The Twenty -third Session of the Governing Council of UN-HABITAT opened in Nairobi on Monday with calls for new ways of addressing the rapid urbanization facing many countries in the world.
Executive Director Joan Clos addresses the opening ceremony of the 23rd Session of the Governing Council of UN-HABITAT. Looking on are UNEP Executive Director Mr. Achim Steiner, UN-HABITAT Deputy Director Ms. Inga Bjork Klevby and Kenya's President Mr. Mwai Kibaki. © UN-HABITAT/ Edward Aput
The colorful event under the banner "Sustainable Urban Development through Expanding Equitable Access to Land, Housing, Basic Services and Infrastructure" was officially opened by President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya who said high rates of urbanization pose various challenges including urban poverty, inadequate transportation, unemployment and proliferation of slums and informal settlements.
"We are now faced with the reality that, more than half of the world's population, lives in urban areas. It is estimated that the world urban population will reach 4.2 billion by 2020, and rise to 70 per cent by 2050", said the president.
Arguing that urbanization is here to stay, the President urged all stakeholders to effectively play their respective roles in addressing urbanization challenges.
"I, therefore, challenge you to engage in robust and candid discussions, and use this opportunity to share country-specific experiences. You should draw up innovative pro-poor policies and programmes which will address urban development issues facing our countries," President Kibaki told the meeting.
United Nations Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki Moon, in a speech read on his behalf by UN-HABITAT Deputy Executive Director Ms. Inga Bjork Klevby, said the urban era the world was entering has many unknowns, chief among them the growing dangers associated with climate change.
The Secretary General said our collective challenge is to stimulate sustainable urban development and the transition towards a green economy. "Your deliberations are also an important opportunity to ensure that the urban development agenda is fully reflected at next year's United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development – Rio+20," he said.
In his speech , UN-HABITAT Executive Director Dr. Joan Clos said that whereas the world's cities were faced with myriad of challenges, these could be surmounted if there was a rethink in urban planning.
Dr. Clos said if urban planners were to change the basics of the game the cities would see a turn around in their fortunes. "For the last 20 years the city has been seen as a place of problems, a form of pessimism that has led to inaction. Instead, we should be optimistic, after all if you go back in time, you find that the city has been a place of freedom and growth- economic as well as personal," he said.
He advised planners to stop talking of crises in the city but rather to be positive about our urban future. According to the Executive Director, one place to start the renewal of the city is the street adding that if the streets were redesigned and planned well, the accruing benefits would trickle to all the other parts of the city.
The Executive Director of UNEP Mr. Achim Steiner also spoke at the opening and hailed UN-HABITAT saying that it was the only agency dealing with issues pertaining to the habitation of over 50 per cent of humanity living in urban areas.
"Their work is critical because cities are faced with many challenges and it is the work of UN-HABITAT to help them address these," he said.
The outgoing President of the 22nd Governing Council Mr. Clifford Warmington also addressed the meeting. The Rwandan Minister for Infrastructure Mr. Vincent Karega was elected the new President of the Governing Council.
The Governing Council meets every two years to examine UN-HABITAT's work and relationships with its partners. It is a high-level forum of governments at the ministerial level during which policy guidelines and the organization's budget are established for the next two-year period.