Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka,
Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director UN-HABITAT
On the occasion of the opening plenary of the first Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Housing and Human Settlements in New Delhi on Wednesday 13 December 2006
Honourable Jaipal Reddy, Minister of Housing and Urban Development,
Honourable Kumari Seija, Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation,
Honourable Ministers of the Asia-Pacific region,
Secretary Shri Ranjit Issar,
Joint Secretary Shri Pankaj Jain,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you Secretary Shri Issar for your welcoming remarks. It is a great honour to address this opening session of the first ever Asia-Pacific Ministers’ Conference on Housing and Human Settlements. UN-HABITAT is proud to co-host this meeting with the Government of India. This is indeed an occasion of great importance, considering the task before us, of how we deal with what is arguably the greatest challenge we face into the foreseeable future – how we manage our cities better. How we make the new urban world in which we live safer, more inclusive and sustainable.
You represent the world’s most populous region – the region with most of the world’s largest cities. You represent a part of the world that is the global economic powerhouse of the future. You are gathered here to help devise a common new vision aimed at harnessing some of that great Asian know-how and economic power to ensure that our growing cities of the future will not only be better managed, but manageable – or what we in the United Nations call, sustainable.
We all know that we are living in a new urban age. We all know that the year 2007 will be the year in which humanity for the first time is predominantly urban. We also know, that with 50 percent of the global population now living in towns and cities, that the process of urbanisation is irreversible.
By the year 2030 it is projected that 54.5 percent of the Asian population will be living in cities. And Asia alone will account for more than half the world’s urban population – 2.66 billion people out of a total population of 4.94 billion.
But as our cities grow and grow, so more and more people pour into them in quest of a better future. The slums are growing, and this region has the world’s largest slums. According to our research at UN-HABITAT, it is home to some 581 million slum dwellers who constitute half the global slum population. In many parts the slums are growing so fast that we are witnessing what we call the urbanisation of poverty. And it is this urbanisation of poverty that you are tasked with helping reduce. In this new urban era, we have the means and know-how to reduce urban poverty. This is essence of the great challenge we face.
And you are gathered here to help us find a new vision that will not only act as a guiding light, but also serve, at the regional level, to hold our governments to their commitments. It must help them forge new ideas, new thinking, and indeed the new politics and the political will that is required. Your mission here, and at UN-HABITAT we pledge our full support, is to devise new regional frameworks that can translated into workable solutions at the local level, down to street level. Better roads, better homes, better hospitals, better education, better utilities bring untold dividends in the reduction of crime, diseases, pollution and the other ills of urban poverty.
Generally, the performance of Asian countries in pro-poor reforms, land and housing provision has been generally good. Examples that come to mind immediately are India’s current five-year development plan, which in coordination with the National Slum Development Programme has seen the delivery of more than five million sanitation units as part of a strategy that combines social services with better water supplies, community latrines, storm water drainage, public bathrooms, sewers and other essential amenities. Similarly, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission.
Indeed, it is most apt to recall here that UN-HABITAT’s Water for Asian Cities Programme, was founded in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank here in New Delhi in April 2002 at a regional consultation hosted by the Government of India. Under this programme, we have been working with the Government of India for the past three years in four cities in the State of Madhya Pradesh. This is in support of urban water supply and environmental improvement. The programme does similar work in Nepal, China, Laos, Vietnam, and many other southeast Asian countries. A special initiative is also underway in the Mekong region in support of the Millennium Development Goal on providing adequate water and sanitation.
Sri Lanka’s One Hundred Thousand Housing Programme and its One Million Housing Prgramme, also come to mind, as does China’s drive to deliver new urban housing on a scale and at a speed unmatched perhaps anywhere else in the world.
But we all need the money. Such is the task that no single government can afford the kind of social welfare cheques that would be needed to improve housing for millions of people.
Here Thailand’s Government Housing Bank comes to mind. Like the Grameen Bank of the great Bangladeshi Nobel laureate, Muhammad Yunus, it seeks out the poorest for loans. Like UN-HABITAT’s new Slum Upgrading Facility, it knows that the urban poor are good investments, that people don’t want charity, but just a bit of short-term help to help themselves. The payback is huge, both in returns on the small investment costs and risk involved, but also in social terms.
We can also make great gains through better governance, and by ensuring the municipalities have the means to improve neighbourhoods.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
We at UN-HABITAT will give you our full support. With so many examples of such great know-how, we can surely find the vision of how to channel this wisdom into a more prosperous urban era at street level for us all.