View of a meeting in the conference room during Habitat I in Vancouver.
View of a meeting in the conference room during Habitat I in Vancouver. From left to right: Enrique Penalosa, Secretary General of Habitat, Barney Danson (Canada), Conference President, Uner Kirdar, Conference Secretary and Adolf Ciborowski, General Rapporteur, June 10, 1976 Vancouver. UN Photo/Yutaka Nagata

United Nations Conference on Human Settlements - Habitat I
Vancouver, Canada, 31 May-11 June 1976


Adequate shelter as a basic human right

Habitat I was the first United Nations Conference on Human Settlements. It took place in Vancouver, Canada, from 31 May-11 June 1976. The United Nations General Assembly convened the Habitat I conference as governments began to recognize the need for sustainable human settlements and the consequences of rapid urbanisation, especially in the developing world. At that time, urbanisation and its impacts were barely considered by the international community, but the world was starting to witness the greatest and fastest migration of people into cities and towns in history as well as rising urban population through natural growth resulting from advances in medicine.

Member States recognized that the circumstances of life for vast numbers of people were unacceptable, particularly in developing countries, and that, unless positive and concrete action was taken to find solutions, those conditions were likely to be further aggravated.

There were inequalities in living conditions, social segregation, racial discrimination, acute unemployment, illiteracy, disease and poverty, the breakdown of social relationships and traditional cultural values and the increasing degradation of life-supporting resources of air, water and land.

As a result of this conference, the Vancouver Declaration on Human Settlements came into being and made history by providing the first definition of 'adequate shelter' and recommendations for each country to achieve it.

The Guidelines for Action of the Declaration of Principles of the Vancouver Declaration stated that "Adequate shelter and services are a basic human right which places an obligation on Governments to ensure their attainment by all people, beginning with direct assistance to the least advantaged through guided programmes of self-help and community action. Governments should endeavour to remove all impediments hindering attainments of these goals. Of special importance is the elimination of social and racial segregation, inter alia, through the creation of better balanced communities, which blend different social groups, occupation, housing and amenities."

Habitat I also provided the foundations for the birth, in 1978, of the United Nations Human Settlements Program or UN-Habitat.

UN-Habitat now promotes socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities. It is the focal point for all urbanization and human settlement matters within the UN system. UN-Habitat envisions well-planned, well-governed, and efficient cities and other human settlements, with adequate housing, infrastructure, and universal access to employment and basic services such as water, energy, and sanitation.