Against a backdrop of growing concerns at the impact of climate change and the global financial crisis that has jolted the housing sector, UN-HABITAT made final preparations for a weeklong meeting of governments that will set the agency’s work programme and budget for the next two years.
The week-long 22nd session of the Governing Council will see government ministers, senior officials and local authority representatives join civil society and corporate captains to deliberate on funding for shelter, better service delivery and other poverty reduction measures in a rapidly urbanizing world.
Fresh from hosting the successful Fourth Session of the World Urban Forum in Nanjing, China last November, UN-HABITAT will once again use this platform to bring human settlement challenges to the discussion table.
The Governing Council meets every two years to examine UN-HABITAT's work programme and relationships with its partners. The Council is composed of 58 member states. It is a high-level forum of governments at the ministerial level during which policy guidelines and the Organization's budget are established for the next two-year period.
Housing finance will be the main theme of the 22nd session. The United Nations General Assembly earlier suggested that affordable finance is particularly important because the current financial crisis threatens to make access to housing credit even more difficult. At the same time, the economic downturn caused by the financial crisis is very likely to result in a drop in government revenues and to public expenditures for improving urban infrastructure and services.
This trend is further exacerbated by the increasing impact and effects of climate change on cities. Currently, there are an estimated 1 billion people living in urban slums and informal settlements. These are the people that are most at risk when it comes to floods, drought and other extreme weather patterns.
Improving the housing and infrastructure conditions of slum dwellers is by far the most effective means of improving the resilience of the majority of urban populations living in rapidly urbanizing cities to the potential devastating effects of climate change. The Governing Council will discuss policy options and practical approaches to these problems.
At next week’s meeting, the council will also approve the work programme of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme and budget of the United Nations Habitat and Human Settlements Foundation for the biennium 2010–2011.
Of interest is the announcement this week that the agency would be providing financial assistance to urban based youth-led organizations in developing countries who are working to improve the living conditions of their communities..
The Opportunities Fund for Urban Youth Led Development will provide grants between USD5,000 and USD25,000 to organizations led by young people, aged 15-32 years.
"In this time of worldwide economic crisis, it is not only banks and automakers who deserve financial support, we also need to encourage youth who are often best placed to solve problems in their communities," said Ms. Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of UN-HABITAT. "The Opportunities Fund is designed to provide financial support of up to one million dollars per year, to youth-led initiatives aimed at sustainable urbanization. We must harness the energies of the young if we are to overcome the problems of urban poverty."
Of the one billion slum dwellers in the world today, it is estimated that more than 70% are under the age of 30. Yet these young people have few resources available to improve their own living environment. This is a major oversight as there are many youth-led initiatives in slums and squatter settlements that are in urgent need of financial support.
The Opportunities Fund for Urban Youth-Led Development has been established with support from the Norwegian Government specifically to provide funds to youth-led community initiatives. The initial grant is for two million dollars over two years with a possibility of renewal.
Civil society, academic institutions, private firms and other interested parties will also have the chance to showcase their products and activities at the exhibition running during the Governing Council.