UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told a gathering of world mayors and other city officials on Thursday that over the next 30 years virtually all of the world’s population growth would occur in the urban areas of low and middle-income countries.
Addressing a meeting of United Cities and Local Government (UCLG) at UN Headquarters in New York, he said next week’s summit gathering of world leaders would be a unique opportunity for them to take bold decisions to make the world fairer, freer, more prosperous and more secure, and to strengthen the United Nations itself.
“It will be a crucial moment. As such, it is not just appropriate but essential that you, who are so closely in touch with the daily lives and aspirations of the world's people, have gathered to offer us your views and your vision,” Mr. Annan said. “As you know well, the world has entered the urban millennium. Half the world's people now live in cities and towns. That in itself marks a historic transition. But what will happen over the next 30 years is just as significant. According to United Nations projections, virtually all of the world's population growth will occur in the urban areas of low and middle-income countries. How we manage that growth will go a long way toward influencing the world's future peace and prosperity.”
At their best, he said, the urban centres of the developing world are engines of economic growth and wellsprings of dynamism. “But many of them have also become reservoirs of poverty, with people living under life and health-threatening circumstances, lacking water, sanitation, shelter, adequate living space and security of tenure. One of every six people on earth now lives in a slum or squatter settlement. Should present trends continue, the decades ahead will see the urbanization of poverty,” he said.
Mr. Annan said that this urban context was a critical part of our work to meet the Millennium Development Goals. In adopting the Millennium Declaration, Member States committed themselves to achieving a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020.
“While that is the only formal target specifically addressing urban poverty, the urban connection runs through the full list of goals. How can we expect to reach the MDGs, and advance on the wider development agenda, without making progress in areas such as education, hunger, health, water, sanitation and gender equality? Cities and local authorities have a critical role to play in all of these areas,” he told the mayors.
The vulnerability of cities had increased since the Goals were adopted. Globalization was creating jobs and other opportunities, but he said it was also bringing economic and other disruptions. The AIDS pandemic had continued to spread rapidly, further taxing the capacities of public health systems.
“Environmental problems are becoming more acute in many places. Terrorism has added new burdens, including post-attack reconstruction and economic hardships, as well as heightened communal tensions in places already grappling with violent crime and other threats to social cohesion. And as we have seen since Hurricane Katrina struck 10 days ago, natural disasters can bring havoc to major cities in rich and poor countries alike. The United Nations stands ready to do its part as the recovery effort continues,” he said.
Global and local matters were today more intertwined than ever before. Mr. Annan said that where once many problems were the sole domain of national governments, today they could only be tackled by partnerships that involve central governments, the private sector, civil society and local authorities – and often international institutions, too.
“So we will need you to do your part both as local managers and as some of your country's most influential politicians. We will also need your national leaders and governments to give you the space to act. A state which treats local authorities as partners, and allows public tasks to be carried out by those closest to the citizens, will be stronger, not weaker. Weak cities will almost certainly act as a brake on national development, whereas strong local democracy can be a key factor enabling a country to thrive,” he said.
Mr. Annan added: “UN agencies and programmes are determined to continue strengthening their engagement with you. Forums such as the UN Advisory Committee of Local Authorities are also proving valuable in raising the international profile of local authorities. And new rules offer you an opportunity to take part in the biennial sessions of UN-HABITAT's Governing Council. I urge you to take advantage of this welcome change.” For further details see, http://www.un.org