In a landmark event, UN-HABITAT this week took to the European Parliament its campaign on promoting sustainable urbanization and adequate shelter for all. Mr. Daniel Biau, UN-HABITAT Deputy Executive Director, addressed a session of the assembly, making it the first time the European Parliament discussed urbanization challenges in developing countries.
The Deputy Executive Director addressed the meeting of the Committee of Development of the European Parliament chaired by its President, the Honorable Mrs. Louisa Morgantini.
Mr. Biau explained the evolution of the strong urban growth of the three last decades and stressed that rapid urbanization was irreversible so action must be taken to ensure that cities in developing countries become the engines of socio-economic development, as in developed countries.
He described how the locus of poverty is moving from the increasingly depopulated countryside, to the cities, which are becoming over-populated, and drew the attention of the European elected officials to the danger of the ‘urbanization of poverty in developing countries’. He urged the European authorities to count urban development among the priorities of development in terms of their co-operation with these countries.
Mr. Biau stressed that almost 1 billion people, or 32 per cent of the world’s urban population, live in slums mainly located in Asia and Africa. These slums represent the worst of urban poverty and inequality and every day the population of slum dwellers is rising by more than 70,000 on a worldwide scale, which is the equivalent of the whole population of an average Belgian city.
He announced that target 11 of Goal 7 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), aimed at "significantly improving the life of at least 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020” is certainly too modest in view of the spectacular growth of the slums.
UN-HABITAT therefore proposes that this target be re-examined so that at least 50 per cent of the inhabitants of the slums could benefit from the improvement of their living conditions by 2020, he said. Mr. Biau also stressed the importance of access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation as a condition sine qua none for the substantial improvement of the poor living conditions of the slum dwellers.
He informed members of UN-HABITAT’s strategic role in assisting the national and local authorities of developing countries in the implementation of projects with short, medium and long term impact to fight against urban poverty and work towards the realization of the Millennium Development Goals and its targets.
Members of the European Parliament applauded the considerable work undertaken so far by UN-HABITAT to tackle the enormous problems of urban poverty, inaccessibility to adequate housing, and access to safe drinking water and sanitation. They encouraged UN-HABITAT to further strengthen its co-operation with the other UN-Agencies and other development partners to increase the level of concrete action and effectiveness.