Opening Statement by
Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka
Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations
Executive Director of UN-HABITAT
At the occasion of the opening ceremony of the
FIRST HABITAT BUSINESS FORUM
Tuesday 7 July 2009
Your Excellency, Kumari Selja, Honorable Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation and Minister of Tourism of the Republic of India
Your Excellency Mr. Ramachandran, Secretary, Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation,
Excellencies of the Diplomatic Community,
Mr. Harsh Pati Singhania, President of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FICCI)
Dr Amit Mitra, Secretary General of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FICCI),
Esteemed representatives of the Business Community from India, China and all over the World,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I wish to thank the Government of India for hosting the First Habitat Business Forum in New Delhi. It is indeed most appropriate to launch the Habitat Business Forum in one of the largest countries and one of the most vibrant economies in the World.
Honorable Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation and Tourism, Mrs. Kumari Selja,
I would like to thank your Government for taking a special interest in this initiative. Your presence is a testimony to your vision for a more prosperous and harmonious society by harnessing the capacities of the private sector and by focusing on urban development. We know the enormous achievements made by your country to develop its urban infrastructure and the way you have facilitated the involvement of the private sector in this endeavour.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your personal support to UN-HABITAT, particularly to our Governing Council, in which you have played a remarkable role. I am now again very grateful for your support to the Habitat Business Forum. We are indeed very fortunate to have you continue to work in housing and urban affairs and we look forward to many more years of close cooperation.
Mr. Singhania, Dr. Mitra,
I am extremely grateful to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FICCI) for having taken the lead in organizing the Habitat Business Forum. I would like also to extend my thanks to Mrs. Mousumi Roy, your Joint Director and Team Leader of the Real Estate & Urban Infrastructure Division, who helped made this happen.
Finally, I would like to thank the business community for being here. I am delighted to be with you today because the private sector is now at the heart of our work. I am particularly impressed by the large number of people who have come from afar despite the fact that we are going through a global financial crisis.
I would like to recognize our corporate sponsors who have this event possible, especially VEOLIA, BASF, CISCO, BMPTC, HUDCO, the National Housing Bank and the Central Bank of India for their generous support. I want to also thank the two State Sponsors that are the Governments of Rajasthan and Punjab.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As you know, we have entered into an urban millennium where, for the first time in history, more than half of humanity is living in towns and cities. Urbanisation has brought with it many opportunities for accelerated growth and development. But it has also resulted in many problems. Currently, close to one billion people are living in slums, informal settlements and sub-standard housing. Over the next 25 years, over 2 billion people will be added to our towns and cities in need of housing, safe water, decent sanitation and other basic services.
UN-Habitat, the agency for cities, is convinced that the only way we can meet this demand is through public-private-community partnerships where resources are leveraged to create lasting value and sustainable solutions.
The city of tomorrow is a city that is not only efficient and clean but also socially inclusive and economically vibrant. It must be a city where the short-term objectives can be met without compromising longer-term goals.
As you know, the Habitat Business Forum is the first Forum of its kind. It represents a new platform for the private sector to engage in policy dialogue and debate on urban issues at the highest level. It is also an opportunity to showcase what the private sector does best in terms of innovation and finding practical solutions to common problems.
You will concur with me that the challenges are complex and interlinked and we need to unpack them to be able to address them effectively.
First of all, we are going through a global financial crisis. While China and India seem to be relatively unscathed, the crisis has implied dramatic fiscal and revenue reductions in most countries and cities, affecting investment and development. Business is seriously affected in countries rich or poor with enormous job losses.
Secondly, we are facing another great challenge that is climate change. And, as you know, global warming is even more global by nature than the financial crisis, with anticipated disastrous consequences on human lives. The climate change effects on cities have already materialized in some parts of the world. And much like the financial crisis, those who are the worst affected by climate change are those who contributed the least to its cause.
To these two crises, we have to add the recent fuel and food crises. The combined impact, according to recent estimates, is that over 100 million people will fall below the poverty line.
Not only are these crises interlinked but they are also the result of poorly planned and managed urbanisation that leads to the unsustainable use of water, land, energy and other natural resources. The inevitable impact of these trends is a vicious cycle of rising costs of production and consumption.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As you also know, with half of humanity is living in urban areas, cities already consume 75% of the world’s energy. They generate 80% of all waste and they are directly responsible for up to 60% of GHG emissions. The ecological footprint of megacities and large metropolises is growing at an alarming rate. At the same time, this means that solutions to global warming have to be found in cities.
In times like these, innovation – the development of new products, processes, and new business and governance models – are required to ensure sustainable growth and improved equity.
Looking at the past, we can also state that the sector that is most capable of stimulating growth while reducing poverty is the housing and urban development sector. We all know that investments in housing and urban infrastructure serve as a key engine of economic growth and as a key means of creating household wealth. Considering the enormous backlog of affordable housing and basic infrastructure in most of the growing cities of the world, investments in the housing sector will remain a major growth opportunity for many years to come.
However, to succeed, we need to develop sound policy frameworks. The purpose of the Habitat Business Awards is precisely to lack at success stories and to extract lessons learned to better inform new ways of doing business, new policy frameworks and new paradigms for the future.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Allow me to just mention two examples from our award-winning practices. The first one I would like to mention is a mobile phone money transfer system called M-Pesa. Barely a few years ago, the vast majority of Kenya’s population, especially women and youth, could not open a bank account. Most of them simply could not meet the stringent minimum requirements to do so, and even if they could, the ledger fees were simply outrageous. Millions of workers relied on friends or relatives to transfer money from the city to the village, or relied on cash to pay for everything from school fees to medical bills. Since M-Pesa has been established, banking is now both accessible and affordable for the vast majority of Kenyans. But, this is not banking in the traditional sense at all. In fact, it is a business model that is forcing conventional banking to re-examine their practices and to realize what Mohamed Yunus has been saying for decades, that poor people are bankable.
In Mexico, Cemex, one of the world’s largest cement companies, is another award winner. Through their ‘Patrimonio Hoy’ initiative, they have made small quantities of cement and other building materials available to low-income households at normal prices. This represents tremendous savings for low-income people who, because of the incremental way they build their houses, previously had to buy their building materials at greatly inflated prices, not to mention materials which often were of dubious quality. “Patrimonio Hoy” which can be translated as “A Home Now or Today” serves hundreds of thousands of people and has become a very attractive and compelling brand.
Both of these examples represent win-win solutions and demonstrate that doing business at the bottom of the pyramid is good business. They also provide a very useful lesson, namely that reaching out to the bottom of the pyramid is not about philanthropy or about corporate social responsibility, it is about innovative core business practice.
The aim of the Habitat Business Forum is to provide a platform to share best business practices and encourage the up-scaling of innovations, and to make these known to a wider audience, including policy makers. The award winning practices that we are celebrating here today do not stop here. We are committed to bringing the lessons learned from these and other deserving practices to other forums such as our Habitat Professionals Forum and, not least, to the World Urban Forum.
Basically what these practices are telling us is that it is indeed possible to harness the positive aspects of urbanisation, in terms of economic growth and opportunity, at the same time as we promote social inclusion and smarter growth. As well, these practices suggest that it is those such as women and youth, who make up large parts of the global population and yet are often the most marginalized, can lead the way in developing innovative solutions to global urban challenges, As the trend towards urbanisation accelerates, we must constantly ask ourselves how we can make urbanization the cornerstone of a new inclusive civilization - and how can we help create vibrant and socially cohesive urban communities?
Ladies and gentlemen,
This first Habitat Business Forum is a key moment for UN-Habitat. In this time of global financial and environmental crises, it is crucial to ask ourselves what are the right solutions for our common future. I would say even further that it has become vital for our planet earth to think of the best ways to invest in cities and reinvent cities.
To do so, all partners, national governments, local authorities, the civil society and the private sector, need to focus on encouraging green urban policies, building sustainable urban communities and supporting innovation. It is UN-Habitat’s role to learn from partners and bring partners together in that endeavour.
I would like to wish you the most fruitful exchanges during these three days so that we start gathering better knowledge from better practices. I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to the next session World Urban Forum that will be held in Rio de Janeiro in March 2010. The World Urban Forum is the main platform where all partners meet every two years. You will be able to bring the views of the business community and exchange with the other partners, be Mayors, Ministers, Civil society organizations representatives, planners and other professionals.
I would like to also announce that we are about to start our World Urban Campaign, a landmark initiative which will promote a positive vision for sustainable urbanization. This vision will be forged through consultation with cities, governments and Habitat partners. In 2009-2010, the theme of the World Urban Campaign will be ‘Better City, Better Life’, also the theme of the 2010 Shanghai World Expo to be held from 1 May to 31 October 2010.
I would like to invite you to join the World Urban Campaign by taking part in the various activities that will also provide you with a platform to promote your work, your best practices, and your visions for better and more sustainable cities and communities.
Once more, I would like to thank the Government of India for hosting the Habitat Business Forum and FICCI for organizing the event in a big way.
I wish you fruitful discussions and productive results.Thank you for your kind attention.