United Nations General Assembly Special Session For an overall review & appraisal of the implementation of the Habitat Agenda "Istanbul + 5", 6 - 8 June, New York


Ambassador Georg Lennkh

New York, 6 June 2001

Mr. President,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the outset, let me stress that Austria fully associates itself with the statement presented by the Swedish Delegation on behalf of the European Union.

Five years ago an impressive number of heads of state, heads of government and official delegations met in Istanbul, to discuss the challenges of human settlements clad to endorse universal goals to ensure adequate shelter for all and to make human settlements safer, more salubrious as well as more liveable, equitable, sustainable and productive. Today we have come together for an overall review and appraisal of the implementation of the Habitat Agenda. Moreover, we are to provide answers to the challenges arising from recent trends in urbanisation and human settlements. This leads us to a number of reflections.
Urbanisation is here to stay. The figures are unequivocal, you know them.

A I so - and we have to write this into our task lists - urbanisation must not and should not be seen as a negative development, which should be slowed down or Malted by increased or improved rural development. On the contrary, urbanisation can have beneficial effects on the environment, on empowerment of the poor, on population development, on the advancement of women, on sustainable development, and above all, on the fight against poverty. Rural and urban zones should complement each other.

Poverty eradication is the first objective on the list of International Development Goals, as most recently embodied in the Millennium Declaration. Arid cities are formidable engines of growth and of income generation.

What then is the problem? To put it very simply - urbanisation brings out in stark fashion the best and the worst of all possible worlds. Nowhere is the divide between rich and poor greater, more striking and with more explosive potential. The effects of globalisation which we are able to observe at present, that is, the increasing gap between rich and poor regions and countries and between the rich and poor in these countries, are amplified by the growth of cities. The undeniable benefits of globalisation come first to the cities, but they come with even higher pressure exerted on the poor: rising prices, scarcity of land, diminishing public goods. This is where the challenge for our future work lies.

Let me just pick out one example: water, where Austrian development cooperation has been particularly active. At the beginning of the new millennium 1, 2 billion people still lack access to clean water and approximately 3 billion people live without access to hygienic sanitary installations while it is one of the key recommendations of the Millennium Declaration "to halve the proportion of people who are unable to reach or afford safe drinking water. "

Modern water management works by implementing the precautionary principle on solutions which start at a micro level. Rather than seeking technical solutions which are often based on a "repair approach", long term sustainable water management on the regional level improves the standard of living of the population and maintains sustainable water supply for future generations.

Another example of Austrian activities in the field of human settlements is the Best Practices Centre for Central and Eastern Europe, which was founded by the City of Vienna in co-operation with UNCHS/HABITAT in 1999. This Best Practices Hub acts as a centre for knowledge, experience and expertise in the region, collecting best practices and furthering their transfer. It also acts as an Urban Observatory monitoring the programmes of the City of Vienna and the implementation by means of the Best Practices Programmes.

The real challenge in all these experiences was not or certainly not only, technology, but much more the acceptance of any solution for all people concerned, and in particular for the poor. This is why any simplistic privatisation scheme cannot work. This is why real participation, effective partnership and good governance by local authorities is so important. All this takes time and we should mal<e use of this valuable resource.

Mr. President,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

In Austria both the Habitat Agenda and Agenda 21 are implemented by the federal government, the nine provinces and their local authorities representing a total of  more than 2000 municipalities. Such a spreading out of responsibilities offers a favourable prerequisite for the independence of local authorities as well as for bottom up strategies of popular participation. This means shared responsibility; i.e. the responsibility of the individual for his or her actions, of civil society for the resources from nature and of the present generation for the opportunities of future generations. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management has supported the Habitat Agenda and Local Agenda 21 processes in Austria for example by co-financing numerous EU regional programmes, by initiating pilot projects.

So let me conclude by saying that questions of urbanisation; of "habitat" have to become integral parts of our development agenda - and that participatory development in its broadest sense has to be integrated with the approach to solving clue problems of urbanisation.

The battle against poverty has to be fought everywhere, in the cities just as well as on the countryside, but if we don't win it in the cities it will not be won at all.