The second Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development (APMCHUD) held in the Iranian capital Tehran brought a fresh focus on sustainable urban development through associating growth with equity and identity.
Drawing government ministers and representatives from 37 countries, the three-day meeting 12-15 May 2008, led to the adoption of an action plan to guide regional cooperation in the area of sustainable urban development, which also underpins UN-HABITAT’s Medium-term Strategic and Institutional Plan for 2008-2011. The action plan focuses on five key themes –
urban and rural planning management, urban slum upgrading, water and sanitation, housing finance and natural disasters.
In his opening address, Mr. Mohammad Saieedikia, Minister for Housing and Urban Development of the Islamic Republic of Iran, expressed concern over the rapid pace of urbanisation in the Asia-Pacific region and the associated consequences for social and environmental sustainability, including growing inequality and threats to cultural identity and heritage.
Indeed, it was indicated during the course of the meeting that, with the current average urbanization rate of 42 percent and a growth rate of 2.5 percent in the region, cities in the Asia Pacific will have to accommodate an additional 1.7 billion people in the next 40 years. This will represent a doubling of the current urban population.
India’s Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, Ms. Kumari Selja, whose country hosted the inaugural APMCHUD session in December 2006, called for the expansion housing finance strategies to improve affordability and access, especially to curb the proliferation of slums and information settlements in cities of the region. Noting the challenge of widespread inequality and poverty in cities in the region, she appealed for “comprehensive strategies for an inclusive growth and equitable approach whereby the quality of life of all the citizens are improved at large”.
In her keynote address during the Ministerial Plenary session, the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, noted that the transformation of the human species into a ‘homo urbanus’- that is an urban creature- would have serious policy ramifications for countries in the Asia-Pacific region as they seek to respond to the challenges of urbanisation.
She further emphasised the increasingly strategic role of the region not only in geographic and demographic terms but also as a locus of technological change and transformation, global productivity and competitiveness, all of which can be harnessed to foster sustainable urban development. She especially encouraged Ministers to consider cities and towns as engines of economic growth that trigger and provide the momentum for economic growth and social opportunities.
During the Ministerial Plenary, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad emphasised the importance of shelter as a fundamental element of human dignity. He also strongly advocated the importance of addressing marginalisation and social exclusion in cities. He further called on Ministers to prioritise the preservation of the rich and ancient cultural identities and heritage of cities across the region.
While the Asia-Pacific region is faced with several challenges of sustainable urbanisation, Mr. Daniel Biau, Director of Regional and Technical Cooperation at UN-HABITAT underscored what he called the remarkable innovations are also being introduced in the areas of housing and urban development. He further indicated that the meeting should lead to concrete efforts and increased regional cooperation in order to make a difference in the living conditions in cities and other human settlements in the region.
The meeting also adopted a final declaration.