Photos © S.G. Yafai / Building and Social Housing Foundation
President Barack Obama said in a special World Habitat Day message on Monday that his administration was looking towards stronger partnerships with other organizations in addressing the challenges facing American people, including housing.
"World Habitat Day is a good chance to look into the problem of people without housing and how to help them," he said in a video-taped message to participants marking the one-day occasion at a colourful ceremony at the National Building Museum in Washington.
President Obama said it was only through partnerships that the challenges could be addressed, adding that on its own, the US government could not succeed.
He said World Habitat Day this year came at a critical time when many people were faced with the spectre of homelessness.
The global celebration of World Habitat Day in cities around the world was spearheaded from Washington DC on Monday in a series of events hosted by the US Department for Housing and Urban Development.
Meanwhile, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Dr. Susan Rice warned of the challenge facing humanity in general over housing.
"About one sixth of humanity now lives in slums and the figures are set to rise in the near future and it is going to be a huge challenge addressing this issue," she said.
In his opening keynote address on Monday, Mr. Shaun Donovan, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said: " We face the largest wave of urban growth in human history. For the first time ever, more than half of our global population lives in metropolitan areas. By 2030 almost 5 billion people will live in urban areas. With each of these developments come enormous challenges-to deliver health care services and safe drinking water; to provide reliable, energy-efficient transportation."
Highlights of the occasion included the presentation of the Scroll of Honour Awards - the highest tribute of the UN system for achievements by individuals, cities or institutions in the cause of human settlements.
By tradition, World Habitat Day is also used to launch the agency's biennial flagship publication, the Global Report on Human Settlements 2009. In keeping with tradition the report's theme is the same as that World Habitat Day itself - Planning our Urban Future.
The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan and UN-HABITAT's Executive Director, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka are co-hosting the one-day celebration at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC.
This year's theme is Planning Our Urban Future to raise awareness of the need to improve urban planning to deal with new major challenges of the 21st century so that our cities can manage and reduce the impacts of climate disruption, the economic crisis and urban poverty around the world.
"President Obama has asked that we become engaged in the global discussion on our shared vision of making socially and environmentally sustainable urban communities," said Mr. Donovan in a message posted on the department's web page.
"This is a time of great challenge and great opportunity when it comes to addressing the 21st Century housing and sustainability issues facing the nations of the world. By collaborating with UN-HABITAT, other nations, grassroots, practitioners, industry stakeholders, public and private sector partners and others we can help steer a new, more inclusive, greener housing approach."
In his special message to mark World Habitat Day, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said: "Stark contrasts have also emerged between technologically advanced and well-serviced business sectors, and other areas defined by declining industry, sweatshops and informal businesses. Better, more equitable urban planning is essential."
In her message, Mrs. Tibaijuka says the choice of this year's reflects the fact that in many parts of the world, urban planning systems have changed little and that in some cases they contribute to the problems rather than help solve them.
"It is clear to us at UN-HABITAT and to our partners in government, municipalities, and at community level that current approaches to planning must change and that a new role for planning in sustainable urban development has to be found," she said.
On her arrival in Washington Friday, Mrs. Tibaijuka paid a courtesy call on the Secretary General of the Organization of American States Mr. Jose Miguel Insulza. On Saturday she addressed a reception of the American Planners Association and the Association of Colleges and Schools of Planning. For further background of the meetings, click here.
World Habitat Day has been celebrated annually in cities around the world since 1986. For a global overview, click here.
Meanwhile, UN-HABITAT announced that grants of USD 5,000 to USD 25,000 were awarded to some 67 youth projects from around the world by UN-HABITAT's new Opportunities Fund for Urban Youth-Led Development .
In her keynote speech, Mrs. Tibaijuka said: "It is our responsibility as politicians, public officials and citizens to grasp firmly the one instrument -planning - that will help mitigate our penchant for public folly, to place our faith in an open and inclusive planning process. We must either plan with and for people or perish from the pressures of population, climate change, migration, consumption, irresponsible individualism and unaccountable corporatism."
In another highlight of World Habitat Day, the Executive Director signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Ms. Jan Peterson, the Chair of the Huairou Commission. The agreement aims to strengthen the work between the two agencies by promoting the involvement of women for better housing, sustainable development and gender equality.
A highlight of the agreement is a commitment to work together in developing a grassroots women's web portal on human settlements. The portal will enable women's community development groups to network and exchange information on strengthening policies and programmes for gender equality in towns and cities. The agreement also strengthens collaborative work in promoting good governance, women's land and housing rights, urban safety, and disaster risk reduction and recovery.
World Habitat Day has been celebrated annually in cities around the world since 1986.
On Tuesday, Mrs. Tibaijuka met the Chief Executive Officer of Habitat for Humanity Mr. Jonathan Reckford. She also spoke out on cities and climate change in an address to the Brookings Institution. For details, click here.
World Habitat Day 2009 was celebrated in 16 countries across Latin America. Informacion en Espagnol.