Voices from the corporate world, local authorities, foundations and civil society organizations at the twenty-first session of the UN-HABITAT Governing Council this week told governments that they needed to do much more to understand the plight of the urban poor and how to tackle it.
Discussing the theme, Sustainable urbanization: local action for urban poverty reduction with an emphasis on finance and planning, the formal dialogue session was one of the liveliest at the Governing Council this week.
“Placing the emphasis here on local action makes us delighted because it is clear that not enough local action has been taken to help fight poverty at the local level. We talk a lot, but we simply don’t do enough,” said Mr. Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General of United Cities and Local Governments, Africa (UCLGA).
He said there was nothing worse and more dangerous for people and the environment than unplanned settlements. “Just look what happens when the electricity or water utilities say they have trouble delivering to unplanned neighbourhoods. In many cases, people are only able to get their water and electricity through their neighbours – and in an unplanned slum that is just one source tension between neighbours,” he said.
Indeed the sprawling slums in cities of the developing world are the direct result of the lack of coordinated urban planning. Calling for the application of proper decentralisation policies, he urged UN-HABITAT to ensure that more local authorities had access to urban planning tools such as Local Agenda 21 and the Safer Cities Programme.
“What about people who build their abodes in a dangerous zone prone to flooding? Or those who construct a shack alongside a busy highway? What becomes of their uncollected waste?” he asked. And then he shared this thought with the audience, who also represented every continent around the world: “West African wisdom has it that ‘what you do for me, without me, you do against me’. Thus the participation of people in the planning exercise is one of the conditions and guarantees of success.”
But the delegate from Pakistan said that the problem was not about participatory planning, but rather the lack of sufficient financial resources. He said in his country local authorities do not have the financial muscle to respond to the urban challenges.
The Norwegian Minister for Local Government and Regional Development, Ms. Aaslaug Haga agreed, saying that local authorities were best placed to ensure that the interests of vulnerable groups in society were taken care of.
She the meeting of government ministers, senior officials and other representatives of the 58 governments which constitute the UN-HABITAT Governing Council that Norway was keen to help give local governments financial muscle to implement the plans of action.
Similar sentiments were shared by delegates from the Commonwealth Association of Planners and from India.
Mr. Wolfgang Frosch, manager of the BASF Social Foundation, a key private sector partner of UN-HABITAT told the meeting:
“UN-HABITAT can play an active and central role in the process of sustainable urbanization: 1) By being a best-practice platform for the exchange of ideas, innovative models and success stories. 2) By developing a management tool box for urbanization projects, which can be used and easily adopted in many other locations and projects, and.
3) by being a centre of competency on new business models in the housing sector and using its world-wide network for rapid know-how transfer,” he said.
BASF has been working with UN-HABITAT in Sri Lanka helping rebuild homes and lives of tens of thousands of tsunami victims.
Mr. Frosch said developing new business models on the basis of Public-Private Partnerships were the only guarantor of sustainable processes in urbanization (and even other action fields). He emphasised that Public-Private Partnerships have the potential for large scaling-up to reach as many people as possible.
“In concluding I would like to say that a stable political environment is a conditio sine qua non for successful Public-Private Partnerships,” he said.
But it was Ms. Rose Molokoane National Chairperson of the 80,000-member South African Homeless People's Federation, and a Board Member of Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI) who drew the greatest applause with some straight talking:
“Please note – we have an agenda on housing and partnership with government. We are organized in 23 countries around the world. I want to tell you all: We are NOT asking for handouts from government. But where does the term ‘Community’ fit in with Public Private Partnerships? Please open your doors. And stop calling us ‘beneficiaries’ or ‘end-users’. We are your PARTNERS!,” she said.
Ms. Molokoane, a South African veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle, and winner of the 2005 UN-HABITAT Scroll of Honour Award, is one the most internationally recognized and vocal grassroots activists involved in land tenure and housing issues.
True to form, she almost brought the house down when she added: “Let those men here know that we women are well organised. We are well organised men. ‘WOMEN’ stands for: Well Organised Men!”
And where Ms. Molokoane spoke out for women, Uganda’s Minister for Youth and Child affairs Mr. James Kinobe, said young people were completely left out of planning and financing for poverty reduction.
Youth, he added, could no longer be ignored since they make up 70 percent of the population in urban centres in many developing countries. This was why he said he supported the call for the establishment of a youth fund within UN-HABITAT.