In the lead-up to the UN World Summit in New York, UN-HABITAT participated in a public symposium on “The Millennium Development Goals and the City” – the theme of World Habitat Day on Monday 3, October.
Organized by the Urban Faculty of the New School in New York and the Council on Global Initiatives, the aim of the symposium was to raise awareness about the MDGs specifically concerned with overcoming urban poverty and in particular MDG Goal 7, target 11 which is committed to improving the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.
Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, UN-HABITAT’s Executive Director, said the verdict on progress was mixed and that, with a few exceptions, the poorest countries that stand to benefit most from pursuing the MDGs remained way behind schedule and were unlikely to meet the targets. “Such a failure would spell tragedy, a missed opportunity to transform political will and commitment into meaningful action,” she said.
In calling for a concerted effort in order to make a real difference in the remaining decade, Mrs. Tibaijuka emphasised that one of the most important challenges was the “urbanisation of poverty”. More than 1 billion people are living in slums around the world. If present trends continue, this figure could reach 2 billion by 2030, she warned.
The vast majority of slum dwellers live on less than one dollar a day and represent more than one-third of the target population of the MDGs who have little or no access to decent shelter, education, health, reproductive health, and sound nutrition. They make up more than three-quarters of the people who lack safe water and half of the people who lack improved sanitation. The combination of these factors, together with their predominant youth, makes slum dwellers one of the most vulnerable groups in terms of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
“Despite such stark statistics, so far slums have not been a priority area for intervention in the efforts to meet the MDGs,” said Mrs. Tibaijuka. She urged delegates to break this vicious cycle through bold innovations such as the groundbreaking Brazilian tenure regularization programme for millions of slum dwellers. She also cited the “Baan Mankong” Programme in Thailand that was helping to upgrade slums in over 300 cities. Finally, she commended South Africa for adopting water legislation to ensure that everyone has access to a daily minimum of fresh water.
Mrs. Tibaijuka also called on delegates to continue to lobby for the “right to the city”.
“This right to the city allows slum dwellers to transform a tenuous stake in the city into a tangible asset; an asset that can be insured; an asset that opens the doors to access credit; an asset that enables the poor to do what wealthier people do everyday – to create wealth and to leverage that wealth to improve their livelihoods.”