4 June 2001


Press Release

Background Release


A three-day special session of the General Assembly to review the progress made since the second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) in 1996 begins on Wednesday, 6 June, against the backdrop of the rapid urbanization of the world's population.  Participants are expected to examine the recent development of human settlements and guide the quest for solutions and progress.

By 2030, according to the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), more than 60 per cent of the world's population will live in towns and cities.  The bulk of the new urban population will be in developing countries, where already 1 billion urban residents live in life- and health-threatening conditions.  Strategies are being sought to maximize the benefits of urbanization and minimize the pitfalls associated with its rapid pace, so as not to further marginalize or exclude large segments of the population.

The twenty-fifth special Assembly session will evaluate progress made and obstacles encountered in achieving the twin goals of the so-called Habitat Agenda, namely, adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development.  It will also seek to formulate new initiatives for the text's implementation. The Executive Director of Habitat and Chairman of the preparatory process, Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, wrote in a publication of Habitat that the Conference (known as "Istanbul +5") should seek to ensure that human settlements are places of hope, prosperity and social advancement.

The Commission on Human Settlements, acting as the Preparatory Committee for the Special Session of the General Assembly for an Overall Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of the Outcome of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), as it is formally called, set the agenda for the event.  The Secretary-General and General Assembly President are expected to address the opening meeting on 6 June.  Over the course of the session, which is due to conclude on 8 June at 7 p.m., six plenary meetings are planned for a general debate and adoption of a final document.

A new entity authorized by the General Assembly last December -- the Thematic Committee -- is scheduled to meet five times during the special session. Ways of creating and nurturing partnerships to implement the Habitat Agenda at the local, national and international levels are expected to dominate these discussions.  The anticipated outcome is a practical basis on which to move forward with certain individual initiatives and link others in an effort to share experiences and initiate action. 

Informal consultations, beginning on Monday, 4 June, will precede the special session, and parallel events will be held all week.  Among them will be

the convening of a panel on "Cities on the Move:  Towards Sustainable Urban Development", organized by the World Bank, Habitat, and the Foundation for the Urban Environment.  A Youth Event will also be held, as well as several special events, including "Water for African Cities", "Feeding the Cities", and "Making Cities Safe".

The review process, which began in October 1999, emerged with a draft report on implementation that was based on national reports from more than 80 countries.  Reporting was grouped around six main themes:  shelter; social development and eradication of poverty; environmental management; economic development; governance; and international cooperation.  Evidence was provided that globalization has led to an increase in urban poverty and exacerbated the problems of human settlements in towns and villages.

National reports also revealed that recent progress in many regions has been severely hampered by the increase in natural and human-made disasters, particularly regional wars and conflict.  It was found that there is a weakening of international commitment in the field of human settlements development.  The draft report concludes that there is an urgent need for greater decentralization and strengthening of local authorities, and calls for additional resources to help overcome the problems of the urban poor.

Also before the Assembly will be a draft declaration clustered around the following themes:  renewing the Habitat II commitments; welcoming progress in implementing the Habitat Agenda; recognizing gaps and obstacles; and undertaking further actions.  The text notes with "great concern" the current conditions of human settlements despite efforts by governments to fulfil their commitments.  Widespread poverty remains the core obstacle and environmental conditions need significant improvement in many countries.  Overall, the draft concludes that "serious impediments to sustainable human settlements development still persist".

The text, provisionally called the "draft declaration on cities and other human settlements in the new millennium", acknowledges that the HIV/AIDS pandemic has developed in a "much faster and more dramatic" way than could be foreseen five years earlier.  The authors, therefore, recommend that the special session resolve to intensify efforts at the international and national levels against HIV/AIDS, and formulate and implement appropriate policies and actions to address its impact on human settlements.

In her closing statement to the Preparatory Committee on 23 February,

Ms. Tabaijuka emphasized that over the past five years it had become clear that urbanization would be one of the key global policy challenges of the current century and the millennium.  It would also affect rural areas in a very dramatic way.  More than ever, that required that the words of the Habitat Agenda be turned into policies and real change on the ground, in cities and in the lives of ordinary people everywhere.

Summary of Draft Report and Addendum

A draft report entitled "Review and Appraisal of Progress Made in the Implementation of the Habitat Agenda:  Report of the Executive Director", dated  31 March, provides information on implementation of the twin goals of the Habitat Agenda, namely, adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development, as well as the actions and achievements of the global campaigns for secure tenure and urban governance.  The 64-page report is organized according to the following topics:  globalization and urbanization; regional prospects and policy implications; overcoming common obstacles; emerging priorities; new leading partners/local authorities; and international cooperation.

The introductory portion of the report recalls that the Secretary-General, in a report on implementation of the Habitat Agenda (document A/53/267), stated that Habitat should prepare a global analysis of achievements and constraints to serve as a basis for review by the special session.   That analysis should be based on progress reports from governments and its own sources of information.  Three features of the present draft report -– scope, profile and objectives -– directly relate to the recommendations contained in the Secretary-General's report.  The scope of the present report is deliberately broad, emphasizing integration of the national and local dimensions of follow-up to Habitat II.  

According to the present report, the Secretary-General's report suggested that the review be inclusive and stress the Habitat Agenda's call for partnership among public, private, voluntary and community-based organizations, the cooperative sector and non-governmental organizations, as essential to the achievement of sustainable human settlements and adequate shelter for all.  The special session has also been asked to review the specific contributions of partners to implementing the Habitat Agenda at national and local levels.  The objective of the special session, the report stressed, is not to renegotiate the text, but to document lessons learned in its implementation and prepare recommendations for future action.

The report draws conclusions and inspiration for action from experience in implementing the Habitat Agenda, and deals with three important issues.  "Globalization and Urbanization" places implementation of the Habitat Agenda in the context of globalization that has accelerated dramatically since Habitat II.  The report also addresses "Emerging Priorities" seen as fundamental to the successful implementation of the Habitat Agenda and in meeting the needs of the poor –- urban governance, housing rights, urban basic services, civil conflict and urban violence, and sustainable urbanization.  Special attention is given to the leading partners in the implementation processes –- cities and local authorities. 

Globalization and Urbanization

The new millennium marks the dawn of the urban age, says the report.  For the first time, the majority of the world's population will soon be living in areas classified as urban.  Although the population of industrialized countries is already largely urban, urbanization processes are still acute in developing countries.  Today, 40 per cent of the population of developing countries already lives in cities.  By 2020, that figure will rise to 52 per cent.  Many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean already have a 75 per cent urban population, while only one third of the population of Africa and Asia lives in urban areas.  The greatest challenge will be in Africa and Asia, where a major demographic change is expected.  By 2015, 153 of the world’s 358 cities with more than

1 million inhabitants will be in Asia.  Of the 27 megacities with more than

10 million inhabitants, 15 will be in Asia.  Megacities with 20 or 30 million inhabitants, urban agglomerations of a size never known before in human history, are predicted.

Despite some positive developments, such as the recasting by civil society of national and local politics as a third-sector actor shaping policies and social structures, the report finds that the future of large and small settlements in the developing world looks grim if they continue to develop in the unstructured and unstable fashion that has characterized many of them until now.  Cities in the developed world also faced unprecedented problems of urban decay, ageing populations, widening gaps between knowledge-based elites and under-educated urban populations.  These problems require a new, inclusive approach to local governance and present a great and inspiring challenge to central and local government. 

On a more positive note, the report says that the world is an increasingly borderless network of interconnected cities, where power is being shared more evenly and where governance is becoming more democratic.  Promising partnerships are evolving between the public and private sectors and civil society.  There is a growing awareness of the needs and rights of women, the indivisibility of human rights, the need for participation and the urgent need for wise social, economic and environmental stewardship.  To address the "globalization" paradox that has distinctly emerged since Habitat II, governments and their partners will have to curb the obviously untenable present course of the global urban environment.  To do so, the highly articulated goals and objectives of the extraordinary series of global conferences of the 1990s must remain the overriding development agenda of the international community.

A section of the report entitled "The Way Forward" deals with promoting what it calls "entrepreneurial" cities and supporting human settlements initiatives of the urban poor.  Location is not destiny, and an important corollary is that all booming regions require a minimum package of enabling conditions to develop and sustain themselves.  These conditions are determined directly or indirectly by the actions of central and local governments.  At the second session of the Preparatory Committee, delegations welcomed the increasing role of cities and towns in a globalizing world and the progress made in forging public-private partnerships and strengthening small and micro enterprises.  They agreed that cities and towns hold the potential to maximize the benefits and offset the negative consequences of globalization.  They also agreed that well-managed cities could generate jobs and offer a diversity of goods and services.

In terms of supporting initiatives of the urban poor, the urbanization of poverty is one of the most challenging problems facing the world today.  Globalization accentuates this phenomenon because the opportunities it offers are often monopolized by a highly educated and upper-income urban population.  The commercialization and internationalization of agricultural production is also transforming the rural economy of the developing world, from one based on small holdings and extensive agriculture into capital-intensive and specialized activities.  This intensifies the exodus of the rural population to urban areas in search of an alternative livelihood and better employment opportunities.  The dilemma for cities in developing countries is that they are faced with explosive problems for which no sustainable solution is in sight in terms of public housing, subsidies and social programmes.

A different reality is beginning to emerge from within some of the world's slums:  this casts the poor as active participants in development and as true poverty experts.  Where banks do not lend to them, says the report, they save and lend to each other.  Where no housing is available, they build their own shelter.  Where no education is provided, they teach each other.  The poor are currently the single largest producers of shelter and builders of cities in the world.  In most cases, women are taking the lead in devising survival strategies that create the conditions for development.  Recent progress made in participatory local democracy is providing fertile ground for innovation in the way that demands are articulated and satisfied.  It is precisely these initiatives that provide some of the best prospects for sustainable urban development strategies, and to which the world's development institutions are being invited to respond. 

Emerging Priorities

According to the report, five recent policy priorities deserve a renewed international commitment:  urban governance; housing rights; basic urban services; urban safety; and sustainable urban processes.  At the second session of the Preparatory Committee, delegations saw implementation of the Habitat Agenda as an integral part of the overall fight for the eradication of poverty.  The Agenda's implementation and pursuit of sustainable development are intimately linked, and human settlements development is a key factor for sustainable development.  At the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg 2002, delegations committed themselves to intensify efforts for improving sustainable environmental planning and management practices, and for promoting sustainable production and consumption patterns in human settlements in all countries, in particular, in industrialized countries.

Under the heading "Leading Partners:  Local Authorities", the report recalls that, at Istanbul, local authorities and their associations were identified as the closest partners of governments in implementing the Habitat Agenda and realizing the goal of sustainable urban development and equitable economic growth.  In the years since then, cities and local authorities have taken up this challenge and role with enthusiasm.  The post-Habitat II process has been characterized by a "flowering of initiatives" of individual cities in all regions to develop further key normative and operational aspects of the Habitat Agenda.

City-based initiatives in support of the Habitat Agenda since 1996, the report finds, have a common feature of partnership with national governments and the international community and a strong concern for quality of life and a sustainable future in an urbanizing world.  On the conceptual level, a number of new developments since Habitat II have exercised considerable influence on the formulation of policy, in turn, raising the profile and importance of cities and local authorities in sustainable development.  This section provides details under the following headings:  new guiding principles; partnerships for local development; international networks; cities; and the United Nations.

The section of the report on international cooperation is divided in the following way:  policy priorities of the United Nations system; urbanization –- a global issue requiring a global response; the potential for coordinated international cooperation; and building on the results of the July 2000 Economic and Social Council session.

Under the heading, "The Potential for Coordinated International Cooperation", the authors find that a number of efforts have been undertaken by the United Nations organizations and agencies since 1996 to address the Habitat Agenda, identify emerging issues and include in their work programmes such human settlements issues as urban governance, capacity-building for local development, urban poverty reduction, gender and development, and improved service delivery at the local level.  Where these development topics meet with cross-cutting issues of other international development agendas, the human settlements goals of the Habitat Agenda have a better chance of being incorporated into the overall policy orientation of international cooperation, the report finds.

Also before the session is a draft addendum to the report of the Executive Director, dated 20 April, on progress of the Cities Alliance since its launch by Habitat and the World Bank in 1999.

[The Cities Alliance is self-described as the organizational consequence of a convergence of strategy between the World Bank and Habitat on reducing urban poverty.  Launched by them in May 1999, the Cities Alliance is designed to facilitate the operational implementation of the Habitat Agenda.]

According to the addendum, the Cities Alliance supports the promotion of collective action in two major areas of activity:  city development strategies, which reflect a shared vision for the city's future and local priorities for action to reduce urban poverty; and citywide and nationwide slum upgrading to improve the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.  Central to its approach is the need to match its limited technical cooperation resources with the mobilization of the capital investments required to achieve urban development at the appropriate scale.

The Cities Alliance, says the report, has organized its work around three objectives:  building political commitment and a shared vision; catalysing citywide and national impacts; and serving as a learning alliance, filling knowledge gaps.  With support from the Cities Alliance, a number of countries are making significant progress in creating the conditions to improve shelter delivery.

Among them, Brazil is developing a decentralized national urban upgrading strategy, based on facilitating access to secure land tenure and the establishment of financial mechanisms to ensure sustainability, the report notes.  Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, is developing a citywide poverty reduction strategy, and El Salvador's national housing policy promotes the legislation of land tenure and the participation of private sector developers in urban upgrading.  India's draft National Slum Upgrading Policy also emphasizes the importance of secure tenure and seeks to recognize the role of women. 

The addendum concludes that through the creation of the Cities Alliance, significant organizations within the international development community have committed to providing improved support to national governments for implementing the Habitat Agenda.  Although the Alliance is relatively new, it has already begun to demonstrate the viability of this approach.  Implementation of the Habitat Agenda at national and local levels will receive new impetus in the years to come, strengthened by the emerging emphasis on coherent urban development policy, the increasing impact of two Global Campaigns -– "Global Campaign for Secure Tenure" and "Global Campaign on Urban Governance" -- and the operational capacity mobilized under the banner of the Cities Alliance. 

Habitat Background

Headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) promotes sustainable human settlements development through policy formulation, capacity-building, knowledge creation and the strengthening of partnerships between governments and civil society.

In 1996, the General Assembly designated Habitat as the focal point for implementation of the Habitat Agenda -- the global plan of action adopted at the second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II).  The Centre, established in 1978, is the lead agency for coordinating human settlements development activities within the United Nations family, focusing on the following priority areas:  shelter and social services; urban management; environment and infrastructure; and assessment, monitoring and information.  The Habitat supports -- and works in partnerships with -- governments, local authorities, non-governmental organizations and the private sector. 

In 1998, the Centre had more than 200 programmes and projects under way in more than 80 countries, focusing on urban management, housing, basic services and infrastructure development.  Most of these programmes are implemented in partnership with other bilateral support agencies.  The Habitat is governed by the 58-member Commission on Human Settlements, which meets every two years.

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For information media. Not an official record.