Tuesday Plenary Session
Social Inclusion and Cohesion
The plenary session on social inclusion and cohesion was moderated by Ms. Margaret Cately‑Carlson, Chair of Global Water Partnership, Canada. The session discussed key challenges related to marginalization, social exclusion and urban poverty facing cities. The plenary session was addressed by Mr. Alphonso Jackson, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development Government of the United States of America; Mr. Jockin Arputham, founder and President, National Slum Dwellers Federation of India; and Ms. Lindiwe Sisulu, Minister of Housing, Government of South Africa.
Ms. Catley-Carlson opened the plenary session by emphasizing that poverty and social exclusion were interlinked and that one often led to the other.
Mr. Jackson highlighted the importance of home ownership as a means to make the world’s cities stronger, safer and more prosperous. The mission of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development was to increase home ownership as currently some 30 per cent of the American population did not live in their own homes. Many of those people were from groups that had been discriminated against in the past.
The Department was working hard to ensure that Americans were aware of the benefits of home ownership and his job under the Bush administration was to promote an “ownership society”, especially among low- and middle-income minorities. The United States had also dedicated the month of June as Home Ownership Month.
Recalling that the housing market had made up nearly a quarter of United States GDP in 2005, he said that for every home built, 3.5 jobs were created. In the United States, the private sector played the major role in the growth of the housing market and the national economy.
The lesson which other countries could learn from the experience of the United States was that the achievement of decent, safe and sanitary housing for low- and middle-income families required the joint efforts of both the public and private sectors because the level of investment required to meet the enormous demand for housing, particularly in urban areas, was beyond the scope of donors and governments. In recognition of that fact, the Government of the United States had awarded over $1 billion to faith-based and community groups to help combat homelessness, which was becoming a chronic problem.
Both President Bush and he himself were committed to partnering with government officials to create greater opportunities for people in other countries to improve their housing. He warned, however, that while his country was willing to help, the initiative to bring about change had to come from countries themselves.
Mr. Jockin Arputham, founder of the National Slum Dwellers’ Federation of India, thanked the Executive Director of UN-Habitat, Ms. Anna Tibaijuka, for allowing slum dwellers like him to participate in the World Urban Forum: some 35 slum dwellers and two pavement dwellers were among the participants at the Forum.
Many conferences had been held to address the problem of slums, but few had resulted in tangible changes in the lives of slum dwellers. He challenged delegates to let slum dwellers take control of their own lives instead of just talking about their problems at conferences and seminars. Slum dwellers needed to take development into their own hands by getting organized and coming up with their own housing solutions, as they were closest to the problem.
For many years the United Nations and national governments had paid mere lip service to the plight of slum dwellers and had not pledged sufficient funds to improve their lives. Every year, millions of people in Asia and Africa were evicted from their homes, but UN-Habitat and other international organizations were unable to prevent evictions and intervened only after the evictions had taken place.
He urged governments to follow the example of the Government of South Africa, which had allocated 235 million rand to Shack Dwellers International to enable the urban poor to build their own homes, and was working closely with organized groups of the urban poor to come up with housing solutions.
Ms. Lindiwe Sisulu, Minister of Housing, Government of South Africa, said that in order to understand social exclusion fully, it was necessary to bring poverty, urban poverty in particular, back into the centre of discussions on development. She noted that the international community currently devoted only between 2 to 12 per cent of donor funding to urban areas, as the bulk of assistance was still focused on rural areas. Referring to the High Level Commission on the Legal Empowerment of the Poor (HLCLEP), she added that exclusion worsened the plight of the poor, as they lacked access to services that directly affected their economic wellbeing.
Just as the world had united in the fight against Nazism during the Second World War, it must now unite against the common scourge of poverty. Urbanization had thrown up new challenges as the urbanization of poverty was escalating. Nothing defined the reality of the urban poor more starkly than their living conditions; people living in shacks not only lacked services but also suffered from high levels of unemployment, illiteracy and ill health.
South Africa’s experience had shown that the inclusion of the communities involved was essential. Shack Dwellers International and other organizations therefore needed government support. That support could be in the form of meeting the efforts of community-based savings and loans schemes half way. African governments at the inaugural meeting of the African Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development in South Africa in February 2005 had indeed committed themselves to paying more attention to housing because housing lay at the core of urban poverty. Quoting the Holocaust survivor and Nobel peace laureate, Elie Wiesel, she warned that indifference to the plight of the poor was tantamount to a crime.
To halt the growing urbanization of poverty, African countries needed to ensure that all socio‑economic programmes and activities were focused on meeting the basic survival needs of the most deprived groups and that resources were restructured in order to address the challenge. In addition, greater collaboration between national and local governments and inclusion of civil society in local decision-making were required.