In a world confronted by surging food and oil prices, this year’s session of the Economic and Social Council, one of the three principal organs of the United Nations, is dedicated to highlighting the crisis facing developing countries.
Speaking at the Ministerial Round Table, UN-HABITAT Executive Director Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka pointed out that one of the critical structural problems confronting most developing countries was the lack of well planned infrastructure that linked rural and urban areas. It is not possible to have successful agricultural development without well functioning urban centres, she said.
“Without decent infrastructure, rural products cannot get to markets. At a time when the world is urbanising faster than ever before, it is critical to encourage balanced territorial development in developing countries.”
As conclusions reached by ECOSOC influence future development strategies with donors, the international community and within the UN, Mrs. Tibaijuka tabled this message at a number of events during the week in New York.
At the High Level Roundtable on “The role of ecosystem services in sustainable development’ a number of delegates linked the current global food and energy crisis to the impact of climate change, arguing that in turn, these were all closely linked to rapid loss of biodiversity. Mr. Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), therefore called for increased awareness of the role of ecosystems in designing sustainable development.
He was supported by Mr. Ahmed Djoghalf, the Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the Convention on Bio-Diversity. Mr. Djoghalf reminded the delegates that in the era of Homo Urbanus, it was even more critical to ensure that urban development did not lead to a further loss of biodiversity.
Mrs. Tibaijuka emphasized this message and said the only way to control the ecological footprint of cities was to ensure better management of human settlements. Instead of the current tendency towards chaotic urbanisation, Tibaijuka advocated sustainable urban development that was sensitive to the surrounding ecosystem.
On the last day of the high level segment of ECOSOC, Mrs. Tibaijuka participated in the Roundtable on ‘Harnessing the current boom in agricultural commodities for poverty eradication and sustainable development: the case of small farmers’. Organised by a number of UN agencies including UN-HABITAT, the aim of this roundtable was to identify new ways to boost farming output by empowering smallholders.
In her address as chief discussant, Mrs. Tibaijuka called upon the delegates to reflect on the current failure of agricultural policies, especially in Africa, where increasing numbers of small holders were being pushed into the slums of fast growing cities and towns. She said that though historically, increased agricultural productivity pushed people off the land to work in urban areas, Africa in particular was faced by premature urbanisation. It was therefore critical to reflect on improving agricultural policies within the current context of rapid urbanisation. She said delegates should stop thinking in terms of the traditional rural urban dichotomy but recommended that they encourage rural urban linkages that would be beneficial to both.
In his address at the opening debate, Mr. Leo Merores, the ECOSOC President, said that sustainable development was the best way to achieve progress and that everyone needed to work together in order to set into motion long term steps which help address the structural and systemic problems which have led to the current crisis.
The Secretary-General’s report which was introduced at the opening session by Mr. Thomas Seltzer, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, specifically states that “with half of humankind now living in cities, planning for sustainable urbanisation can only be pursued effectively with the full engagement of all stakeholders.” The importance of sustainable urbanisation was also the main theme of the Annual Ministerial Review of the Regional Preparatory Meeting which was recently held in Bahrain.