Pomp and pageantry reigned as UN-HABITAT Executive Director Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka inaugurated the first ever International Habitat Festival in the Chinese city of Weihai between September 1-5.
The Festival, organized by the municipal government of Weihaim, is the first of its kind in China and in the world. Activities at the Festival included exhibitions on housing development and building products, technical seminars on habitat improvement and new concepts of building designs, as well as competitions of architectural masterworks. On the entertainment side, there were street parades, folk dances and songs, cultural performances and concerts. Football and volleyball matches were also staged as fireworks lit the evening sky.
Speaking during the Festival’s opening ceremony, Tibaijuka quoted a Chinese saying: “Only when sheltered properly can people work whole-heartedly.” She said shelter – not just roofs and basic services – but also quality of life was vital for social and economic development, and in the final analysis, for a people’s physical and spiritual wellbeing.
“While we are gathered here today to celebrate the achievements of Weihai, and indeed of many other Chinese cities over the past two decades, we must not forget that more than one billion people around the world live without adequate shelter and basic services. If present trends continue, this figure could double by 2030. We at the United Nations Human Settlements Programme are working to fulfill our mandate to promote adequate shelter for all people and sustainable towns and cities everywhere,” the Executive Director said.
An effective way of achieving the mandate was to promote partnerships and dialogue between international institutions, national and local governments, and civil society, she said, adding that UN HABITAT’s global campaigns for Secure Tenure and Urban Governance are designed specifically to strengthen the capacity of local governments to deliver basic services and to improve the living conditions of all women, men and children, especially slum dwellers and the urban poor.
Tibaijuka noted that there were huge challenges in a rapidly urbanizing world, including the growth of slums, the lack of proper housing, sanitation and water supply, and most fundamentally, the increase in urban poverty.
“I believe, however, that we are in a better position to address these challenges today,” she added. “As we enter the information age and society, international co-operation and the exchange of knowledge and lessons learned from experience become invaluable tools and assets in making our cities and communities safer, more equitable and sustainable. The outstanding achievements made by Weihai in the past quarter century provide a good example of how we can, and will, meet these challenges.”
In 2003, Weihai Municipal Government was awarded the UN-HABITAT Scroll of Honour for outstanding improvements in shelter and the urban environment. Since 1987, Weihai Municipal Government has been working on a comprehensive management project to improve living conditions, strengthen infrastructure, green the environment and manage pollution and sanitation in the city. The city has received various national honours and has been named the "National Hygienic City", the "National Garden City", the "National Model City of Environmental Protection" and was also awarded the "China Human Settlements and Environment Demonstration Award".