Address by Mrs. Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka
Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations
Executive Director of UN-HABITAT
At the Youth Forum of the Third Session of the World Urban Forum
(Vancouver, Canada 16-18 June2006)
Your Excellency, Joachim Chissano, the former President of Mozambique,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish to open my address to you with a special word of tribute and appreciation to our great friend and tireless supporter, Mr. Joachim Chissano, the former President of Mozambique. As many of you know, he has most graciously agreed to serve as the UN-HABITAT Youth Ambassador for the Global Partnership Initiative for Urban Youth Development in Africa. We could not wish to have anyone better qualified to speak for young people, to ensure that your concerns remain high on the international agenda.
Mr. President, your presence here today shows how seriously you consider the issues facing young people in our rapidly urbanising world. Please give him a hand of applause.
Your important mission as Youth Ambassador, especially in African cities, but also elsewhere in the developing world, will prove invaluable to us in our drive for better employment and capacity building, crime prevention, urban governance and regional networking. We are delighted that you join hands with us today, with our children, on the frontlines of the battle against AIDS, poverty, social exclusion, unemployment and other problems that threaten to derail equitable development and sustainable urbanisation.
Africa is the fastest urbanising continent in the world today. The annual average urban growth rate is 4 percent, twice as high as Latin America and Asia. Already, 37 percent of Africans live in cities, and by the year 2030 this is expected to rise to 53 percent.
Research conducted by UN-HABITAT, the UN Agency for Cities and other Human Settlements of which I am the Executive Director, shows that sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s largest proportion of urban residents living in slums. These slums are home to 72 percent of urban Africa’s citizens. That percentage represents a total of 187 million people. These figures show that the locus of absolute poverty in Africa is shifting to urban areas. In fact, slums are among the most dangerous living environments in the world. For example, it is estimated that there are around 90 infant deaths per 1,000 in urban slums as compared to 76 in rural areas, and 57 in the rest of the city.
On a global scale, according to the International Labour Organization, young people constitute nearly a fifth of the world’s population. Close of 85 percent of the 1 billion young men and women in the world aged between 15 and 24 live in developing countries. Asia is home to 60 percent of them, Africa15 percent, Latin America and the Caribbean 10 percent. The remaining 15 percent live in the developed countries.
In an age where young people are better educated than every before, where they have a better knowledge of the world around them than their parents could ever have hoped for, they also face unprecedented problems of poverty, discrimination and inequality. Thus 40 percent of the world’s 160 million unemployed people are young people aged between 15 and 24. And more than 130 million youths in this age group are illiterate. In sub-Saharan Africa alone less than 20 percent complete secondary school.
These shocking facts and figures explain in part why young people are so vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies, early marriages, prostitution, drug abuse, crime, and AIDS. This is why we are working to keep the candle of hope burning for young people by investing in them and by consulting them. The exclusion of so many young people around the world from decision-making, education, health, and from basic services is both a violation of their human and civil rights, and a failure of sound economic policy.
Slums are a hub of rising crime and violence. We must remember that in this global village, someone else’s poverty and deprivation very soon becomes one’s own problem: be it poor job prospects, illegal immigration, pollution, AIDS, other diseases, insecurity, and crime. Eventually, it leads to fanaticism and terrorism.
To quote the great founding father of modern India, Mahatma Gandhi, many, many years ago: “If we wish to create a lasting peace we must begin with the children.”
Of the estimated 1 billion people living in slums and inner cities, more than half are comprised of youth under the age of 25 and 40 percent are estimated to be under the age of 19. They are the primary victims of poverty. Despite this potentially explosive situation, the problems of urban youth living in poverty are largely absent in urban policies and strategies. Furthermore, urban youth, are too often perceived by public authorities as a problem rather than part of effective solutions.
This is why, more recently, the UN Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, took Gandhi’s message further, when he said: “Young people should never be seen as a burden on any society, but as its most precious asset.”
We at the United Nations have long recognized that the world's youth are a resource for the advancement of societies; indeed they are often the leaders of social, political and technological developments. They should not be seen as a problem, but as a force for change. In UN-HABITAT we see that the imagination, ideals and energies of young women and men are vital for the continuing development of societies in which they live.
There are many examples of many youth-led processes that are working and making a difference in society even with minimal resources. So what is required is to provide them with an enabling environment that will facilitate the replication of these initiatives.
Thanks to your efforts in that 15 to 24 age group, I am delighted to see that this youth forum is probably the largest one of its kind UN-HABITAT has been able to convene. This is an excellent example young people setting the agenda to exchange views on what they deem important.
As young people, you have a pivotal role to play in helping us achieve the Millennium Development Goals, especially those pertaining to improving education, the health of women, forging new networks to reduce poverty, and not least, Target 11 which seeks, and I quote: “to achieve significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum-dwellers by 2020”. In Goal 8, world leaders committed themselves, and I quote again, “to develop decent productive work for youth.”
Young people have always been part and parcel of our work at UN-HABITAT. The Governing Council, comprising the governments which oversee us and set out our work programme, enshrined this in their Resolution 20/1 on Youth and Human Settlements.
Our own Habitat Agenda, another framework to which world governments committed themselves, specifically recommends a participatory approach to promote employment, training, and crime prevention. It also stresses the role of young people in the alleviation of poverty and inequality. We have demonstrated this through projects such as the One Stop Youth information and Resource Centre in Nairobi. It is run in partnership with government, civil society organisations, the private sector, and UN agencies. In just three years, it has drawn more than 7,000 young Kenyans.
I am also happy to learn that such a centre is to open here in Vancouver. And it gives me great pleasure to invite you to see some of their work on display at our World Urban Forum exhibition. Here, you will be able to see a fascinating gallery of life in the slums through pictures taken by young people given cameras and assigned to tell their stories of life as they see it.
For such initiatives to have a real impact on poverty reduction, it is essential that financial commitments to youth led processes are substantially increased. Additionally, it would be useful to explore the power in forming strategic partnerships and alliances because this task is too great for one single agency or government. We welcome your ideas here as the leaders of tomorrow.
And finally, I wish to commend the Environmental Youth Alliance for hosting this forum’s youth programme. It is thanks in part to your efforts that today we are able to sign cooperation agreements with YouthBuild International, Computer Aid and the Oslo Youth Information Centre. All are working with us in Africa in a variety or projects and exchange programmes.
I do hope that the signing of these agreements can contribute to the ideal of youth-led development, which is so essential to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Nature dictates that youth have energy to spare and the eagerness to use it. Worldwide, young people are already dedicated to addressing their communities’ needs. Youth-led development offers the most cost effective development action.
Before handing the floor to President Chissano, our new Youth Ambassador, I would like to invite the leaders of the organizations to sign our new cooperation agreements.
I thank you for your attention.