The Sixth European Forum of the Global Parliamentarians on Habitat
“GOOD LAWS FOR A BETTER LIFE IN CITIES”
Anna K. Tibaijuka
Under- Secretary-General of the United Nations
Executive Director of UN-HABITAT
Bucharest, Romania, 23-24 April 2008
Senator Eloy Cantu Segovia, President of the Global Parliamentarians on Habitat,
Hon Peter Goetz, European President of the Global Parliamentarians on Habitat,
Hon. Traian Constantin Igas, Vice President of the Commission for Public Administration Territorial Planning and Vice President of European Board of Directors of GPH,
Honourable Members of the European Board of Directors of the Global Parliamentarians on Habitat,
Hon. Members of Parliament,
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish to express my sincere appreciation to the Global Parliamentarians on Habitat (GPH) for inviting me to participate at this sixth European Forum being held in this beautiful capital city of Bucharest.
It is unfortunate that at this time I am not able to attend in person due to other commitments. However, I wish you fruitful deliberations and great success in the outcome of this conference.
The topic of the conference “Good Laws for a Better Life in Cities” is very important and timely. As you are all aware, sometime last year a baby was born who tipped the demographic scale and humankind as a whole crossed the Rubicon and became a pre-dominantly urban species. This baby is a symbol of the radical transformation in terms of where people live and how they will live in the 21st century. Indeed, the majority of the human population is now residing in urban centres and the process of urbanisation is accelerating.
It is projected that in the next fifty years, two-thirds of humanity will be living in towns and cities compared to 29 percent in 1950. By 2025, more than a dozen urban agglomerations will have over 20 million inhabitants, and some will have over 30 million. Twenty-three of the 25 biggest urban agglomerations will be in the developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Cities are increasingly assuming a leadership role in a globalizing marketplace. With the liberalization of the world’s economy, human, technological and financial resources are concentrating in cities. Hong Kong, London, New York and Tokyo have become global centres of financial services followed closely by Frankfurt, Sao Paolo, Shanghai and Singapore. Cities such as Dubai have capitalized on their physical location to become a global transportation and trading hub. Yet other city-regions such as Bangalore have emerged as key players in information technology.
Cities and metropolitan-regions are our greatest potential to make globalisation work for development. They attract investment and create wealth. They enhance social development and harness human and technological resources, resulting in unprecedented gains in productivity and competitiveness. Indeed, cities are the repositories of knowledge and the agents of socio-political change.
The paradox is that cities have also become a locus of excruciating poverty and deprivation. This is particularly the case in developing countries. Rapid and chaotic urbanisation is being accompanied by increasing inequalities which pose enormous challenges to human security and safety.
My organisation, UN-HABITAT, has been raising a red flag for several years on the rapid and chaotic aspects of urbanisation and of the plight of the one billion urban dwellers all over the world that eke out an existence in slums deprived of the most basic amenities such as water, sanitation, security of tenure, durable housing and sufficient living space. The deprivation suffered by these people constitutes a major threat not only to their welfare, but also to the overall stability of their respective societies. If present trends continue, their numbers are likely to increase to two billion by 2030. If immediate and effective interventions are not made today, this situation will clearly become a threat to peace and security.
The way forward
The challenges before us are substantial. “Better life in cities” covers a wide range of issues in global terms. In Nairobi, Kenya, where UN-HABITAT has its headquarters, two out of three people live in life-threatening slums. For them, better life means first and foremost some form of security of tenure, where their homes can be recognized as houses, and that they not be threatened constantly by eviction. For their families, better life means removing the numerous barriers, often of a legal nature, that prevent them from gaining access to basic services, such as water, sanitation, and electricity. I refer here to the fact that in many developing country cities, a slum is not an officially recognized address, and without an address you cannot even apply for a water connection, an electricity connection, not to mention a bank account.
In Miami-Dade County, one of the planet’s most vulnerable metropolitan areas to the consequences of climate change, a better life is very much dependent on immediate and aggressive adaptation and mitigation measures.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In conclusion, “Good Laws for Better Cities” will mean different things to different people. But there is a common thread. We know that “better cities” also depends very much on empowering cities to do better. To this end, the Governing Council of UN-HABITAT at its 21st session in April last year, finally adopted the “Guidelines on Decentralisation”. Work on these guidelines was initiated a decade ago and inspired by the European Charter on Local Self Government.
We are now following-up on these globally agreed set of norms to translate them into reality. A series of regional workshops will be held this year and next year to take stock of where each country stands, including what new and improved legislation would be required at the national level.
Our Governing Council also gave us the green light to forge ahead with the development of guidelines for “access to basic services”. Learning from our previous experience with the guidelines on decentralisation, we will seek to engage all stakeholders in consultations that will lead to a fast-track formulation and negotiation process and outcome.
Ladies and gentlemen,
“Good Laws for Better Cities” is an endeavour that has to be pursued on all fronts, at the national, regional and international levels. We are committed to doing our part as the lead UN Agency for Housing and Urban Development. We are committed to working with you hand-in-hand to ensure that our efforts in global norm-setting dovetail with your efforts in adopting more enabling policies and legislation at the national level.
For this reason we are proposing that the high-level segment of ECOSOC being held in New York in June this year consider the urban agenda as a cross-cutting issue in its present and future deliberations. This would ensure that the urban dimension and the role of cities be included in the debate and decisions on all issues, ranging from heath to climate change, and from energy to safety. Your support through your national delegations to ECOSOC will be critical to this endeavour.
Finally, as you are aware, the Fourth World Urban Forum is being hosted by Nanjing, China from 3-7 November 2008. A Parliamentarians Round Table is being organized on the theme of “Cities and Climate Change and the role of Global Parliamentarians". The main objective of this meeting is to bring parliamentarians together to create a common understanding and commitment on the issue of Cities and Climate Change, and to compare good policies and enabling legislation.
As the World Urban Forum has come of age, our Governing Council is very much expecting that meetings such as the Parliamentarians’ Round Table feed directly into the work of UN-HABITAT so as to better inform the decisions of the Council.
In conclusion, I eagerly await the outcome of your deliberations here in Bucharest so that they can brought forward to Nanjing later this year and to the 22nd session of the Governing Council of UN-HABITAT in 2009.
I thank you for your kind attention.