EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF UN-HABITAT
XVIII ASSEMBLY OF MINISTERS AND LEAD AUTHORITIES OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT IN LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN (MINURVI)
MONTEGO BAY, JAMAICA
16 JULY 2009
Your Excellency Hon Bruce Golding ,Prime Minister of Jamiaca,
Hon, Dr. Horace Chang, Minister of Water and Housing for Jamaica, and President of MINURVI,
Hon. Gustavo Eduardo Duran Borelli, President of the National Council of Housing of Argentina and Technical Secretary of MINURVI.
Hon. Mr. Clifford Warmington, Minister of State of Water and Housing and President of UN-HABITAT Governing Council;
And Councillor Charles Sinclair Jnr. the Mayor of Montego Bay
Members of the diplomatic corps
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me thank the Government of Jamaica and the Secretariat of MINURVI for giving me the opportunity to address you on this august occasion.
I am delighted to be in this beautiful island nation, the birthplace of two great men who have left their mark in the history of liberation. I refer here to one of the pioneers of the Black Africanist movement, and to one of the greatest artist of our time who deeply influenced the cultural and music scene of Africa and the world with his songs of liberation. I am speaking about Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
The Latin America and Caribbean region is a living laboratory for housing and urban development. It is a place where wealth and national GDPs are better compared to other developing regions. But it is still a place where large segments of the population live in relative or extreme poverty. It is a region where the political, economic and cultural history is strongly rooted in rural hinterlands, yet it is the region with the highest rate of urbanization in the developing world. It is a region that has been torn by violence and conflict, yet it is also the region where democracy and good governance have made tremendous gains.
These contrasts form part of the Latin American and Caribbean experience in urbanisation and development. Lessons learned from this region are critical to furthering our understanding of how these processes inter-relate with one another. This understanding and the knowledge that goes with it are of paramount importance to other developing regions that are experiencing rapid urbanisation.
For this reason, I have personally led a campaign for Africa and Asia to emulate the example of MINURVI through the establishment of the African and Asian Ministerial Meetings on Housing and Urban Development, which are now firmly established as annual meetings. Our efforts are now focused on doing the same for Eastern and Central Europe and Arab States.
Since the adoption of the Habitat Agenda in Istanbul in 1996, and its review by the General Assembly in 2001, UN-Habitat has been sending out a consistent set of messages.
The first message is that decent housing and universal access to basic urban services is critical to the attainment of internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals.
In an increasingly urbanising world, our sectoral efforts to improve health, education, gender equality, and social integration can no longer be dissociated from the physical conditions and well-being of the urban population.
The World Health Organisation is publishing this autumn a major new document on the social determinants of health. I was invited to serve as one of the Commissioners that has produced the report. One of the conclusions we reached is that health depends to an ever growing extent on housing conditions and access to basic services. The implications are very clear. The health of nations depends on addressing inadequate living conditions and poor housing quality, and eliminating housing categorized as slums.
The second message that we have consistently sent out is that, in a globalising world economy, the wealth of nations depends on how well we manage our towns and cities. Cities are the engines of economic growth and the nodes of international trade and commerce. Contrary to the predictions of some futurists a decade ago about the diminishing importance of cities with the advent of the internet, cities today are at the forefront of the information society. It is in our cities that human ingenuity is being harnessed to develop new tools and to generate new knowledge to sustain economic growth and prosperity. From that perspective, this exodus or movement of people prophesied by Bob Marley is not necessarily a bad thing, especially as it offers great opportunities, provided that the factors which can erode its benefits are managed and prevailed upon. In urban areas we need to balance the 3 Es, namely, ecology, economy and equity.
It follows that the third message that UN-Habitat has underscored for the past decade, is that sustainable development depends ultimately on sustainable urban development.
This message has finally been validated by the findings of the International Panel of Experts on Climate Change. With just half of the world’s population living in urban areas, cities already consume over 65 percent of the world’s energy, contribute to over 75 percent of all forms of waste, and are directly accountable for over 65 percent of green house gas emissions.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The full significance of these findings is yet to be appreciated. These findings mean that the Habitat Agenda, perceived as a predominantly national or local agenda, known as the “brown agenda” can no longer be dissociated from the global environmental agenda, popularly known as the “green agenda”. Cities are, de facto, the frontline actors in meeting the challenges of climate change. Cities have to be part of the solution.
At the same time, cities harbour the single biggest group of people who are vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change. How many of our major cities are coastal or riparian cities? How many of our cities depend on glaciers, forests and watersheds for water? How many people live in slums, informal settlements and sub-standard housing whose lives and livelihoods are at risk because of rising sea levels and extreme weather patterns?
For this reason, UN-Habitat is launching two new initiatives. The first one is the World Urban Campaign devoted to elevating the importance accorded to sustainable urbanisation in global, national and local policy and decision making. This Campaign is conceived as a partnership endeavour that will harness global knowledge and expertise in support of national and local action. A key component of the Campaign is to revive national Habitat Platforms to stimulate national and local policy dialogue and development for more sustainable and inclusive urban development.
The second initiative is our new City and Climate Change Initiative. This initiative is founded on the principle that efforts in climate change mitigation and adaptation require a holistic and integrated approach to more rational land use, more robust urban infrastructure and resilient urban services and greener building technologies for all.
We invite you to take part in and play your rightful leadership role in both of these initiatives.
The convergence of the so-called brown and green agendas is a defining moment for all of us. The recently concluded Governing Council for UN-Habitat recognised the implications of this convergence by calling upon the General Assembly to convene, in 2016, the third global conference on human settlements, or Habitat III. In concert with the issues and challenges of our time, it is suggested that the conference be billed as a global summit on affordable housing and sustainable urban development.
The holding of such a conference would place the issues of housing and urban development, that are so dear to us, at the nexus of local, national and global dialogue, debate and action.
Such a conference would vindicate what MINURVI has defended all along, namely that housing and urban development are not just another sectoral issue among other issues, but a cross cutting issue that is central to all of our sectoral concerns and to the survival of our planet.
I therefore urge you to include, as part of the outcome of the 18th session of MINURVI, support for the call to the General Assembly to convene in 2016, the third United Nations Conference on Human Settlements, Habitat III, to be devoted to affordable housing and sustainable urban development. As you might recall Habitat I was held in Vancouver, Canada in 1976 and gave birth to the Habitat Centre as the UN agency dealing with human settlements issues. Habitat II followed in 1996 and paved the way for the strengthening of the old Habitat Centre by transforming it into a programme at Istanbul + 5, the Special Session of the UN General Assembly held in New York in June 2001. Your region played a key role in this transformation following a successful regional preparatory meeting held in Santiago in December 2000.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This region has been the birthplace of innovative housing and urban development policies over the last decade. The evidence is quite clear and unequivocal. Since UN-Habitat initiated its call for documented best practices in improving the living environment in 1995, we have collected over 3000 peer-reviewed practices worldwide. Forty percent of these recognised best practices come from this region. Many have gained international recognition for their unique contribution to public-private partnerships, to the scale of their interventions, and, not least, to innovation.
Although I might not make justice to the wealth of experiences in this region, I would like to name a few that have made their mark at the global level. These include the cooperative housing movement in Uruguay; the land regularisation and formalisation programme in Peru; the social housing programme in Costa Rica; the community architects and micro-brigades in Cuba; the land value capture instruments in Colombia; the land regularisation programme in Jamaica; the informal settlement regularisation programmes of Brazil and informal settlements upgrading carried out in various cities such as Medellin, Lima, Caracas, Montevideo and Mexico City, just to mention some of the leading initiatives. To these we have to add the internationally recognised and emulated practices of the bus rapid transit systems of Curitiba, Bogota, Quito and Guayaquil. Participatory budgeting originated in Brazil but now applied across hundreds of cities in the region and worldwide. And finally we must acknowledge the numerous other best practices in community safety, crime prevention, youth mobilisation, and local economic development.
It came as pleasant news to me and all my colleagues at UN-HABITAT that the 2009 Goteburg Award, also called the “Nobel Peace Prize in the Environment”, has been shared between myself, on behalf of UN-HABITAT, and a representative of this region, the former Mayor of Bogota, Mr. Enrique Penalosa, and also the environmental activist from Denmark, Mr. Soren Hermansen. In making the announcement, the Environmental prize committee emphasised the importance of placing sustainable urbanization high on the agenda of the Climate Change talks that will conclude in Copenhagen in December this year. I therefore urge this conference to include in your declaration forward looking recommendations for the climate summit in the four main areas to be agreed upon namely adaptation, mitigation, technology transfer and international cooperation.
Ladies and Gentlemen
UN-HABITAT recognises the fact that this region is, without a doubt, the most advanced in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda. We are pleased to observe that constitutional and legal reforms in the region have included the notion of the right to adequate housing and have embedded the principles of equity and social inclusion.
The Latin American and Caribbean region has also demonstrated a willingness to change course and to revisit approaches that were less than perfect. I refer to the recent reinvention of the housing subsidy system in Chile and its success in decreasing the number of slums and informal settlements. Countries like Mexico and Brazil have also taken on big challenges that bridge sectors and acknowledge the primacy of addressing the needs of low-income groups, resulting in direct funding of organised community groups that could have impressive results in localizing and fine tuning government responses to housing challenges.
The current global financial turmoil and economic crisis has made evident the close linkages between the housing sector and the macro economy. It has reinforced our belief of the importance of having a well functioning housing sector driven by market forces but guided by sound housing policies and even sounder regulatory frameworks.
In my capacity as the Executive Director of UN-Habitat, I can truthfully say that as the world moves into its first urban millennium, the housing and urban development strategies that emerge from Latin America and the Caribbean are characterised by innovation and pragmatism. They remain in the global spotlight in terms of their effectiveness in improving the living conditions of people.
I can only urge you to continue along this itinerary and to help us in extracting the lessons learned for the benefit of other regions and countries in the true spirit of international and south-south cooperation.
This year, while World Habitat Day will be observed in Washington DC, hosted by the Obama administration, it is most appropriate that the Fifth Session of the World Urban Forum will take place for the first time in Latin America in the beautiful city of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil from 22 to 26 of March 2010 under the theme “The Right to the City: bridging the urban divide”. This will be an excellent opportunity to continue your deliberations here in Jamaica and to join forces with the other ministerial conferences of Africa and Asia and the Pacific so as to place the housing and urban development agenda in its rightful place, namely at the centre of global debate and attention. The World Urban Forum will be an excellent stage for this to happen.
Once again let me extend my sincere thanks to you Mr Prime Minister, Honourable Ministers and officials for your wonderful hospitality. Montego bay is clearly one of the most picturesque holiday resorts in the world. It is at the same time a reminder and a challenge of the need to preserve the environment so that people can continue to come here to enjoy the place – as indeed have we all. In this regard, I must commend the efforts of the government to regularise an upgrade the informal settlements of Flankers and Canterbury, both of which I visited yesterday.
Ladies and Gentlemen
In conclusion, I wish you fruitful and successful deliberations at this 18th session of the MINURVI meeting.
Thank you for your time and attention.