One of the most senior Vatican officials, Cardinal Renato Martino, on Monday pledged the continued support of the Roman Catholic Church to help improve the plight of slum dwellers. In a meeting with UN-HABITAT Executive Director Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka he discussed the situation of slum residents in Kenya and other nations.
Cardinal Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, has been an advocate of UN-HABITAT’s mandate since the agency’s birth in 1976. He was accompanied at the meeting by Archbishop Giovanni Tonucci, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to UN-HABITAT in Nairobi, and Monsignor Bernard Munono, Official of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace at the Holy See.
Cardinal Martino, who has visited slums around the world, expressed particular interest in the situation in Kibera, the largest slum of Nairobi, with a population of over 700,000 residents. Mrs. Tibaijuka outlined the problems facing slum dwellers, such as lack of access to clean water and sanitation facilities leading to a high incidence of disease, high unemployment, poor housing structures, and minimal security of tenure for the large majority of dwellers, who are mostly tenants.
She also explained the challenges pertaining to initiatives aimed improving slums and highlighted the importance of involving all partners including the relevant government ministries, local authorities, church leaders and other civil society actors, and importantly, the slum residents themselves. She stressed that this inclusive approach was vital to the success of the Kibera slum upgrading project, which represents a wide variety of interests.
Cardinal Martino raised the need to tackle the root causes of slums which are a “result of under-development and poverty because people cannot earn a decent living in rural areas and come to the city for something better – but get disappointed”. The problem of slums can therefore only disappear when countries are properly developed so that the aspirations of people are fulfilled wherever they may live. He acknowledged though that achieving global development would take a long time so in the meantime, we must continue to address the challenge of slums.
Mrs. Tibaijuka invited Cardinal Martino and his delegation to the next World Urban Forum in Barcelona and to the third World Urban Forum of 2006 marking the agency’s anniversary in Vancouver 30 years ago.