The United States on Tuesday reaffirmed its support for UN-HABITAT when the Governing Council met in plenary on the second day of a five-day conference to devise a work programme aimed stopping what has been called a “slow-motion” tsunami wave of growing urban poverty around the world.
In a keynote address, Mrs. Shannon H. Sorzano, Head of the United States Delegation, said UN-HABITAT challenged governments to recognize the importance of sustainable human settlements as part of the overall health of nations. While the world’s urban population is expected to grow by 2 billion by the year 2030, she said much of this growth would be seen in the developing world – already facing the challenges that rapid urbanisation and ill-prepared institutions yield.
“In working with UN-HABITAT over the last biennium, we have appreciated its contributions to international, national and local dialogues on sustainable human settlements,” she said. “We saw the efficacy of the UN-HABITAT model in Barcelona when the Second World Urban Forum assembled a large, diverse and experienced set of public and private practitioners to exchange ideas, challenge conventional wisdom, and work toward keeping promises that are a generation old.”
Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, UN-HABITAT’s Executive Director, warned the government ministers and representatives of the 58 countries on the Governing Council that Target 11 of Millennium Development Goal 7 - improving the living conditions of at least 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020– was not ambitious enough and had to be revised upwards. This quest would be a priority high on the agenda of the meeting which will last until Friday. She likened the rising urban poverty in the world to a slow-motion Tsunami.
“The United Nations,” Mrs. Tibaijuka said, “has to become an institution that responds to the slow-motion tsunamis of the developing world.”
The Governing Council of UN-HABITAT meets every two years in a high-level forum of governments at the ministerial level to set UN-HABITAT’s policy guidelines and budget. This year, they are discussing two special themes on involving civil society in the improvement of local governance, and assessment and reconstruction in post-conflict and natural and man-made disasters.
Mrs. Sorzano said Washington was impressed with UN-HABITAT’s role in joining the African Union to convene the first African Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development where housing delivery and associated water and sanitation provision were prioritised on the African development agenda.
But she added: “Because the challenges of urban governance and poverty are complex, UN-HABITAT is pulled in many directions. It will need to remain focused on its core mission and find the proper balance between its normative and operational activities. It particular, UN-HABITAT needs to carry forward its global campaigns on urban governance and secure tenure.”
Ultimately, she said, national and local authorities, civil society and private sector were responsible for meeting the multiple challenges of urban development: “UN-HABITAT can assist, but cannot substitute for them. The United States values our partnership with UN-HABITAT. Through our development assistance agency, USAID, we have supported UN-HABITAT’s central normative role in collecting and managing data on urban indicators, which we ourselves use.”
Representatives of a number of other countries, including Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda, agreed that the thirteenth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-13) scheduled to take place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, from 11 to 22 April 2005, would provide an important opportunity for UN-HABITAT to showcase its expertise in best practices and policy options, as well as help it identify and advance practical measures and mechanisms that deliver results.
Norway, a major donor country, said the challenges of urbanisation still remained “unseen and neglected” on the international development cooperation agenda.
Norwegian State Secretary, Mr. Roger Iversen, announced that the Nordic countries and the United Kingdom had therefore decided to launch a high-level commission for the legal empowerment of the poor.
“We see this commission as an important opportunity for UN-HABITAT, based on its vast experience and knowledge of tenure issues, to support and contribute to the work of the commission and beyond,” Mr. Iversen said, adding that it would be established in September.
Mr. Amos Kimunya, Kenya’s Minister for Lands and Housing, said his country supported new mechanisms being put in place to monitor MDG7, Target 11 on slums. At the country level, he said, the government and UN-HABITAT had together undertaken mapping surveys of the capital, Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa as part of a programme to be extended to other towns in the country.
Mr. Kimunya, echoed the views of a number of countries at the plenary, when he added that if the agency was to help meet the target on improving slums around the world, “UN-HABITAT requires the requisite resources to enable it to carry out this mandate. We underscore the efforts made in establishing the Slum Upgrading Facility as a technical assistance and a bridging finance vehicle to mobilise domestic capital for slum upgrading. If adequately funded, the facility will enhance slum-upgrading in developing countries.”
In a related event, Canada’s Minister of Labour and Housing, Mr. Joe Fontana, hosted a luncheon meeting at the Governing Council to formally announce the launch of the third session of the World Urban Forum next year in Vancouver. He said UN-HABITAT and the Canadian government had already started preparations for the forum, which will bring together public and private institutions, experts and leaders from around the world to discuss the key challenges confronting our rapidly urbanising planet.
World Urban Forum III will mark the 30th anniversary of Habitat 1 – the first United Nations conference on human settlements. Held in Vancouver in 1976, the occasion, which led to the creation of UN-HABITAT, marked the first time the challenges of urbanisation were brought onto the international agenda.