Honourable Kumari Selja, President of the Governing Council and Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation of India,
Hon. Members of the Bureau
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The twenty-first session of the Governing Council of UN-HABITAT met this week on the cusp of enormous change, both in the United Nations system and in our new urban era. Our new Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, has followed our proceedings closely. Indeed, as the Executive Board of the United Nations meets, my Deputy, Ambassador Inga Björk-Klevby is in Geneva to brief the Secretary General and the Board on these important deliberations and to explain how the cause of human settlements has entered centre stage on the international agenda. For 2007 will go down in history as the year in which half of humanity was living in towns and cities.
It is fitting to inform you that 911 delegates from 92 countries were joined by 231 representatives of NGOs, 61 representatives of local governments and their associations, and by a significant presence from the UN system, international financial institutions, NGOs, professional associations and the private sector.
I congratulate this twenty-first session of the Governing Council for reaching some landmark decisions on the basis of consensus. It was a week of weighing disagreements, arguing, and finding a way forward in the interests of the legions of the world’s urban poor. As you are too keenly aware, this year also marks the occasion that the number of slum dwellers will surpass the 1 billion mark.
Madame President, Distinguished Delegates,
It is a great honour for me to present to you my closing statement with a feeling of deep gratitude for your collective effort on behalf of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme. You have done us proud this week in following through on this organization’s 30th birthday promise in Vancouver 2006, the promise of the third session of the World Urban Forum, to turn ideas into action.
During the course of this week, all of you were engaged in passionate, even difficult debate on the various topics. You met in various committees, in the plenary, as sub-groups, informally on the sidelines, and in a special dialogue with our Habitat Agenda partners. We designed this meeting so that all of these discussions and dialogues were mutually reinforcing and allowed everyone a chance to be heard.
And here I recall one of those voices, that of a slum dweller, and I quote: “Please open your doors, and stop calling us ‘beneficiaries’. We are your PARTNERS!”
Indeed this Council took heed of this and many other calls. While you have placed the highest priority on the interests of the urban poor, you have done so without forgetting that we face a common challenge and looming threat of the environmental consequences of rapid urban growth. Your decisions this week establish a new road map for our quest, indeed our mission, for sustainable urbanisation.
We have engaged in a week of very significant dialogue and debate. And this, might I add, was not limited to the various formal meetings – it was extended to the range of parallel events with youth groups, the women’s caucus, slum dwellers, local authorities and all who drive the urban agenda.
We part company today enriched, better informed and better able to fulfil our mission. I would like to thank the media for conveying the essence of these deliberations to the world at large. Equally, I would like to thank the tireless members of the Conference Services at UNON, our interpreters and translators, and those who processed the documentation for us. Not least, my own staff in UN-HABITAT for their professional services to the Plenary, the Committee of the Whole, and the Drafting Committee, on the substantive business of our deliberations.
And again, I must express my sincere thanks to all the governments and partners for their generous financial support. My special thanks go to the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Government of Norway, and the Coca Cola Company for their support in our Water and Sanitation programme in India, and BASF of Germany for their backing in our Sri Lanka tsunami rehabilitation programme.
Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me, before I turn to the achievements of your substantive work, to express my deepest gratitude to the President of the twenty-first session, Honourable Kumari Selja, Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation of India. Under your very capable leadership, this Council was able to bring its work to a successful conclusion. Your deep wisdom, serenity, grace and sense of humour prevailed throughout, and lightened what appeared to me as a daunting task and at times a very heavy burden. It was your experience at consensus building that when barred by time, you used your authority as a Chair to sponsor the very important consultations on strengthening the habitat and human settlements foundation: experimental financial mechanisms for pro-poor housing and urban infrastructure. Even more remarkable is the resolutions you personally sponsored on Women’s land and property rights and access to finance is a testimony to your engagement with our mission.
I also wish to express my thanks to the Vice Presidents for your skilful diplomacy and patience during all of the hard bargaining this week – Honourable Mr. Michael Werikhe, the State Minister of Housing of Uganda, Your Excellency, Mr. Daniel Chuburu, Permanent Representative to UN-Habitat of Argentina, and Your Excellency, Mr. Ross Hynes, Permanent Representative to UN-Habitat of Canada.
I also extend a special word of thanks to our Rapporteur, Mr. Andrey Pronin of the Russian Federation who presented the report of this Governing Council just some minutes ago. And here I also cite the Drafting Committee Members, and all the Members of the Bureau for the dedication and commitment they showed under considerable pressure.
My gratitude also goes to our host country, Kenya, for its steadfast support and hospitality. Indeed, we were greatly honoured by the presence of His Excellency, Honourable Mwai Kibaki, President of the Republic of Kenya, and the Honourable Soita Shitanda, Minister of Housing, Republic of Kenya. In keeping with tradition, Kenyan Permanent Representative to UN-Habitat, His Excellency Ambassador Solomon Kalanja has been very supportive.
In the same vein, I must honour too the members of the Committee of Permanent Representatives in Nairobi, under the steady hand of their Chair, Her Excellency, Mrs Elizabeth Jacobssen, Permanent Representative of Norway to UN-HABITAT.
In time-bound tradition, I also extend a hand to our partners in the United Nations system, and especially to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and its new Executive Director, my dear colleague Achim Steiner.
Please join me in a very, very warm round of applause to all who made this meeting such a success.
Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates,
I now turn to the substantive work of this twenty-first Governing Council of UN-HABITAT. Allow me, Madame President, to say a few words about each resolution.
The resolution on Guidelines on Decentralisation and Strengthening of Local Authorities has been the fruit of 10 years of labour. It has involved extensive consultations with member States, working with our local authority partners and an untold number of experts. I would like to recognise the patience and the assiduity of our friend Mr. Hoffschuter who has steered this endeavour since its inception. This resolution gives us the means to engage member States in one of the key aspects of the Habitat Agenda – to support efforts in strengthening the front-line role of local authorities in its implementation.
The resolution on Guiding Principles for providing Basic Services, is no less important in enabling UN-Habitat to engage member States, our traditional partners including local authorities and civil society organisations, as well as our relatively new partners among utility firms and service providers, to enhance their respective roles and contributions towards the attainment of the water and sanitation targets of the internationally agreed development goals. These principles will provide a key entry point for strengthening our normative work in promoting more effective policies and regulatory frameworks for the reaching out to the poor.
The resolution on Arctic Cities is most timely as we enter into a new phase of partnerships and cooperation with our sister agencies. As I mentioned in my policy statement at the beginning of this august Council, we are deepening our cooperation with UNEP to address the issues of sustainable urban development.
The resolution entitled Urban Youth Development reflects the growing commitment to address the problems of urban youth. Young people, lest we forget, constitute the majority of the urban population in rapidly urbanising countries. Often, they have no jobs and no voice. Any effective response to improving the living conditions of the urban poor and slum dwellers must deal, prima facae, with the challenges facing youth. We will endeavour to support the establishment of the “Opportunities Fund for Urban Youth-led Development” to catalyse dialogue between youth and all spheres of government, to provide the space and strengthen the capacity of youth-owned initiatives in improving their livelihoods. I have to single out the leadership and unwavering support provided by the Government of Norway to help us start dealing with this challenge.
I now make a special word of thanks to our President for introducing the resolution entitled, Women’s land and property rights and access to finance. It is vital that promote access to finance by poverty-stricken women. It is vital that we help them form cooperatives and other associations so that they make their voices heard. By helping them with finance, believe me, we make a big impact on urban poverty reduction.
And now I look to Kenya with heartfelt gratitude for introducing the resolution entitled, Sustainable public-private partnership incentives for attracting large-scale private sector investment in low-income housing. I am convinced that this further strengthens the focus on partnerships and the need to bring the private sector on board in our mission. We are all only too aware that governments alone cannot finance the amount of housing need to lift people out of slums. We have to have the private sector with us here.
The approval of our biennial work programme and budget is a standing agenda item of the Governing Council. Its approval this year, however, cannot be seen in any way as business as usual. The coincidence of the Medium-term Strategic and Institutional Plan with the work programme and budget posed many questions to which we had few answers when we embarked on this endeavour. Collective wisdom, however, has prevailed and we now have a clear path forward.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Emulating the best practice of the Latin American and Carribean region through MINURVI, we took an important step in helping to organise the African and Asian Ministerial Conferences on Housing and Urban Development in the past years. This opened a new chapter in our normative and advocacy work at the regional level and in galvanising political commitment for the attainment of human settlements related Millennium Development Goals. The resolution on Africa fund/financing mechanism on slum prevention and upgrading provides a new window of opportunity for tackling the social, economic and environmental consequences of the most rapidly urbanising region in the world. My staff and I will provide the full support required to make sure that such a mechanism is designed as a feasible and sustainable endeavour.
Allow me turn to the two landmark decisions of the Governing Council. I refer here to the resolution on the Medium-term Strategic and Institutional Plan and to the resolution entitled, Strengthening the Habitat and Human Settlements Foundation: experimental financial mechanisms for pro-poor housing and infrastructure. I have said on numerous occasions that these two initiatives are instrumental to the future of UN-Habitat, and that this Governing Council could well prove to be a watershed. The Medium-term Plan consolidates the gains we have made since UN-Habitat became a fully-fledged Programme. It provides a road-map for UN-Habitat to better assume its role in the coordinated implementation of the Habitat Agenda, in a reformed UN. It gives concrete expression to our quest, since Istanbul+5, to strengthen this organisation by sharpening its focus, aligning its work, and improving its management systems.
The resolution which I believe everybody now refers to as the “REFA – or Revolving Fund” provides the means for UN-Habitat to strengthen its role as a pre-investment catalyst, for bringing local initiatives in pro-poor housing and infrastructure to scale. Engaging in experimental mechanisms for financing pro-poor housing and urban development will, after a 30-year hiatus, enable us to begin to unlock a door that has prevented the majority of the urban poor from realising their full potential and their life-long aspirations for a safe and secure abode. I wish to thank those of you who, in the end, had to give us your trust and allow us to experiment and innovate in the elusive field of providing affordable housing to low income people in globalizing, predominantly market economies. I shall promise you this: that working with my dedicated staff, at the end of the day, and God willing, no one will be disappointed that you made this landmark decision.
As I mentioned earlier, we owe the success of this Governing Council to outstanding diplomacy and leadership. However, even the best leadership requires support. I would be remiss if I did not mention my deputy and my staff who toiled beyond the call of duty in providing that support. Ambassador Björk-Klevby, having joined us just over a year ago, immediately took the task of the Medium-term Plan to heart, assisted so ably and dedicatedly by my Strategic Policy Adviser, Mr. Nicholas You. While not losing site of all the staff who worked so hard in different capacities, let me also single out the Secretary to the Governing Council, Mr. Rolf Wichmann and his own team for working so hard in the preparations and deliverance of this Governing Council. I am proud to state, and I hope you will support me, that with very limited resources my staff have upheld the highest standards of professionalism. They worked as a true team, relaying each other and providing each other with moral and intellectual support. More importantly, as you have seen they believe in the mission, and I know that is my greatest asset. Please join me in giving them the recognition they deserve.
I am pleased to announce that the Dutch city of The Hague has been designated to spearhead the 2007 global celebration of World Habitat Day on Monday 1 October. The global celebrations will conclude in Monterrey, Mexico on 4 October. The theme this year is, “A safe city is a just city.”
The United Nations chose this year’s theme to raise awareness of the mounting threats to urban safety and social justice, particularly urban crime and violence, forced eviction and insecurity of tenure, and natural and human-made disasters. We shall be launching the 2007 Global Report on Human Settlements on this important subject, of Urban Safety and Security then.
May I also remind you all that on World Habitat Day, the Habitat Scroll of Honour award, the most prestigious award in our field, will be presented to individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions in shelter and human settlements. I welcome nominations for the Habitat Scroll of Honour awards for 2007. The submission guidelines are included in the World Habitat Day 2007 brochure distributed to delegates during the Governing Council and can also be found on UN-HABITAT's website. The deadline for submissions is 15 August 2007.
Distinguished Members of the Governing Council,
As you are aware, we shall all be meeting again next year in October, at the Fourth Session of the World Urban Forum, in the ancient Chinese city of Nanjing. The event is now schedule for late October, 2008 to ensure that it would not be overshadowed by the upcoming Olympic Games which as you know will be held in Beijing the same year. The theme will be ‘Harmonious Urbanization’. It was chosen to underscore the challenge of promoting balanced territorial development in the form of paying attention to rural-urban linkages and integrated city development strategies. Clearly, sustainable urbanization depends on a harmonious society, peaceful within itself and in balance with nature. Once again, I would like to thank the Government of China, the Mayor and People of Nanjing for offering to host us.
Vancouver 2006 was a great success, and defined the standards below which I know none of us wants to fall in terms of attendance, organization and substantive discussions. I therefore once again welcome all of you to this great dialogue event. I want to assure you that the Secretariat is ever ready to assist you in your preparations. I wish to appeal to all Members States and Partners in a position to do so, to provide generous financial and other contributions for the preparation and conduct of this important global gathering on human settlements issues that you have discussed in your legislative capacity. At the Forum you will be able to once again engage in open dialogue with all Habitat Agenda partners in pursuit of better policies and programmes to improve our living environment and turn around the lives of the billion plus who live in abject poverty without decent shelter.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In line with your decision, endorsed by the General Assembly, the convener of the World Urban Forum is the Executive Director. In that capacity, I would like to inform this August Council that the decision on the venue of the 5th Session of the World Urban Forum, 2010 is yet to be concluded. I shall therefore be very happy to receive offers from potential hosts, preferably for June, 2010 to avoid conflicting schedule with the Shanghai Expo of 2010 to which UN-HABITAT is Programme Manager for the entire UN pavilion. This great honour and responsibility has been bestowed upon us by our UN colleagues because the theme of the Expo is “Better City, Better Life”! It is yet evidence that given the great progress we have made, our mandate and capacity is now well recognized within the UN family of agencies and programmes! In this regard, I wish to inform this August Council that I have appointed Mr. Lars Reutersward, Director of the Human Settlements Development Division, as Commissioner General for the 2010 Expo, and Mr. Jianguo Shen, Senior Settlements Adviser, as his Deputy. In due course we shall furnish you with more details on the 2010 Shanghai Expo, which offers all of us yet another unique opportunity to showcase the progress made in delivering the Habitat Agenda. It is projected that some 70 million people will participate in that expo!
Distinguished Members of the Governing Council,
As I have stated often in our meetings, both in public and in private, I cannot emphasise too strongly that this organization cannot serve you well, let alone meet our mandate on behalf of the legions of the urban poor, if it remains under-funded. And so once again, I appeal to you to support us with the resources for the work programme budget you have approved so that we can meet the goals and priorities you have set for us. I wish to clarify once again, that the budget you have just proved is only indicative, we do not have the funds on our accounts. It is expected that upon your return home you will find how you can assist us raise these funds. It would be a pity for me to report to you, 2 years down the line that what has been agreed could not be implemented because the funding never materialized. I really appeal to you to work with us to solve this problem that has dogged the organization for far too long. In doing this let me thank all those delegations that have pledged financial support at this Governing Council.
In concluding, I wish to give you every assurance that under your continued support and guidance, I will work harder than ever on implementing the resolutions adopted by this Governing Council. UN-HABITAT will be playing a key and proactive role in the on-going UN reform and will keep you apprised of the progress.
Indeed, Ladies and Gentleman, as we move to the next World Urban Forum in Nanjing thanks to the generous support of the People’s Republic of China, we will do everything to keep the Vancouver promise to turn ideas into action.
In parting company today, I would like once again to remind you about assessing the Governing Council. A questionnaire has been distributed and I hereby invite you all to complete it before you leave. Your feedback will help us improve the planning and preparation of future sessions of the Governing Council.
I thank you for your kind attention and wish you all a safe journey home.