The United Nations has designated the first Monday in October every year as World Habitat Day to reflect on the state of human settlements and the basic right to adequate shelter for all. It is also intended to remind the world of its collective responsibility for the future of the human habitat.
The Global Observance of this year’s World Habitat Day will take place in The Hague in The Netherlands. Major celebrations will also take place in Monterrey in Mexico.
The theme of this year’s World Habitat Day on Monday 1 October 2007 is A safe city is a just city. The United Nations chose this year’s theme in order to raise awareness and encourage reflection on the mounting threats to urban safety and social justice, particularly urban crime and violence, forced eviction and insecurity of tenure, as well as natural and human-made disasters.
One of the most significant causes of fear and insecurity in many cities today is crime and violence. Between 1990 and 2000, incidents of violent crime per 100,000 persons increased from 6 to 8.8. Recent studies show that over the past five years, 60 per cent of all urban residents in the world have been victims of crime, with 70 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean. Clearly, crime, whether violent or not, is a growing and serious threat to urban safety all over the world.
As the world becomes increasingly urban, it is essential that policymakers understand the power of the city as a catalyst for national development. Cities have to be able to provide inclusive living conditions for all their residents. Rich or poor, everyone has a right to the city, to a decent living environment, to clean water, sanitation, transport, electricity and other services. How we manage this is arguably one of the greatest challenges facing humanity.
Another significant threat to urban safety today is forced eviction and insecurity of tenure. Incidents of forced eviction are regularly reported from all parts of the world. They are often linked to bulldozing of squatter settlements and slums in developing countries, as well as to processes of gentrification, beautification and urban redevelopment in both developed and developing country cities. Forced evictions have been highly publicized in recent years, partly because freedom from forced eviction has become recognized as a fundamental human right within international human rights law.
Disasters, natural and human-made, are yet another current threat to urban safety. Recent evidence suggests that natural and human-made disasters are increasing in frequency the world over, and that this trend is partly linked to climate change. From 1975 to 2005, the number of disasters in the world increased from 100 to 400 per year. Hurricane Katrina, the Asian Tsunami and the Pakistan Earthquake are some of the recent disasters that exposed our woeful lack of preparedness.
Combined, these three threats to urban safety currently pose a huge challenge to both national and city governments, and this is the reason behind the United Nation’s choice of the theme A safe city is a just city for this year’s World Habitat Day.