31 May 2001


Press Briefing


Some 1.2 billion people in the world were not adequately housed, Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), told correspondents at a Headquarters press briefing this afternoon. 

The focus of next week’s special session of the General Assembly for an Overall Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of the Habitat Agenda

(6-8 June) would therefore be focused on addressing that particular problem.  The session would be a stocktaking exercise to try to see what progress had been made and what the problems had been since the 1996 Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements held in Istanbul.

The structure of the session was such that each country had prepared or submitted a national report describing achievements made, she said.  At the Istanbul Conference, some 171 governments had committed themselves to providing adequate shelter in their respective countries.

Her own report to the session made it clear that much remained to be done.  There had been some commendable progress, but the fact remained that over a billion people were not properly housed, did not have access to sanitation, and many were crowded into squatter settlements, particularly in the developing countries. 

Even in the North, all was not well, she noted, citing high levels of exclusion, continued inner-city decay, and the “other face of poverty” -- inadequate shelter. 

Responding to a question on the participation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the session, Mrs. Tibaijuka said there would be very wide participation of NGOs -- some 1,000 had been recorded thus far.  The high level of NGO participation could be ascribed to the fact that the Habitat agenda -- providing adequate shelter and sustainable human settlement for all –- was a local agenda, which depended heavily on what she referred to as “Habitat agenda partners”.  Last year the Assembly had taken special measures to facilitate participation of those partners in the session, she said.

Occurring for the first time at the United Nations would be a meeting of world mayors on 5 June -- just before the session started, she said.  The mayors were being convened because it would make very little sense for central governments to deliberate on settlement issues when the people who actually managed settlements were not there.  The President of the General Assembly, Harri Holkeri (Finland) would chair the meeting and Secretary-General Kofi Annan would participate.

She noted that the world mayors had their own association -- the World Association of Cities and Local Authorities Coordination (WACLAC).  The President of WACLAC -- the Mayor of Barcelona, Spain -- would be leading the negotiations.

Referring to a correspondent’s question about whether or not the United States had blocked certain NGOs from participating in the session, the Executive Director said that to the best of her knowledge the United States had not done so.

A correspondent asked how Ms. Tibaijuka could account for the “dismal” participation of United States mayors in the upcoming meeting.  Ms. Tibaijuka said around 62 mayors -- including the Mayor of Austin, Texas -– were expected from the United States.  She would not refer to the participation of United States mayors as “dismal”. 

Austin’s mayor was a member of the United Nations Advisory Committee of Local Authorities, which was made up of 20 mayors who gave advice on the Habitat agenda, she noted.  Earlier this month, there had been a world assembly of mayors, and they had agreed on a declaration that would be sent to the special session, she added. 

The private sector -- including the construction industry -- would be represented through its own associations and networks, she said in response to another question.  The people in the relevant industries were key actors in the settlement process, and they would provide an input in forging the strategies to solve the housing problems being confronted.

Responding to another question, she said the declaration to be adopted at the close of the session would both assess what had been achieved and what had not worked and would also set out a plan of action for the future.  The session would not seek to set unrealizable goals.  It was taking place within the context of the Millennium Declaration, which had set specific targets, some of which were relevant to the Habitat agenda, such as slum upgrading.  The session’s declaration would seek to address those targets.

She said the most important progress made since Istanbul was the rising awareness of a need for action.  Human beings were moving to cities and towns.  In the developing countries -- for example in Africa, where there was the highest rate of urbanization -- one characteristic of the movement was that people did not move with their houses.  Conventional urban planning techniques had been overwhelmed and shelter was not being delivered.  Globalization, which contributed to polarization between rich and poor citizens, had also complicated the picture. These were reasons why next week’s special session was so timely.

The Habitat agenda was even more relevant today than it had been five years ago, she said.  This was not to say that there had been no progress made -- only that it was not enough and renewed efforts were needed.

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For information media. Not an official record.