NEGATIVE IMPACT OF CONFLICT, NATURAL DISASTERS ON SETTLEMENT POLICIES STRESSED AT GENERAL ASSEMBLY SPECIAL SESSION ON HABITAT AGENDA

8 June 2001
GA/9875

NEGATIVE IMPACT OF CONFLICT, NATURAL DISASTERS ON SETTLEMENT POLICIES STRESSED AT GENERAL ASSEMBLY SPECIAL SESSION ON HABITAT AGENDA

08/06/2001
Press ReleaseGA/9875

General Assembly Plenary

Twenty-fifth Special Session

5th Meeting (AM)

NEGATIVE IMPACT OF CONFLICT, NATURAL DISASTERS ON SETTLEMENT POLICIES

STRESSED AT GENERAL ASSEMBLY SPECIAL SESSION ON HABITAT AGENDA

The negative affects of conflict and natural disasters on housing and settlement efforts were among the many issues raised this morning as the twenty-fifth special session of the General Assembly for an overall review and appraisal of the implementation of the outcome of the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) continued its general debate.

Situated in the “troublesome” Balkans region, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had faced extraordinary challenges during the Kosovo refugee crisis of 1999, that country’s Deputy Minister of Environment and Physical Planning said.  His Government had provided shelter for more than 360,000 refugees, who now represented 17 per cent of the population.  Such dramatic changes in the political and economic landscape of the country had naturally altered the national housing policy.  The new approach harmonized housing and land development, with particular attention to providing shelter for persons living on social welfare. 

The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s representative said the absence of peace in his country had had a significant negative impact on housing and settlement issues.  It was in the hope that peace would be restored very soon that his Government had worked out a national plan of action for human settlements that would seek to provide for victims of war and to address urban poverty and homelessness.  This plan would call for international funding. 

The Minister of Urban Planning and Construction of the Republic of Serbia of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia underscored the importance of a structured and comprehensive approach to the human settlements problems in all parts of the world.  Those issues were inextricably linked to respect for human rights and directly affected economic and social safety, peace and security.  Giving an overview of the serious effects of war and sanctions on his country, he called for immediate action and greater involvement by the international community.

Mozambique’s Vice-Minister of Public Works and Housing noted that floods had affected his country for a second year running, creating a serious setback in the implementation of programmes, projects and actions.  To address this situation, Mozambique had directed its efforts towards the reconstruction and rehabilitation of roads and social infrastructure, promotion of income-generation activities, and encouragement of populations to abandon areas of risk and move themselves to safer places.

The Vice-Minister for Work and Urban Development of Ethiopia said people in the developing nations of Africa lived predominantly in rural areas.  The rural dimension of sustainable urban development therefore deserved due attention.  Although great efforts had been undertaken to implement the Habitat Agenda, strong and proper mechanisms should be put in place to ensure the mobilization and coordination of external financial resources and technical assistance.  Direct overseas investment should be channeled to the provision of better shelter for all, to urban infrastructures, to environmental improvement and to institutional capacity-building.

Taking the floor near the end of the meeting, Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), stressed the “huge synergies” between the mandates of his organization and Habitat.  There was a need for the integrated provision of environmentally sustainable city structures, sanitation, drainage and solid waste management.  The cooperation of the two organizations was most needed in preparation for next year’s world summit on sustainable development, which would be held in Johannesburg. 

The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Land and Environment of Jamaica; the Minister of Housing of Panama; the Minister of Housing, Urban Development and National Heritage of Chile; the Minister of Lands, Housing, Country Planning and the Environment of Sierra Leone; the Minister of State for Works and Housing of Nigeria; the Minister of Works and Housing of Ghana; the Minister of Local Government of Lesotho; and the Acting Mayor of Monrovia, Liberia, spoke as well.

The special session also heard from the Minister for Communication, Transport, Post and Construction of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic; the Minister of Foreign Affairs of El Salvador; the Deputy State Secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Hungary; and the Deputy Foreign Minister of Georgia.

The Secretary-General of the National Council for Physical Development, Ministry of the Environment and Physical Development of Sudan; the Vice-Minister of Housing and Urban Development of Ecuador; the Chief Executive Officer, Central Housing and Planning Authority of Guyana; the Under-Secretary for Urban Planning and Housing of Argentina; and the Deputy Permanent Secretary, Bangkok Metropolitan Administration of Thailand addressed the special session.

The representatives of Paraguay, Qatar, Singapore, Libya, Estonia and the Republic of Congo made statements, as did the the President of Grassroots Organizations Operating Together in Sisterhood. 

Also today, the special session adopted the report of its Credentials Committee (document A/S-25/6), which held one meeting in preparation for the special session, on 6 June.

The twenty-fifth special session of the Assembly will meet again today at 3 p.m. to conclude its work.

Background

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.]

Statements

SEYMOUR MULLINGS, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Land and Environment of Jamaica:  We, the international community, particularly the developing countries, continue to seek solutions to the major issues identified in the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) Agenda, the most urgent being access to affordable land and shelter, access to credit and to appropriate technology.  Several other interrelated issues have gained increasing importance.  Urban governance, poverty eradication, urbanization, social integration and the support of disadvantaged groups, and local government reform are some of these areas.

Jamaica has utilized its National Habitat Committee and several of its ministries and agencies to plan and implement many aspects of the Habitat Agenda.  We have also formulated and begun to implement a number of major policies and programmes aimed at achieving the goal of sustainable human settlements development.  The National Land Policy and the National Housing Policy are among the Government’s key interventions.  Prepared with the involvement of a broad cross-section of stakeholders, the policies have become the platform for enriched partnerships.

Despite our efforts, Jamaica, like others, is faced with the persistent problems of inadequate human, financial and technological resources.  We continue to depend on grants and loans from developed countries and multilateral funding agencies.  The commitment and the enabling role of transnational corporations must be encouraged so that they can become more involved in the solutions.  Developing countries should also continue to strengthen their self-sufficiency and self-reliance in dealing with the issues, and draw more on the capacities of our peoples.

MIGUEL CARDENAS, Minister of Housing of Panama:  Five years after Istanbul, we wish to reiterate our commitment to implementation of both the Declaration and the Habitat Agenda.  At recent meetings, we designed strategies for our regional plan of action aimed at assessing our policy trends and examining the factors to be included in them.  These are:  the achievement of equity and the eradication of poverty; urban development and productivity; the impact of natural disasters; environmental degradation; governance and the participation of citizens; and the efficiency of policies and management.

Even more important, on behalf of the governments and inhabitants of the Latin American and Caribbean countries, I ask that the report of the special session include the Declaration of Santiago as an explicit recognition of our updated action plan.  Next October will mark the tenth anniversary of the Council of Ministers for Housing and Urban Development of Latin America and the Caribbean (MINURVI).  At that time, we will consider strategies for housing and human settlements.  Statistics show that implementation of the Habitat Agenda in Latin American and the Caribbean has made it possible to make significant progress in providing adequate shelter to the poorest people.  We have also progressed towards controlling environmental decay and supporting those people most in need of help.

Despite such results, deep-seated, long-standing inequities remain, stemming from globalization and social deficiencies.  We must implement policies and programmes that will ensure financing for housing, with a view to ensuring private-sector participation.  Efforts are also under way to ensure that the new housing will be in a sustainable urban environment that is both pleasant and safe.  A programme has been designed to provide access to financing, to enable people to build their own homes and live in a dignified manner.

JAIME RAVINET, Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and National Assets

of Chile:  Chile is a small country of 15 million inhabitants, with just over

4 million dwellings, of which nearly 1 million have been constructed during the last decade.  Today, we are closer to the goal of ensuring that each Chilean family has its own house.  The key to improving the quality of human settlements is the implementation of public policies such as sustained economic growth, fiscal balances and a steady increase in public social investment in sanitation, housing and habitat.  The principles of increased production, collaboration between the public and private sectors, transparency of procedures, organization of residents and modernization of institutions are just as, or more, valid in times of economic downturns.

A great deal remains to be done, however.  Many of our compatriots live under extremely marginal conditions.  The challenge is to meet the housing shortage over the next 10 years.  We have pledged to build 25,000 basic houses per year, and, under the programme “Chile Barrio”, 100,000 families currently living in squatter settlements and slums will be relocated by the year 2005.  We are also witnessing the concentration of our population in cities.  Today, 85 per cent of our population reside in urban areas.  Spontaneous horizontal sprawl is a well known phenomenon throughout Latin America.

We believe it is necessary to modernize our institutions in order to enhance the efficiency of urban governance.  We need to develop new information systems and planning methodologies and to redirect the allocation of public expenditures. We are developing urban tree-planting plans, plans for the restoration of degraded areas, and other initiatives.  Community participation will be strengthened and villages in the rural world will be supported.  It is essential to strengthen our ties of cooperation with the international community.

ALFRED BOBSON SESAY, Minister of Lands, Housing, Country Planning and the Environment of Sierra Leone:  Following 10 years of brutal war perpetrated by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the Government has the enormous task of meeting a huge backlog of housing needs, estimated at 300,000.  There is also the problem of replanning the 30,000 human settlements destroyed during the war.  The task of reconstruction, rehabilitation and resettlement of this war-ravaged country is daunting.  We have not, however, folded our hands in despair, awaiting manna to fall from heaven.

In 1996, the Government made institutional changes to address reconstruction, rehabilitation and resettlement and the demobilization and disarmament tasks ahead.  It has also carried out regulatory reform and revised the National Housing Policy to reflect recent trends in the shelter sector.  The central goal of the Policy is to achieve a maximum addition to the nation’s housing stock and to enable every Sierra Leonean to have access to safe, sanitary, decent and affordable housing.  A large number of other initiatives have been taken.

Our achievement over the past five years has been modest, due to the intensification of the barbaric and senseless rebel war, which engulfed the entire country in 1999.  The rebel war not only destroyed the physical fabric of the country, but also its socio-economic infrastructure.  Now, the war has almost come to an end.  With peace in sight, I wish to inform those present that my Government will continue to implement its plan of action included in the last country report.  As and when the economy improves, new programmes will be developed and implemented.

GARBA MADAKI ALI, Minister of State for Works and Housing of Nigeria:  Nigeria has made serious efforts since Istanbul to achieve the objectives of the Habitat Agenda, including the launching of a campaign in Abuja entitled “Global Campaign for Good Urban Governance”.  This campaign underscored our will and commitment to democracy and the inclusion of the ideals of accountable governance to the Nigerian people.

At the dawn of the new century, my country had an estimated urban population of more than 40 per cent, coupled with a very high urban growth rate expected to raise urban population to approximately 65 per cent by the year 2025.  The implications of such rapid urban growth are often manifested in increased poverty, environmental degradation, traffic congestion, overcrowding, crime and homelessness.

As for the African continent, it is estimated that, by the year 2020, 52 per cent of its population will be living in cities.  The greatest challenge to sustainable human settlements development is how to provide adequate shelter for all in the face of increasing urbanization.  Meaningful progress should reflect the following principles:  urban security and safety; partnership, advocacy, participation, transparency and accountability; empowerment of youth, women and the urban poor in urban governance; decentralization, poverty eradication; and capacity-building for local governments and civil society organizations. 

A favourable external environment in support of developing countries is crucial.  Urgent action should be taken by the developed countries to achieve the internationally agreed target for official development assistance (ODA).  It is also important that the international community address the debt burden facing developing countries in order to make more resources available for human settlements development.  The emergence of “inclusive cities” will depend, to a great extent, on the outcome of negotiations like these.

DRAGOSLAV SUMARAC, Minister for Urban Planning and Construction of the Republic of Serbia of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia:  We underscore the importance of a structured and comprehensive approach to the human settlements problems in all parts of the world.  These problems are inextricably linked to respect for human rights and directly affect economic and social safety, peace and security.  Unfortunately, efforts to translate the results of the Istanbul Conference into practice have so far been inadequate, especially regarding the situation in the least developed countries.

As a country in transition, Yugoslavia is facing problems similar to those faced by other Central and East European countries.  There can be no doubt that a transition from a centrally planned to a market-oriented economy has brought about severe economic and social hardships affecting the population and human settlements.  As you know, due to Milosevic’s misguided policies, our country has been isolated for a long time, and United Nations sanctions and other restrictions have had devastating effects on the economic and social situation.  As a result of the wars waged in the territories of the former Yugoslavia and the situation in Kosovo and Metohija, we now have the burden of more than 700,000 refugees and displaced persons from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo and Metohija.

Immediate action is needed to offset these effects.  My Government expects an even greater involvement on the part of the international community, first and foremost, Habitat and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), as well as other programmes.  My Government is resolved to continue to build a democratic society based on the rule of law and respect for human rights.

KWAMENA BARTELS, Minister of Works and Housing of Ghana:  The right to housing is so fundamental that the Istanbul Conference must stand with other great summits as a milestone on the way to security and social justice.  The dreams that drove Habitat I represent the best of our values as a civil community. Nevertheless, there has been an increase in urban and rural poverty since Istanbul, warranting an urgent call for action to address planning issues related to poverty, water and waste management, and environmental preservation.

Clearly, the Habitat Agenda is as relevant today as it was five years ago, if not more pressing.  In Ghana, meeting the objectives of human settlements remains at the centre of our national planning.  The new Government has put in place a number of policies to take the country out of its current economic difficulties and contribute to subregional peace.  Efforts to improve access to housing are under way, and partnerships with the private sector are being promoted.  We have evolved a national land policy and embarked on large-scale acquisition of land to support rental housing and affordable ownership by low-income families.

We are also exploring various sources of long-term funding to support low-income housing and services delivery.  So far, $250 million have been obtained to deliver a significant number of housing units over the next few years.  In terms of water access, we have managed to cover 76 per cent of urban areas and 46 per cent of rural populations.  Our programme of decentralization has raised awareness and empowered local communities, which are a critical link for attaining the goals of the Habitat Agenda.  At the same time, the issue of poverty eradication must take centre stage in strategies to promote sustainable human settlements development.  Poverty continues to be a major problem in Ghana, with some 22.8 per cent of urban residents living below the poverty line, and more than 50 per cent of rural dwellers.

MOPSHATLA MABITLE, Minister for Local Government of Lesotho:  We have established a broad-based National Habitat Committee to draw up a National Shelter Policy, which seeks to create an enabling framework for effective and sustainable shelter delivery.  This has already been endorsed by the Cabinet.  Also, a broad-based Commission was set up to review the National Land Policy, with a view to aligning it with the principles and commitments of the Habitat Agenda. 

In the operational sphere, the Government has resuscitated the low-cost housing schemes which had been abandoned as a housing solution.  The Government is also encouraging the private sector to participate in housing delivery by creating a conducive investment climate.  It is further negotiating with commercial banks to provide mortgage finance, an aspect that was formerly the preserve of a now privatized Government bank.  Also to be evolved is a policy to relinquish responsibility for the direct housing of civil servants and encourage home ownership among government employees. 

Efforts are also under way in the fields of education, including a school feeding scheme, poverty eradication, and good governance.  A major milestone in the Government’s activities is the restructuring of the economy through the privatization of State-owned enterprises, such as utility corporations.  This process has released resources for social programmes and has attracted major capital and management expertise.  Hopefully, this policy will stimulate economic growth, efficiency and job creation.  Also, facilities have been created to enable local participation in privatized State enterprises.

OPHELIA HOFF SYATUMAH, Acting Mayor of Monrovia, speaking on behalf of the Minister for Planning and Economic Affairs of Liberia:  As a country emerging  from civil conflict and confronted with the challenges of rehabilitation, reconstruction and recovery, we have accorded high priority to shelter and human settlements in our National Reconstruction Programme.  We also undertook a national review of our Habitat Programme and submitted a Country Assessment Report.

To ensure effective coordination and partnership among the various partners and stakeholders and to ensure the maximum utilization and application of the limited resources, the Government established the National Habitat Committee of Liberia, chaired by the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs.  The Committee comprises members from the civil society, non-governmental, private and community-based entities. The Government provides budgetary appropriation as counterpart funding.

One of the specific programmes in Liberia is the Capacity Building Programme for the Reconstruction of Rural Housing, which is building capacity at both the national and local levels for the reconstruction and effective delivery of housing.  A micro-credit component provides credit assistance to construction. However, a funding gap is inhibiting the expansion and replication of programmes and projects to parts of the country where there is a dire need for housing and services.  The impact of the civil conflict has contributed to weak institutions and structures in government.  Additional assistance will be required for development of a National Housing Policy and Shelter Strategy for the effective implementation of shelter and human settlement goals.

BOUATHONG VONGLOKHAM, Minister for Communication, Transport, Post and Construction of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic:  The world’s population has seen rapid growth, and globalization has impacted the global economy.  Governments and civil society should mobilize world opinion and draw up more effective plans of action to make progress in the area of human settlements.

We are a landlocked and mountainous country.  We have emerged from a long war of aggression which left millions of tons of buried unexploded ordnance.  This has been a great obstacle to our socio-economic development.  In the North, conditions are especially harsh, and incomes are low.  For that reason, our Government is devoted to addressing their particular needs.  The Government has also invested in the national infrastructure and has promoted decentralization to local authorities, who are responsible for the management of cities. 

By 2020, we will have about 8.3 million people.  Resolving the housing problem is, therefore, a major challenge for us.  Many houses do not meet basic standards, and we are seeking to redress this.  We are also endeavouring to graduate from the group of least developed countries.  We have taken poverty- reduction measures and have attempted to strengthen the position of women and children.

MARIA EUGENIA BRIZUELA DE AVILA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of El Salvador:  We have done a great deal to comply with the commitments undertaken at Istanbul.  Among them has been a sustainable, though modest, reduction of the housing deficit.  Still, this deficit doubled in 1998 owing to Hurricane Mitch.  It then decreased, again.  Meanwhile, urban development plans for five cities have been evolved.  Generally, our housing policy stresses support for lower-income families.  Other progress includes the drafting and implementation of a national plan for territorial development, which offers the opportunity for governments to work together with private institutions.

El Salvador recently grappled with the effects of two earthquakes in just one month.  This was the worst natural disaster in the country’s history.  After addressing priority emergency tasks, our greatest challenge was to provide housing for some 200,000 families, for whom 160,000 houses were built.  Then we developed 75,000 new temporary housing units in towns which needed particular attention.  These achievements reflect the historic capabilities of our country and its people.  The reality of developing countries, generally, is that human settlements grow quickly, particularly in urban areas.  Hopefully, the special session will achieve promising results.

PETER SZALO, Deputy State Secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Hungary:  Building a multi-party democratic constitutional State and a market economy has brought far-reaching changes to all levels of society.  As a result, radical readjustments of the socio-economic spatial structure have taken place.  Our intention of acceding to the European Union has also mandated modernization of our regional policy.  The Habitat Agenda accelerated the transformation.

On the governmental level, several measures were taken to establish a decentralized institutional, financial and decision-making system of regional and settlement development policy.  Objectives included enlargement of local employment; enlargement of basic infrastructure; improvement of quality of life; rehabilitation and protection of local values; and decrease of migration from rural areas through increased incomes.

Protection of the environment and the conservation of natural resources are major challenges in Hungary.  Hungary has to take appropriate measures to improve environmental quality and eliminate existing deficiencies in legislation and implementation, while ensuring extension of social welfare and increased economic competitiveness.  The Government has worked out a comprehensive economic development plan, in which the housing programme envisages the construction of 40,000 new homes every year.  Local authorities have significantly contributed to economic development and the implementation of environmental measures.  They play a crucial role in regional policy aimed at creating a balanced spatial structure.

DAVID APTSIAURI, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Georgia:  Development of settlements and worthwhile accommodation for everyone are goals that motivate us all.  Those goals call for stability in the country at large, good neighbourly relations in the region, and the merger of vectors of the national and global development.  Sad to say, much of this falls outside the range of our possibilities.  The problem of 300,000 displaced persons from Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region has to be solved with the assistance of the international community.

The systematic reforms enacted within the last five years have acquired an irreversible character.  A new Civil Code was adopted, as well as laws that recognize private ownership of urban lands and regulate relations in the sphere of land utilization.  Under development is a legalized real-estate market.  The general census in 2002 will facilitate obtaining reliable statistical data. Activation of the public and of non-governmental organizations is high on the list of positive factors in the negative wake of the 70-year Soviet regime, which led to indifference and weakening of civic awareness.

Adding to the concerns of our society is the high level of corruption, often noted by international organizations.  Note should also be made, however, of the fact that our local specialists are well conversant with the current situation in the urban development and accommodation spheres.  Today, it would be more effective to move on from consultations with foreign experts to concrete targeted projects.  We hope that we shall soon join the ranks of countries with high standards of living, dignity, and happiness, in both city environment and in families.

MARJAN DODOVSKI, Deputy Minister for Environment and Physical Planning of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia:  Our strategic orientation is to enable and promote adequate habitats for all citizens by developing safer, cleaner, healthier and better sustainable human settlements.  By pursuing an integrated population policy, maximum effectiveness is achieved in the utilization of space and the sources available for that purpose; and living conditions are “humanized”.

Presently, 59.7 per cent of the country’s population lives in urban areas and 40.3 per cent in rural areas.  The Government has enacted a new State Spatial Plan, a new Law on Local Self-Government, and programmes aimed at improving housing conditions, especially in small urban and rural areas. 

Changes in the political and economic landscape of the country have resulted in similar changes in the housing policy.  At the national level, the Government is pursing a housing policy, which focuses particular attention on providing shelter to persons living on social welfare.  The Government is also providing shelter for young couples and endeavouring to mitigate the housing problems by granting loans.  Integral to the overall policy is environmental protection and impact assessment.

As we are situated in the “troublesome” region of the Balkans, we faced extraordinary challenges during the Kosovo refugee crisis in 1999, when the country provided shelter to more than 360,000 refugees from Kosovo.  This figure now represents 17 per cent of our overall population, which has had a very negative impact on our living conditions.  Nevertheless, nine refugee camps have been built, with infrastructure, roads access, water supply and sewage systems, and electricity.  More than 160,000 persons have been sheltered in the camps and others were accommodated in private houses.

We now face terrorism from Albanian extremists who, despite insistent calls from the world community, continue to pursue their terrorist activities.  Presently, Kumanovo, a city of 100,000 inhabitants north of Skopje, is facing severe water shortages due to the severing of water supplies by the terrorists.  These are also holding hostage civilians from the local villages and using them as human shields.  This, of course, has impacted negatively on the overall situation in the country, endangering lives and threatening our democratic, economic and social development.

HENRIQUE COSSA, Vice-Minister for Public Works and Housing of Mozambique: Millions of people in developing countries still live in abject poverty without adequate shelter and basic services.  Moreover, increasing flows of people into urban areas dramatically increase urban poverty, with a major impact on women and children.  The challenge to achieve sustainable human settlements development is still far from being fully addressed, and we believe that this is the proper time for us to strengthen our commitment to the Habitat Agenda.

Following up on the recommendations of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), we adopted a National Plan of Action on Human Settlements and a poverty reduction strategy paper for the period 2001-2005.  We have also established a national housing fund to provide land and financial credit to housing construction and rehabilitation for low-income people and young couples.  We have also undertaken decentralization initiatives and have worked to ensure the important role of women in the promotion of sustainable human settlements.

Floods have affected our country for a second year running, creating a serious setback in the implementation of programmes, projects and actions.  To address this situation, we have directed our efforts towards the reconstruction and rehabilitation of roads and social infrastructure, promotion of income-generation activities, and the encouragement of populations to abandon areas of risk and move themselves to safer places.

ATO BIRHANU TAMRAT, Vice-Minister, Work and Urban Development Ministry of Ethiopia:  The Government is committed to implementing the Agenda through progressive realization of the right to adequate housing, legal security of tenure, and equal access to land for all people. The principle of urban governance and secure tenure is consistent with the ongoing measures of the Government.

Since 85 per cent of the population live in rural settlements, we believe that promoting the role of urban-rural linkages is of crucial importance for sustainable human settlement development.  Our second five-year programme has focused on strengthening efforts made in urban areas to increase social and economic development activities and improve the living condition of the urban population.  People in the developing nations of Africa live predominantly in rural areas, underscoring the need to focus on the rural dimension of sustainable urban development.

Although massive efforts have been undertaken to implement the Habitat Agenda, there should be a regular mechanism in place to ensure the mobilization and coordination of external financial resources and technical assistance.  International cooperation should increase efforts to strengthen and improve the capacities of developing countries.  Direct overseas investment should be channelled to the provision of better shelter for all, to urban infrastructures, environmental improvement and to institutional capacity-building.

ADLAN EL SIDDIG ELKHALIFA, Secretary-General of the National Council for Physical Development, Ministry of the Environment and Physical Development of the Sudan:  Great changes have occurred in the world because of the increase in population, socio-economic changes, as well as changes in the environment.  Many citizens in developing countries live below the poverty line.  A world strategy on settlements needs to be based on transparency and participation of all.  The Sudan has played an active role in the Habitat Agenda.

Given the magnitude of the Habitat question, we formed a national committee to draw up a report on the challenges.  We hope that the General Assembly will work to assess the achievements of the Habitat Agenda, and we commend the initiative of Habitat in serving as a focal point in settlement issues.

In order to implement the Agenda, the Sudan has elaborated a national strategy to develop human settlements.  We have also drawn up action plans for human settlements and urban development.  A national urban development council and a national land-use body have also been established.  Our Government is doing everything it can to provide adequate shelter for everyone and has taken measures to support peace in the country.  Poverty reduction and environmental protection measures have also been taken.

CRISTIAN CORDOBA CORDERO, Vice-Minister for Housing and Urban Development of Ecuador:  My Government strives to achieve the goals of the Habitat Agenda.  As an example, our system of housing incentives provides a single, non-reimbursable subsidy to low-income families.  The private market for housing is being developed, including the sectors with the lowest income.  Modernizing the State is a way to transfer responsibilities to the society and local governments.  We hope that with such tools, our intermediate goals can be achieved.

Other steps to give powers to provincial and city governments have been taken as well.  We have private, social and non-government activities under way, aimed at guaranteeing a connection between the population and local government.  My Ministry has a programme for credit assistance.  There are activities to achieve democratic principles, to ensure good governance and to raise levels of environmental protection.  None of this is dependent on the political will of the Government alone. There are economic restrictions in all sectors, and resources are limited.  Servicing the debt absorbs 40 per cent of resources.  Export expansion is necessary, but high tariff duties in other countries are protectionist in nature, as are the national subsidies some countries give to some sectors.

The external debt, international trade and ODA must be addressed and resolved on the basis of the Millennium Declaration, which underscores the principle of solidarity.  If nothing is done in that regard, the efforts of the Government will come to nothing.

MYRNA PITT, Chief Executive Officer, Central Housing and Planning Authority of Guyana:  Over the past five years, the Government has fashioned programmes and interventions in the settlements sector which targeted low-income households and households in unplanned settlements as primary beneficiaries.  Ninety-one settlements were established, making 50,000 housing lots available to persons with pressing shelter needs.  Our achievements, however, would have been more impressive if Guyana had been able to obtain fair prices for its exports of sugar, rice and gold.

Today, Guyana is working with its development partners to ensure that our country is no longer burdened by heavy external debt.  We are working hard to ensure that our poverty strategy is nationally owned and that it is representative of the wishes of our people.  There has been a very clear link between shelter policy and other aspects of a balanced development strategy.  The right to shelter involves the development of security of tenure for the population:  urban, rural and hinterland.  It also involves the desire of all Guyanese for improved governance in urban areas, in the management of municipal budgets, and the collection of taxes that make urban government possible.

The right of urban dwellers to a decent standard of living is another important issue.  We have based our shelter policy on a participatory approach, integrating housing and shelter with the provision of development opportunities for the poor, especially women who make up the large majority of the urban poor in the informal economy.  Local authorities have their say in the determination not only of local development policy, but also of the national Poverty Reduction Strategy.

JORGE LARA-CASTRO (Paraguay):  We will do our utmost to achieve the objectives to which we committed at Istanbul.  We have faced the challenge of urbanization by formulating new national strategies, bearing in mind the values enshrined in our national Constitution and guided by the principles contained in the Habitat Agenda.  In 2005, 57 per cent of the population will live in urban areas.  Indeed, the burden of urbanization will remain heavy in coming years.  By 2025, two thirds of our population will live in urban areas, probably concentrated in main centres such as the capital. 

Given this scenario, we have been unable to meet the growing social demand.  This has led to increased general, widespread and extreme poverty.  The urbanization process has also put great negative pressure on the country’s natural resources.  Among the essential tools for dealing with these challenges has been a new assessment of the role of the State in promoting basic needs.  We have also undertaken to decentralize the Government and facilitate leadership by local administrations.

It is important to include in the housing agenda provisions for people at greatest risk of being marginalized.  Growing poverty is a major obstacle to successful implementation of our national housing strategies, running parallel to the expansion of market relations, which has resulted in an unequal distribution of resources, earnings and opportunities.  Among the Government’s initiatives to combat the trend have been reform of the tax and labour laws and the penal code.

JAMAL ALBADER (Qatar):  We may well ask if we have provided adequate shelter for all.  A large percentage of human beings, particularly in developing countries, are still homeless.  More than 1 billion people live in inadequate shelters and lack basic services.  These are painful numbers, and the international community seems unable to respond.  The situation is exacerbated by rural migration to cities in many developing countries. 

Since the discovery of oil in Qatar, we have done everything we can to provide for our citizens, including adequate housing.  Among the many initiatives in that regard, in 1998, 340 low-income housing units were built.  Interest-free loans, repayable over a very long time, have been made available. 

The final declaration of this session says that we are intent on facing the challenges of war, refugees, and disasters.  In that context, I would like to recall the challenges facing the people of Palestine.  I call on Israel to stop building illegal settlements so that everyone can live in peace.

KISHORE MAHBUBANI (Singapore):  Singapore is the most densely populated country in the world.  We are also the world’s only city-State.  On a small island of only 680 square kilometres, we have to provide homes for 4 million people.  At present, about 86 per cent of the population lives in public housing, principally apartment blocks in discrete housing estates.  Some 92 per cent of those citizens own their homes, while the remainder live in subsidized rented accommodations.  This high percentage of residence in public housing has made it necessary for us to pay great attention to the standards and conditions of such housing.

We are acutely aware that in any society, there exists a bottom 5 to 10 per cent of low-income earners who need assistance in housing.  Singapore’s public housing authority has an array of housing assistance schemes designed to give the lower-income groups a chance for upward mobility, including housing subsidies to help lower-income households own their first home. 

The management of urban environments can never be more than a work in progress.  Practices and policies have to evolve along with the individuals, and the society, that they serve.  Adaptability, determination, perseverance and the careful husbanding of resources will continue to be our watchwords in this endeavour. 

NORBERTO WALTER PAZOS, Under-Secretary for Urban Planning and Housing of Argentina:  The right to housing was explicitly enshrined in the Constitution during the 1950s, and the recommendations of Istanbul have provided a guide to our human settlement policies.  We are now undertaking a review of what was undertaken.  Improvements have been made regarding secure tenure and access to housing.  Over the last 10 years, there as been a considerable advance in those areas.  Decentralization has been an important factor in the increase in access to housing.

The number of households living in unrecoverable buildings or sharing quarters has declined.  In 1996, the Government began the Improvement of Housing and Basic Infrastructure Programme to provide for the housing needs of low-income people and to provide employment opportunities for that group.  In the mid-1990s, a strong expansion occurred in the real estate market, together with an increase in mortgage supply.  Through international credits to support infrastructure, and the Programme for Municipal Finances, a significant increase in housing coverage of the population has been achieved.  The Government’s programme is producing housing units of good design, costing as little as $9,000.

Decentralization, strengthening of local government and territorial planning help to bring about a social vision to deal with spontaneous migration.  The incorporation of the environment in urban policy is also important.  Continuity in housing policy must be assured.  In that regard, the main housing programmes are supported by the main political parties.  The Government has a policy of openness and consultation in its search for people-oriented solutions.  Guidelines for enhancing competition will continue to improve the construction of housing. 

AHMED EL-ATRASH (Libya):  Our policies have highlighted shelter as a fundamental right at the core of sustainable human development.  It is, after all, a fundamental right to enjoy decent shelter which respects the dignity of its inhabitants and increases their self-esteem.  Our policies have been reinforced through the adoption of a number of laws aimed at providing adequate shelter for all over the long term.  We have established credit and financing schemes and encouraged financial institutions and private enterprise to provide the necessary funding.  We have also sought direct funding for low-income groups in urban, rural and desert areas.

Our government has established comprehensive health coverage and taken the necessary steps to provide nutrition services and improve housing, sanitation, drinking water and waste disposal.  We have undertaken to oversee the quality of food and regulate industrial safety.  In order to increase social integration and provide support for vulnerable groups in society, we have adopted a human resource development plan.  Such measures have yielded positive results:  85.4 per cent of the population are urban dwellers, per capita income has increased, joblessness is down, and various subsidies have been put in place.  We have also undertaken several radical steps towards empowering women with inheritance and property rights.

All of this has been possible despite the unjust sanctions imposed by the Security Council since 1992, as well as unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States -- contrary to all international instruments.  Since the Second World War, landmines have covered a large area of Libya, rendering it unusable for agriculture, forestry, grazing, and so forth.  In that connection, under the terms of a recent agreement, Italy has promised to help demine the area and compensate the inhabitants living there.

It is surprising that the representative of the Zionist entity should speak of terrorism and accuse the victims of its terrorist policies of terrorism when the Zionist entity itself is based on official State terrorism.  Libya appeals to that entity to put a stop to its massacre and to compensate the victims of its scorched-earth policy.  We invite the international community to help bring an end to the occupation by the Zionist entity of the Palestinian territories and allow the Palestinians to implement the Habitat Agenda.

NATHANON THAVISIN, Deputy Permanent Secretary, Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, of Thailand:  Thailand has experienced rapid urbanization, with a current urbanization ratio of 38 per cent of the total population.  The Government has established the National Urban Development Committee to monitor implementation of the Habitat Agenda.  The country has recently achieved a rate of home-ownership as high as 80 per cent, with the collaboration of both the public and private sectors.

The Government has undertaken measures aimed at strengthening social foundations and promoting equal distribution of economic benefits.  With respect to environmental management, we have introduced measures that encourage local authorities to make their own decisions regarding environment, land-use and city planning.  The “livable city” initiative has been carried out successfully by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, which helped the city of Bangkok to rise from the twenty-sixth to the thirteenth place in the ranking of most livable cities of Asia.

My delegation would like to urge the Habitat Centre to play a more active role in supporting implementation of the Habitat Agenda in the Asia-Pacific region, which contains more than 60 per cent of world population.  Since there is a declining trend of international funding for human settlement development programmes, it is essential to investigate innovative ways and means of international cooperation.  The policy goal of every country should include gender-equality, and should narrow the gap between men and women and between rich and poor.  I am pleased to announce that Thailand will host the Fifth Congress of the Regional Network of Local Authorities for the Management of Human Settlements (CityNet) from 28 October to 3 November this year in Bangkok.

TONIS KÖLV (Estonia):  The development of Estonia’s housing policy is overseen by the Ministry of Economic Affairs.  That Ministry is responsible for arranging the involvement of different stakeholders in the policy process.  As a rule, representatives of both the private and voluntary sectors are included in the development of housing policies.

The main principles of the housing sector are to guarantee affordable dwelling, to increase the administrative capacity of the third sector, and to specify public functions.  We have a board of consumer protection to protect citizen’s legal rights in the area of housing, and have taken measures to ensure safe drinking water, waste management, sanitation, territorial planning and monitoring of construction activities.

The share of the public sector is decreasing in every area of the housing picture.  This trend is supported by national policy with its clear support for the non-profit sector.  There are two ways to implement the Habitat Agenda in an urbanizing world -– through the policies of the central government or through action on the part of citizens.  Our country has chosen the latter.

ATOKI ILEKA (Democratic Republic of the Congo):  My country played an active role in the Istanbul Conference and supports its goals.  The absence of peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has had a significant negative impact on housing and settlement issues.  It is in the hope that peace will be restored very soon that my Government has worked out a national plan of action for human settlements that will seek to provide for victims of war and to address urban poverty and homelessness.  This plan will call for international funding, as unfortunately we do not possess the adequate funding ourselves. 

Over the long term, the national plan will provide, among other things, for lasting urban development.  The application of sound land-use policies is under way.  Our country intends to establish partnerships to struggle against poverty.  We commit ourselves to the full application of the commitments adopted at the end of this session.

BASILE IKOUEBE (Congo):  This meeting gives us the opportunity to send out a strong message in favour of the right to housing for all.  My Government reaffirms its adherence to the Istanbul programme and to the implementation of its goals, such as rehabilitation, reconstruction and development.

Seventy per cent of the Congolese population live in urban centres, mostly concentrated in the two main cities.  This trend has to be mastered in order to reduce the inherent risks.  My Government has developed strategies promoting security of tenure, adequate shelter for all, equal access to credit and services.  Our policies include:  development of an institutional regulatory framework for settlement; improvement of infrastructure; poverty reduction and environmental management; and cooperation with all sectors of society.  With regard to housing, stress is placed on guaranteeing safe land-use, helping people build their own houses, guaranteed funding and access to services. 

Efforts to enforce security and safety have to be strengthened.  Particular interest is paid to gender equality.  Strengthening of small and micro businesses will give growth to employment.  In order to move from a crisis situation to one of social and political stability, bilateral and multilateral partners must be brought together to support the Congo, to improve its infrastructure and to help victims of the recent violence.  I would like to launch an urgent appeal to the international community, and particularly to the United Nations agencies, to provide substantial support to eradicate urban poverty.

KLAUS TOEPFER, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP):  I am fully aware of the outstanding importance of this special session.  The world has seen the mushrooming of cities and the social disaster of divided cities instead of integrated cities, resulting in a rapid urbanization and feminization of poverty, and in social tensions and environmental burdens with tremendous consequences for human health.  Nor is it only a problem in developing countries:  more and more cities in the developed world have suffered from the same problems.

The need to stimulate development to overcome poverty requires a legal basis for secure tenure, property rights, upgrading of slums and micro-credit mainly targeted at women, who have a major role to play in city planning and development.  We must find ways to decrease the ecological footprints of cities and urban agglomerations that extend far beyond their borders, to avoid the increased burdening of rural areas in a world where global population is increasing by

70 million a year.  We must review our efforts to make the population density of cities an opportunity to maximize ecological efficiency.

Sustainable cities require social integration.  This is a challenge for local authorities.  Mayors of cities and villages are directly linked with the needs and burdens of citizens.  They are courageous enough to ensure transparent decision-making and to encourage the needed participation of citizens.  There is an urgent need for the integration of all groups of civil society in the planning and management of urban settlements.

There are huge synergies between the mandates of UNEP and Habitat.  There is a need for the integrated provision of environmentally sustainable city structures, sanitation, drainage and solid waste management.  The cooperation of our two organizations in Nairobi is most needed in preparation for next year’s world summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg.

JAN PETERSON, Chairperson, GROOTS International/Houairou Commission:  We are a global partnership coalition of networks that includes more than 11,000 grass-roots women’s groups and non-governmental organizations working together with local authorities, parliamentarians, development institutions and United Nations agencies.  At the heart of our approach is the mainstreaming of grass-roots women’s groups and poor communities in addressing habitat issues such as shelter and basic services.  Our main focus is local governance, security of land tenure, and post-disaster and conflict reconstruction.

Across 55 countries, the Commission and its networks are at the centre of efforts to step up implementation of the Habitat Agenda through new community-State partnerships.  Local-to-local dialogues, exchanges, and transfers of knowledge from good practices are key tools used to build local capacities, reshape policies, and transform communities and cities.  Lessons learned from community-driven initiatives to secure land and build permanent housing and infrastructure counter the myths that grass-roots efforts are small scale and women’s initiatives low-tech.

The loss of the women and habitat programme in the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) has squandered efforts to strengthen women’s capacities to enable them to contribute to the institutional process of mainstreaming gender equitable settlements.  By rescinding the programme, we have uncoupled institutional knowledge from interaction with the constitution that produced these innovations in the field of settlements.  These programme changes risk marginalization of the grass-roots organizations in this field.  We call for concrete measures to transform public institutions and processes so that women and poor communities worldwide are seen at the centre of the present transformation.

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For information media. Not an official record.