UN-HABITAT Executive Director Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka on Tuesday addressed the second committee of the sixtieth General Assembly of the United Nations, introducing the Secretary General’s report on the implementation of the outcome of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) and strengthening of the agency.
She said that 1 billion of the world’s urban population was currently residents of slums living on less than 1 dollar a day. Mostly under the age of 25, without employment prospects, and lacking access to clean water and sanitation, they were the most disempowered in terms of poverty and access to health and education, and the most vulnerable to diseases like HIV/AIDS. If left unchecked, she said their number could reach 2 billion in 2030. The battle to achieve the Millennium Development Goals would be won or lost in the cities, she added.
UN-HABITAT was currently undertaking two demonstration projects to support its slum upgrading and water and sanitation targets, she said. The Slum Upgrading Facility involved mobilizing funds, with a strong emphasis on raising domestic capital. It was operational in 15 African and Asian cities and had received $20 million from the United Kingdom and Sweden. The Water and Sanitation Trust Fund had helped mobilize international finance and investment in water and sanitation projects, which had succeeded in raising $1 billion in matching grants and loans for more than 30 cities in Africa and Asia. It was also working on quick-impact initiatives in several least developed countries, including some in the Lake Victoria region of east Africa and the Greater Mekong River Basin of southeast Asia. The World Bank, as well as the African and Asian Development Banks aided both initiatives.
“Unfortunately, generating support for such initiatives is difficult because urban poverty was not part of the mainstream agenda. To help attract more attention, UN-HABITAT has appointed 30 programme managers to work in United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) offices in assisting country teams to stage awareness-raising campaigns. UN-HABITAT is also working to promote various regional ministerial conferences on housing and urban development, so as to spread the use of best practices between regions in Africa and Asia,” Mrs. Tibaijuka said.
Regarding financing, she said funding for UN-HABITAT had increased from $16.5 million five years ago to $85.2 million in 2005, but the Programme was still “not out of the woods”. While most of those funds came from a small number of countries, a case could be made for the strengthening the Programme in the context of the current United Nations reform.
During the ensuing debate, many delegates expressed their support for UN-HABITAT and echoed the Executive Director’s call for more donors to support initiatives under the Habitat Agenda. Kenya’s delegate pointed out that inadequate and unpredictable funding to UN-HABITAT and the Human Settlements Foundation was due to its dependence on too few donors. The imbalance between earmarked and non-earmarked contributions could lead to difficulties for the agency.
He called for increased voluntary non-earmarked contributions by the international community in support of the Human Settlements Foundation, preferably on a rolling multi-year basis. Those contributions should also support the Water and Sanitation Trust Fund and the Slum Upgrading Facility to help developing countries mobilize public investment and private capital for slum upgrading, shelter and basic services.
Jamaica’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, added that the efforts of many developing countries in dealing with urban poverty were hindered by low revenues and debt servicing. The international community should implement its commitments to support developing-country efforts by providing needed resources, capacity-building and technology, and by creating an enabling international environment.
Pakistan echoed the Executive Director’s remarks on the need for appropriate land-use planning and building codes to ease the dramatic loss of human life, property damage and displacement of entire communities in the aftermath of natural disasters. Last month’s earthquake in south Asia had destroyed much of the physical infrastructure in parts of northern Pakistan and Kashmir, leaving more than 3.5 million people homeless. The early involvement of human settlement experts in assessment and reconstruction would be critical, he said.
The representative of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies also touched on that topic, saying that construction-site planning and city development had to be guided by a disaster-prevention culture with adequate water, sanitation and waste management to ensure a healthy environment and to reduce or avoid diseases and epidemics.
The delegate of the Russian Federation said that the rate of urbanization, together with the persistence of economic problems in various places around the world, called for the strengthening of coordination between UN-HABITAT and other agencies, such as UNDP and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), as well as the deepening of its relations with the Bretton Woods institutions. For further details, see also Source Document