More than 500 youth activists from over 50 countries world-wide, gathered on Saturday in Nanjing, China, for the opening of the UN-HABITAT World Urban Youth Forum.
The two-day conference, hosted by the Nanjing Municipal Committee of the Chinese Communist Party Youth League, is third biennial session of its kind, and takes place traditionally on the eve of the World Urban Forum. This year, youth delegates discussed theme, "Harmonious Urbanization: The Challenge of Balanced Territorial Development."
The opening ceremony of the forum affirmed the commitment of global leaders on urbanization to fostering youth led development. The Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, noted that now is the "dawn of a new urban era," with half of the world's population already living in towns and cities, and a projected increase to two-thirds, by the year 2030. She emphasized that the only way to meet the challenge of urbanization was through genuine "dialogues among young people." She recognized, as is evident in the area of information communications technology, that creativity and innovation are the hallmarks of youth, and that this is key to overcoming the challenges of poverty and urbanization.
Ms. Xu Huiling, a member of Standing Committee of the Nanjing Municipality , welcomed all the youth participants and wished them well in their dialogues and future collaboration.
UN-HABITAT's Youth Ambassador, former Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano, said that in that in his role he was looking for leadership and guidance from youth to fully discharge his duty.
The Assistant Director General of the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, Norway, Mr. Per Nygaard announced that Norway had reached its commitment to a development assistance target of 1% of GDP. He highlighted the new UN-HABITAT Opportunities Fund for Urban Youth Led Development as an example of Norway's commitment to youth.
Youth representatives from Africa, Asia, North America, and Latin America, were also given the opportunity to air their views. When asked what the change that government and international organizations such as UN-HABITAT could do to help young people, Martin Rivera of Colombia, representing Latin America, said: "We are the ones who can be creative, and who have the power to think without boundaries, and work for the change." Wang Yu, representing Asian youth, said that in Asian mega cities, the talent and energy of youth is crucial in solving the current global financial and environmental challenges.
Many of the youth representatives recognized the importance of the Youth Fund that UN-HABITAT will formally launch on 4 November 2008. It was further noted that harmonious urbanization requires a process in which both youth and policy makers interact with each other instead of one direction. For example, the creation advisory councils for UN-HABITAT's Youth Fund and THE World Urban Forum were suggested as ways of boosting cooperation.
In futher debate, young practitioners of global grassroots initiatives, will engage with experts from the public and private sectors on how to youth can address urban challenges such as climate change, HIV/AIDS, sports inclusion in cities, child and youth-friendly cities. The sessions on Saturday stressed the greater inclusion of young people as co-managers in development policies and creation of youth-friendly cities. There is a greater need for local authorities to play an active role in the involvement of young people in youth led development.