation in the planning of human settlements. We are convinced that good governance in cities at all levels is essential in the search to make cities more viable.
Decentralization is the first step towards good governance. The provision of adequate resources is key in that regard. The degradation of the environment is another area that deserves special attention. Bulgaria has been developing its own national plans to address settlement issues and a number of measures have been adopted, including policies to support vulnerable members of the population.
ANUND PRIYAY NEEWOOR (Mauritius): My delegation strongly commends Habitat for its efforts to be consistent with the overall goal of the United Nations to alleviate poverty and to promote sustainable development. We believe that both the Istanbul Declaration and the Habitat Agenda remain as valid today as they were five years ago.
Our assessment of the implementation of the Declaration and Agenda is that it has been far from satisfactory. In spite of the articulate presentation of the various issues involved, implementation has lagged behind. Several national governments have not been able to undertake the diverse tasks necessary for implementation, due to lack of resources. Providing dwellings is only the beginning of the urbanization process, which cannot be complete without the provision of such essentials as electrification, water supply, road infrastructure and waste management. These call for substantial investments which, in the developing countries, have to come from extremely scarce resources.
It is our Government’s goal to provide a decent dwelling to every Mauritanian family. The Government continues to lay emphasis on social housing and on special assistance to low-income families in search of shelter. In order to cater to the different economic strata of Mauritanian society, the Government has established a low-cost housing scheme for the low-income group. It also offers incentives such as grants and loans with low interest rates to help citizens construct their houses.
MOHAMMED AL-TALOA, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Public Works and Urban Development of Yemen: Habitat will be one of the main challenges the international community faces in the coming century. The earth has reached a population of 6 billion people, half of whom are living in abject poverty, at the outskirts of urban areas, in slums. In developing countries, those people represent one third of the population. In that context, my delegation supports the efforts of the World Bank and the United Nations system to establish a global partnership between cities and development partners with the name “Cities without Slums”.
Most of those people live outside the reach of urban planning and social services. The will of the international community must be mobilized to establish social, economic and environmental cohesion between the rural and urban areas and eradicate poverty. Yemen has made great efforts to bring about sustainable development, but large investments are required. Human settlements issues are a high priority for my Government. Special efforts have been made to promote social cohesion and subsidize the deprived and vulnerable through a social security net, land-use legislation and other projects. We are trying to entrench democracy and human rights. Last year, a local government act was passed, aiming at decentralization.
I would like to remind the international community of the continuous flow of refugees from neighbouring African countries as a result of conflicts there. That flow has led to problems of shelter and health care. We therefore appeal to the international community for assistance. As the international community continues its efforts to implement the Habitat II Agenda, the Israeli occupation force is storming Palestinian cities and the programme of Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory continues, contrary to the requirements of Security Council resolutions. My Government reaffirms the illegality of forcibly removing people in occupied territories. We hope that the work of the special session will succeed in improving the living standard of the population and protection of the environment.
FOTIOS-JEAN XYDAS (Greece): The problems we face in our human settlements are of a particular and complicated nature. Every part of Greece, for example, rests on a centuries-old heritage which must be preserved and protected. We are daily faced with such dilemmas, particularly when development has to take place. Nevertheless, important steps have been taken to improve all aspects of the quality of life in both urban and rural areas in the last five years. They are contained in the national report prepared for the special session.
Particular efforts are being made to cope with frequent natural disasters, such as earthquakes and floods. These efforts relate both to the rehabilitation of the people affected and the establishment of means to reduce the vulnerability of constructions. Furthermore, Greece faces an influx of political and economic refugees. The efforts in this area aim at guaranteeing all necessary means for their social integration, among which housing is a priority. Special efforts are being made to improve housing quality in terms of energy, performance, structural adequacy, basic infrastructure and community services.
In urban centres, improvement of the built environment is focused on renewal of deteriorated areas, restoration of abandoned buildings, improvement of infrastructure, control of illegal building and restriction of unjustified urban space expansion. The implementation of the construction programme for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens has already contributed to a radical upgrading of the urban infrastructure. Greece strongly believes that policies for the development of rural areas and the improvement of quality of life in our villages contribute substantially to full and balanced sustainable development for the whole country.
ION BOTNARU (Republic of Moldova): Socio-economic market-oriented reforms in Moldova have led to the establishment of a new concept of urbanism and territory planning. In the five years since Istanbul, significant changes have taken place in this sphere: decentralization of public administration, adoption of a new structure for territorial administration, and consolidation of capacity-building at the local administration level, with a view to optimizing the whole reform process.
Like other countries with economies in transition, my country is grappling with some daunting challenges. Certain economic and social problems have become onerous, causing a considerable deficit in the municipal housing sector and threatening the steady development of society. In order to avoid a sharp deterioration in the living standards of the population -- a reduction of municipal services, a decline in economic efficiency, and poverty –- we must look for new ways of improving the urban housing sector and municipal infrastructures.
For this reason, the Government has evolved a comprehensive national strategy for sustainable development that identifies the main obstacles and orientations for reforming the whole spectrum of social and economic activity, including that of human settlements. The Habitat Agenda offers an integrated and balanced approach that encompasses policy and legislative and programme initiatives aimed both at development of human settlements and poverty eradication. Although we have made some progress in different areas of human settlements, the challenge remains to develop and implement effective strategies and methods to offset the acute problems resulting from poverty, urbanization, inadequate housing, rapid population growth, rural-urban migration, economic stagnation and social instability.
WALTER BALZAN (Malta): The provision of adequate shelter for all is of significant importance since it is conducive to socio-economic progress and sustainable development. We view the Habitat Agenda as the necessary template for efforts by both national authorities and the international community to attain sustainable human settlements development.
Given the high population density in our country, we adopted a plan for land-use management in the early 1990s, and a planning authority was established to monitor its implementation. Through the active participation of relevant major groups, including local authorities, a number of plans were subsequently drawn up for the various regions. While governments have the primary responsibility for ensuring sustainable development in their respective countries and for the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, socio-economic progress in the developing countries cannot be achieved without assistance from developed countries.
Broad public participation, including by women, in decision-making and policy ownership, is critical to the successful implementation of the Habitat Agenda. In this respect, the input of local authorities, especially for improved urban governance, cannot be sufficiently underscored. Society should provide families with an environment that promotes the potential of the family as the rearing ground of present and future generations.
HUSSAIN SHIHAB (Maldives): Due to the fragmented nature of the country, with the population distributed over a large number of small islands, provision of infrastructure required new thinking in planning. A new approach to regional planning has been initiated with effective provision of various social and physical infrastructure service programmes on population concentration. The inhabitants of islands with very small populations are encouraged to move to selected islands with bigger land area and development potential. The Government is able to carry out this population concentration programme by involving the public in the decision-making process. We are confident that this long-term strategy will be an effective way of addressing the problem of adequate housing and other shelter-related issues.
Since the shortage of land is one of the main problems facing the country, an effective land law that will address urban development needs is required. Such a law will strengthen the issues of mortgage, strata titling and buying and selling of land, which will pave the way for creating a healthy housing market. For a sustainable solution to housing, we must develop a proper financing system. Presently loans are taken on commercial conditions, with short payback periods and high interest rates. A pilot project on housing financing will be the first step towards a comprehensive housing finance system.
Maldives is also working on the Urban Observatory programme with the support of Habitat. Through this programme, the continuous updating of urban indicators will help the country in formulating policies that will be more effective in addressing issues of urban development and shelter. While the task ahead is challenging, the Government believes that present efforts to create the proper framework will pay off in the long term.
KAMIL BAIALINOV (Kyrgyzstan): My Government focuses its attention on the interests of the people when it comes to settlement issues -– one of the most acute issues of our society. The main objective of our housing policy is the provision of housing through attracting investment. Our country is one of the last among the industrialized nations when it comes to the provision of housing. The housing shortage has grown in recent years, due to the overall economic decline and a deep reduction in State financing.
We realize that the mobilization of domestic resources and a rational national policy are decisive for a resolution of the problem. However, international support is no less important. The scale of the problem requires the application of international expertise and assistance. Social and economic support for the population of mountainous regions is especially important in our country.
I confirm my country’s dedication to implement the Habitat Agenda and welcome the new strategic vision of Habitat and its stress on global campaigns to securing shelter for all. We attach particular importance to bringing the countries in transition into the international fold through a variety of measures.
NARELLE TOWNSEND, President of the NGO Committee on Human Settlements: We have come a long way from the Vancouver Declaration on Human Settlements and the Vancouver Action Plan of the first Habitat Conference in 1976. But the glaring disparities in economic and social opportunities in human settlements mentioned then continue to be persistent issues worldwide. Our Committee cooperates with other organizations in providing information on all aspects of the Habitat Agenda, and underscores Habitat’s collaboration with international initiatives to reduce poverty.
Many NGOs have been disappointed by actions taken during the preparatory process which sought to impede their role as partners with Habitat -- one of the unique features of the process. We are also concerned about the hard line taken by some States in connection with people's right to shelter –- a right already enshrined in, among other places, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
We would like to participate in more research in the United Nations system, particularly Habitat, on regulatory reforms. We are aware of the manner in which restrictive or costly regulations impede the provision of affordable housing and marginalize communities from the planning and decision-making bodies. We remain committed to the goals of the Habitat Agenda and look forward to continued collaboration with Habitat.
Rights of Reply
ASHOT KOCHAZIAN (Armenia), exercising his right of reply, said the representative of Azerbaijan had used absurd allegations in his statement. The international community was well aware of who was the real aggressor in the Nagorno Karabakh region. The Armenian people were still suffering from that aggression. More than 12,000 houses had been ruined and damaged. Water pipelines and roads were in need of reconstruction. Many bordering villages had suffered from artillery fire. He regretted that Azerbaijan had chosen to embark on such an approach when efforts were taking place to come to a solution. He called on the delegation of Azerbaijan to refrain from such behaviour.
NASSER Al-KIDWA, Permanent Observer for Palestine, speaking in right of reply, said the Israeli representative had misrepresented the facts in his statement. Of course, he was the Minister responsible for the establishment of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, and 10 days ago had declared plans for building new housing units in two settlements.
The relocation of Palestinians and violations of the Geneva Conventions and other relevant treaties and documents were crimes of war, he said. Israel did not stop at preventing Palestinians from returning to their lands and rejecting United Nations resolutions -- it refused to acknowledge Palestinian ownership of their own lands.
Since last year, Israel, the occupying force, had been launching a bloody military campaign against the Palestinian people. The origin of the problem was the continuing occupation of the Palestinian territory through settlement activities.
Our side is now seriously undertaking many efforts with many parties, including the United Nations Secretary-General, to put an end to the current tragedy, he said. All he hoped for now was that Israel was sincere in its approval of the Mitchell report, and would begin implementing its recommendations. What he had heard today did not augur well, but he had not lost hope.
The representative of Egypt, also speaking in right of reply, said he was not surprised at the comments made by the representative of Israel at the beginning of the meeting. Unfortunately, those were totally irrelevant to the subject matter. Israel refuses to admit that its occupation of Palestinian territories and its location of immigrants from all parts of the world on those Palestinian and Arab lands, as well as its confiscation of the land under occupation, is the main reason for the tragedy witnessed by the Palestinian people and the loss of lives to which both peoples have fallen.
Israeli settler activity in territories occupied by military force is an illegitimate and illegal activity under the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention. No matter how much the representatives of Israel try to beautify the ugly facts or mislead international public opinion by speaking of terrorism and not occupation, those desperate attempts would be unsuccessful. The Israeli settlers spread violence and call for it.
They burn Palestinian camps and build housing for themselves on Arab lands that have been occupied and confiscated. Those become military citadels that train their weapons on Palestine civilians. The presence of those settlers in the occupied territories is a crime in itself. The international community must take a firm stand to bring pressure to bear on Israel to stop its settler activities immediately. The continuation of those activities, and Israel’s refusal to respect the legitimate rights of Palestinians, are the real reasons for the current, unbearable suffering of both the Palestinians and Israelis.
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