Press Conference by UN-Habitat on Conclusion of Fifth World Urban Congress

1 April 2010

Press Conference by UN-Habitat on Conclusion of Fifth World Urban Congress

1 April 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by UN-Habitat on Conclusion of Fifth World Urban Congress


A panel of officials from the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) today hailed the success of the recently-concluded fifth session of the World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where nearly 14,000 participants had gathered to weigh the effects of urbanization and consider actions to curb social inequalities, and boost access to shelter, infrastructure, income and basic services for the world’s city-dwellers.

Speaking at a Headquarters press conference, Sharad Shankardass, Spokesperson for UN-Habitat, described the Forum -- held in Rio from 22 to 26 March under the theme “Bridging the Urban Divide” -– as a “record-breaker” for the biennial event.

The important thing to remember about the Forum, Mr. Shankardass continued, was that it was unlike other United Nations-backed meetings as the participants, including Government ministers and representatives of academic institutions and non-governmental organizations, were not aiming to produce an outcome document.  “This is more of a think tank were people can exchange ideas on urbanization, and I believe it was a great success,” he said.

Also on hand today were Cecilia Martinez, Director of UN-Habitat’s Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, Yamina Djacta, Deputy Director of the New York Office, and Gora Mboup, Head of the Programme’s Global Urban Observatory.

Ms. Martinez said the World Urban Forum had “created a new threshold” in terms of open dialogue and diverse participation.  It had shown the importance of open and democratic forums, particularly given that even groups that had protested against the opening of the event had eventually been allowed to register and present their views.  President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had opened the Forum, while meetings and side events had been held in rehabilitated warehouses in Rio’s Old Port.  “The venue itself made a statement in that it was helping regenerate a part of the city that had been neglected for many, many years,” she said of the Old Port, a target of one of the city’s largest urbanization and accessibility projects.

She said that on the penultimate day of the event, UN-Habitat Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka had convened a special session dedicated to Haiti.  That meeting, held under the theme “Building Back Better”, had focused on disaster preparedness and risk reduction, as well as urban systems.  Experts had discussed with Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive plans for his country’s long-term rehabilitation following the massive earthquake of 12 January.

Presenting the report State of the World’s Cities 2010/2011:  Bridging the Urban Divide, launched in connection with the Forum, Mr. Mboup, one of its main authors, said it focused heavily on trends sparked by rapid urbanization, and stressed that city planners must direct policies at such current challenges as improving access to affordable housing and land, enhancing public services and infrastructure, and, importantly, tackling the plight of slum-dwellers.

Specifically on that point, he said the report offered both good and bad.  On the one hand, some 200 million people in the developing world had been able to move out of blighted areas since 2000, double the target number set by the Millennium Development Goals.  As for the bad news, however, the number of people living in slums worldwide had actually risen by some 55 million in the same period.  The 776.7 million slum-dwellers existing in 2000 had grown to some 827 million today, according to the biennial report.

On other trends, Mr. Mboup said that 50 per cent of the world’s population now lived in urban areas, and all developing regions, including Africa and Asia, would have more people living in urban than in rural areas by 2030.  Latin America and the Caribbean was currently the developing region with the largest proportion of people living in urban centres, whereas sub-Saharan Africa -– and Eastern Africa in particular -– had the lowest percentage.

He said other trends included the emergence in the past 20 years of three key urban configurations -- so called “mega regions” (natural convergence of neighbouring metropolitan areas), “urban corridors” (linear urban spaces linked by transportation) and “city-regions” (individual cities functionally bound by economic, political, socio-cultural and ecological systems).

Unfortunately, the modern urban landscape was still plagued by age-old problems, he said.  They included urban sprawl, which in the developing world was characterized by large peri-urban areas dominated by slums or illegal settlements.  That was combined with a lack of infrastructure, public facilities and basic services, as well as inadequate roads and poor transport infrastructure.  The emerging phenomenon of “suburban sprawl” occurred when residential and shopping zones for middle-income groups were connected by individual rather than public transport, he added.

He said the report’s key focus was tackling the urban divide, as various forms of exclusion continued to marginalize vast swaths of city dwellers, condemning them to live in deplorable conditions with little access to education, sanitation, health care and other basic services.  Previously, similar surveys had weighed the disparities between urban and rural dwellers, but had devoted very little attention to “intra-urban differences”, he noted.

Mr. Mboup echoed the report’s call for rapid and sustainable solutions to historical inequalities in large Latin American cities as well as some in Africa.  Indeed, as the international community sought solutions to food insecurity and infant mortality, it must devote more attention to the unique situation of slum-dwellers, whose situation was often little changed by the lofty agreements contained in development objectives.  Because of their proximity to, or dependence on, dilapidated infrastructure and poor sanitation, people living in slums were exposed on a daily basis to conditions that affected their health or hampered their access to basic services.

Municipal authorities and city planners must therefore design policies aimed at narrowing the social, political and economic inequalities that divided residents in many cities, he emphasized.  Making cities more inclusive required, among other things, support for providing residents with access to decent housing, transport, education and communication.

Ms. Martinez responded to several questions about reports of forced evictions in countries such as Angola, China and Brazil, saying that the United Nations was firmly against such arbitrary actions.  Many participants in the Forum had called for more pressure to be put on Brazil to ensure that no mass evictions took place ahead of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.  “There was a very clear message sent to avoid the same mistakes [that took place in other cities that had hosted the Olympics],” she added.

Mr. Shankardass reiterated that the United Nations opposed arbitrary illegal evictions and that population movements in such circumstances should be based on negotiated settlements.  Ms. Tibaijuka had called on the Angolan Government to allocate a percentage of its oil income to upgrading vital social services such as housing, plumbing, clean water and electricity, he noted.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.