UN-HABITAT's Executive Director Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka this week received a standing ovation at the United Nations great hall in Nairobi when she formally took leave of the Committee of Permanent Representatives which acts on behalf of the governments overseeing UN-HABITAT.
Sporting a World Cup-style football jersey with the agency logo in front and the words "No. 1 Tibaijuka" on the back, Mrs. Tibaijuka, in her final speech to the Committee on Monday, hailed the steady strengthening of UN-HABITAT over her two terms in office:
"Since I first addressed this Committee some nine years ago, steady progress has been made in strengthening UN-HABITAT in its role to monitor and coordinate the implementation of the Habitat Agenda.
"However, the challenges have also grown. The effects of rapid urbanisation, climate change and the food, energy and finance crises are taxing the resilience of countries, cities and communities across the world," she said thanking the Committee for its guidance and leadership, and appealing for similar support to her successor.
Ever mindful to keep UN-HABITAT's mission at the top of the agenda whatever the occasion, Mrs. Tibaijuka added: "In this new urban era, approximately 1 billion people are living in slums and sub-standard housing in the world. These figures from our State of the World's Cities Report show that one out of every three people living in cities is living in life or health-threatening conditions. Unless remedial action is taken, their numbers are projected to rise to 1.4 billion by 2020."
Each ambassador representing a bloc of nations, such as the G-77 + China, Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe cited what the Chair, Ambassador Mr. Macharia Kamau of the Republic of Kenya cited her "exemplary work" in championing the mission of UN-HABITAT and doing an "incredible job" in transforming the organization from a centre into a fully-fledged programme of the United Nations. And he said they all felt very proud indeed of Mrs. Tibaijuka and the agency.
"When an organization gains in stature and financing, that is a clear indication of successful leadership," he added citing her both for putting UN-HABITAT firmly on the map and for turning the World Urban Forum a global platform.
"The legacy you have left is a very difficult one to beat. We in the Committee of Permanent Representatives are very grateful to claim some of your successes as ours!" he added to loud applause.
The Indonesian Ambassador Mr. Budi Bowoleksono, said the G77 countries and China would always remember Mrs. Tibaijuka for her perseverance, for the fact that UN-HABITAT today was more acknowledged than ever before, and as a "strong leader with patience". In a special intervention than followed, the Norwegian Ambassador Ms. Elizabeth Jacobsen, addressed the meeting saying she was speaking as the representative of "a major donor country". She said Mrs. Tibaijuka had raised the profile of UN-HABITAT as never before, paying special attention to matters of greatest importance - the plight of women living in poverty, pro-poor policies, land rights, for bringing the agency into the humanitarian field; for establishing a system of Habitat country managers, and promoting the regional ministerial gatherings representing each continent.
"You will emerge as the main architect responsible for building an organization of global significance," she said.
The Chilean Chargé d'Affaires Mr. Ricardo Alen, echoing these sentiments in remarks on behalf of the Latin American region, added: "We are not going to forget you." Speaking for the European Union, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Spain, Mr. Bruno Garcia-Dobarco, expressed on behalf of the world's biggest trading bloc his "most sincere gratitude" and "appreciation for your partnership and hard work in raising UN-HABITAT's profile in a complex and globalizing world, raising awareness of the urban agenda in general, and through her energetic leadership, for mobilizing financial and political support".
On behalf of the African, the Zimbabwean Ambassador Mr. Kelebert Nkomani, noted than during her tenure through two terms in office shelter, water and sanitation were today receiving greater attention that before. "The African region will always remember her untiring efforts to create AMCHUD," he added referring to the African Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development established in 2005.
Said the High Commissioner of Sri lanka, Jayantha Dissanayake: "I am sure, you all will agree that Madam Anna Tibaijuka's innovative thinking and relentless efforts based on results based management brought more recognition and reputation to this organization during her period.
"Of course there were difficult times during her tenure, especially in the phase of numerous natural disasters such as Tsunami. With all the financial constraints faced by the organization UN HABITAT managed to help those who were affected by such disasters to the best of their ability under her able leadership," he said. "She managed to put things together and to run the organization to its optimum capacity during this period."
Mr. Deng Hongbo, the Chinese Ambassador noted her leading the role in helping establish the UN pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo, and the special attention she had paid over the years to China's bilateral relationship with UN-HABITAT. He called Mrs. Tibaijuka "a very able leader" who had established "a very solid foundation".
The Deputy Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom, Mr. Jon Geddes, called her "a safe pair of hands for UN-HABITAT, while his Tanzanian counterpart, Ms. Verdiana Mashingia, representing her home country, closed the proceedings by hailing her leadership and the strategic partnerships she had built up over the years.
A standing ovation followed, and she then joined the ambassadors for a group photograph.