WORLD ENTERING "URBAN MILLENNIUM", SECRETARY- GENERAL TELLS OPENING MEETING OF HABITAT SPECIAL SESSION
NEW YORK, 6 June (UN Headquarters) -- The world had entered an urban millennium, and the international community must rise to its many challenges, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said this morning at the opening of the twenty-fifth special session of the General Assembly for an overall review and appraisal of the implementation of the outcome of the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), held in Istanbul in 1996.
Cities had always been crossroads of culture, and today urban areas were the driving forces of development and globalization, the Secretary-General said. But the shift to cities had brought problems with it that must be redressed. At the same time, the needs of rural settlements and communities must not be forgotten.
He stressed the importance of partnership to address housing issues, the need for strong urban governance and the importance of redressing the lack of secure housing tenure. The world cities faced a long list of common challenges. Progress would not happen without leadership. The challenge of the special session was to create lasting momentum for housing issues.
The special session’s President, Harri Holkeri (Finland), also speaking at the outset of the meeting, noted the innovative structure of the session. For the first time, there was a thematic committee to provide a forum for learning and sharing experiences from different corners of the world. It would provide an opportunity to hear examples of implementation of many important issues and aspects pertaining to shelter, social development and eradication of poverty, environmental management, governance, effective city development strategies and financing for urban development.
In the development of human settlements, local government, civil society, trade unions, academia and parliamentarians were important partners for governments and the international community, he said. Many of those Habitat Agenda partners were participating in the special session. He added that people and partnerships constituted an important resource for the Agenda’s implementation. The Agenda also promoted gender equality and the empowerment of women as effective ways to combat poverty and to stimulate sustainable development.
Following the introductory statements and organizational matters, the Assembly began its general debate.
The Minister of Construction and Transportation of the Republic of Korea said that rapid urbanization had posed serious social and economic threats to sustainable development and the guarantee of an adequate habitat. Lack of roads, water supplies, and basic infrastructure, as well as environmental pollution and urban crime, required the effective implementation of the Habitat Agenda, set out at Habitat II, by the global community. Beginning in the late 1980s, improvements had been made in overall living conditions in his country and the countrywide housing shortage had been resolved. The financial crisis of the late 1990s, however, had rattled the housing market and prompted the introduction of a number of bold national measures to normalize it.
Following years of colonial and apartheid planning in South Africa, that country’s Housing Minister said the nation had come a long way from focusing on undoing and redressing past injuries to introducing new strategies based on principles of integration and sustainability, people-driven development, satisfying basic needs, transparency and nation-building. Efforts had also focused on a democratic sustainable process of housing development that prioritized the needs of the poor and special groups, including youth, elderly, disabled, women, and HIV/AIDS victims. A key success had been the inclusion in the Constitution of the right to adequate housing.
The Minister for Housing of Sweden, speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said urbanization was a complex phenomenon affecting all parts of the world. The challenge was to empower people and create decent, healthy living conditions. The inheritance of the Istanbul Conference called for a more decisive approach and a strategic mobilization of political will, to ensure the full implementation of the Habitat Agenda. The session would provide the international community with an important opportunity to express its political will to identify and endorse ways of realizing a better world with adequate shelter for all and sustainable development of human settlements.
In organizational matters, the special session elected without a vote Harri Holkeri (Finland), as its President, and decided that its vice-presidents should be the same as those of the fifty-fifth regular session and that the chairpersons of the six Main Committees would likewise be the same as those of the fifty-fifth regular session. The special session also decided that members of the Credentials Committee of the session should have the same membership as that of the fifty-fifth regular session.
The special session adopted its provisional agenda, and, without a vote, a decision on organizational arrangements for the twenty-fifth special session establishing an ad hoc committee of the whole. German Garcia-Duran of Colombia was elected Chairman of that committee. The special session elected Slaheddine Belaid of Tunisia as Chairperson of its Thematic Committee. It also adopted decisions regarding participation of observers, entities of the United Nations system and Habitat Agenda partners.
The Assembly was informed that Burundi, Central African Republic, Comoros, Georgia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Niger, Republic of Moldova, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Somalia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Vanuatu were in arrears under the terms of Article 19 of the Charter of the United Nations. [Article 19 states that a Member whose arrears equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceding two full years shall have no vote in the Assembly.]
The twenty-fifth special session observed a minute of silent prayer or meditation at the opening of the session, as well as a minute of silence in tribute to the late Kings of the Kingdom of Nepal, His Majesty King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev and his Majesty King Dipendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev.
The Chairman of the ad hoc plenary committee, Mr. Garcia-Duran (Colombia), introduced the report of the Commission on Human Settlements acting as the preparatory committee for the special session.
Statements were also made by the Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus; the Minister for Public Work and Housing of Jordan; the Minister for Social Development of Mexico; the Minister for Housing and Settlements of Trinidad and Tobago; the Minister of the Interior of Cyprus; the Minister of Infrastructure of Venezuela; the Minister of State of Gabon; the Minister for Territorial Administration of Armenia; the Minister for Foreign Trade of Finland; and the Minister for Public Works and Housing of the United Arab Emirates.
Representatives of Uruguay, Cuba, San Marino, Japan, Lithuania, Costa Rica, Burundi, Honduras, Algeria and Tajikistan spoke. The Permanent Observer for Palestine also addressed the meeting.
The twenty-fifth special session will meet again at 3 p.m. to continue its general debate.
The twenty-fifth special session of the General Assembly for an overall review and appraisal of the implementation of the outcome of the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) began today. [For background information on the session, see Press Release HAB/172 of 4 June 2001.
Statement by Secretary-General
KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General of the United Nations: Habitat II was not an isolated event -– it was an integral part of a series of landmark conferences held by the United Nations in the 1990s, all of which had the related goal of giving men, women and children a chance to share in the world’s wealth. The world is in the midst of radical transformation. The majority of the world’s people are now city dwellers, and this is expected to continue.
Cities have always been crossroads of culture, and today urban areas are the driving forces of development and globalization. But the shift to cities has brought problems with it: two thirds of cities in the developing world do not have treated wastewater; everywhere there are stark contrasts -– gritty slums and gleaming skyscrapers sit side by side, as do conspicuous consumption and piles of waste. At the same time, we must not forget the needs of rural settlements and communities. Of the more than 1.2 billion global poor, three quarters live in rural areas, and their lives must be improved.
Five years after Habitat II, a few points stand out: the importance of partnership to address housing issues; the need for strong urban governance; and the lack of secure housing tenure. The world’s cities face a long list of common challenges. Progress will not happen without leadership. This is where those present come in. All of you, in your own way, are leaders who must answer to the inhabitants of the world’s cities. Our challenge is to create lasting momentum for housing issues. The world has entered the urban millennium. Let us rise to its many challenges.
Introductory Remarks by President of Special Session
The President of the special session of the Assembly, HARRI HOLKERI (Finland): We are at the beginning of an Urban Millennium. Five years ago, at the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), the world community assembled and deliberated on how to cope with the increasing physical, economic, social and environmental demands of the rapidly urbanizing world. In its resolution 52/190, the Assembly decided to hold this special session of the Assembly to review and appraise progress made to implement the Habitat Agenda. That Agenda also pays attention to the promotion of gender equality and to the empowerment of women as effective ways to combat poverty and to stimulate sustainable development.
The special session is innovative in its structure. For the first time, we are having a thematic committee, to share experiences from different corners of the world and to learn from each other. In the programme of this committee, we will have the opportunity to listen to examples of implementation of many important issues and aspects pertaining to shelter, social development and eradication of poverty, environmental management, governance, effective city development strategies and financing for urban development.
In the development of human settlements, local government, civil society, trade unions, academia and parliamentarians are important partners for governments and the international community: the Habitat Agenda partners. Many of those partners are participating in the special session. I believe that people and partnerships constitute an important resource for the implementation of the Habitat Agenda.
The Chairman of the Ad Hoc Plenary Committee, GERMAN GARCIA-DURAN (Colombia), introducing the report of the Commission on Human Settlements as contained in document A/S-25/2: Implementing the Habitat Agenda –- turning promises into action -– is truly an enormous and historic responsibility. The Commission on Human Settlements, acting as the preparatory committee for the twenty-fifth special session, has been working diligently to ensure that the session will truly contribute to advancing the Habitat Agenda.
At the national level, governments were encouraged to organize national commissions. Ninety-six national reports have been received, indicating that enormous progress has been achieved, although more effective action is needed in all areas. At the regional level, the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) and the regional commissions organized five regional meetings.
Inter-agency meetings on coordination were held in New York and Nairobi. During the second substantive meeting of the preparatory Committee, about 300 new partners were accredited to the special session. During that meeting, the draft declaration was also considered. Most paragraphs were achieved by consensus. Following informals, a number of paragraphs not earlier agreed on had achieved consensus, as well.
The second session also reviewed the draft report of the Executive Director on the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, the revised version of which is contained in documents A/S-25/3 and Add.1. It further adopted four decisions. The preparatory process, although difficult at times, was transparent and participatory. I hope that all attending the session will contribute substantively to our deliberations.
Action and Elections
The Assembly decided to adopt, without vote, draft decision II on "Organizational arrangements for the twenty-fifth special session of the General Assembly".
The Assembly then decided that the vice-presidents of the twenty-fifth special session should be the same as those of the fifty-fifth regular session: Belarus, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, China, Comoros, El Salvador, France, Gabon, Guinea, Haiti, Kuwait, Maldives, Mozambique, Russian Federation, Suriname, Tunisia, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, Uzbekistan and Yemen.
It also decided that the chairpersons of the six Main Committees of the twenty-fifth special session should serve in the same capacity at the special session.
The Assembly elected German Garcia-Duran (Colombia) as Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole, and Slaheddine Belaid (Tunisia) as Chairperson of the Thematic Committee. It also took decisions regarding observers and speakers.
The provisional agenda of the twenty-fifth special session of the Assembly, contained in document A/S-25/1, was adopted.
The Assembly then took up consideration of agenda items 8 (review and appraisal of progress made in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda), item 9 (further actions and initiatives for overcoming obstacles to the implementation of the Habitat Agenda), and item 10 (declaration on cities and other human settlements in the new millennium).
GENNADY NOVITSKY (Belarus): Our delegation is entirely supportive of the provisions of the report of the Executive Director of Habitat and the recommendations contained therein as to the importance of involvement of all relevant participants in the process of achieving the goals of sustainable development. In this regard, it is critical to prioritize the development of appropriate national legislation. At the current stage, Belarus is laying the grounds for a socially oriented market economy. Possessing significant industrial, agricultural and human potential, Belarus is capable of playing an increasingly important role in the realization of objectives facing the international community in the area of sustainable development.
In Belarus, we have defined a strategy envisaging the transition to the construction of houses for a new generation. This strategy is focused on increasing the consumer quality of housing facilities. We have been applying new constructive systems and effective construction materials, and the quality of housing provided to people has substantially increased. A new promising target for our country is in the comprehensive reconstruction of residential areas through increasing their density. We are, thereby, enhancing socially oriented housing facilities and high-quality apartments.
A tremendous problem for our country is the Chernobyl catastrophe. Belarus received nearly 70 per cent of all the radioactive fallout, and the damage inflicted on the country is estimated at $235 million. Belarus is hopeful of expanding relevant cooperation with appropriate organs of the United Nations system in minimizing the consequences of the most sinister catastrophe of the twentieth century.
HUSNI ABU-GHEIDA, Minister of Public Work and Housing of Jordan: Our Government’s commitment to implementing the Habitat Agenda is perfectly clear. Politically, we aim to adopt measures on housing and liberalize land and financing. We also seek to make land available to many thousands of squatters, thereby committing ourselves fully to the right to basic shelter. We have also evolved a mortgage market that provides long-term financing for low-income families.
Despite such strides, development in the area faces complete collapse because of the war faced by the Palestinian people and the violence perpetrated by the occupying Israeli army, as well as the destruction of civilian land and confiscation of housing on Palestinian territories. Development cannot be achieved in the absence of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace. Jordan and Egypt have submitted specific ideas aimed at ending the aggression against the Palestinians, lifting the blockade, and moving towards peace. It is a collective responsibility to achieve international and regional peace.
In light of the impact of peace on development, we call for providing the necessary protection of Palestinians and assistance to enable their achievement of self-determination, the establishment of an independent State, and the end to all forms of occupation in our region. We also call for an end to the blockade against Iraq.
JOSEFINA VAZQUEZ MOTA, Minister for Social Development of Mexico: Today, the world faces profound changes, including in the area of urbanization. Mexico has made progress in fulfilling the objectives of Istanbul, adopted five years ago, among other things, by creating a legal framework and establishing a National Council on Housing in order to promote and help finance the housing market. Strategies for land-use and urban development are also being addressed.
The management of settlements and of housing supply is a fundamental issue for Mexico. A development plan includes land-use management, rural and urban development and the construction of housing. Mexico recognizes that urban development requires an integrated vision. We propose, among other things, to group together the problems shared by a number of countries, such as those of the Latin American and Caribbean region. Coordination of metropolitan areas has been one of the major challenges. It requires policies and efficient mechanisms to make use of shared potential and infrastructure.
Natural disasters affect the poorest, whose needs must constantly be kept in mind. The cost of disasters is always higher than that of preventive measures. The century ahead is broad in challenges. The rapid growth of world population must be organized around land-use and urban development in balance with the environment. This cannot be left to the State and the cold mechanism of supply and demand. Disorderly demographic growth, lack of infrastructure and low-level education are all factors conducive to poverty. Concrete and effective cooperation among developed countries and international organizations is needed.
It is a new day for Mexico, a new day of democracy and change. For Mexico, it must be a new day for Habitat, as well.
SANKIE MTHEMBI-MAHANYELE, Minister for Housing of South Africa: After years of colonial and apartheid planning in South Africa, the country has come a long way from focusing on undoing and redressing past injuries to introducing new policies and strategies based on principles of integration and sustainability, people-driven development, satisfying basic needs, transparency and nation-building. One of the Government’s key priorities this year is to make a decisive and integrated contribution towards meeting the economic challenges our country faces.
Our Government appreciates the international community’s support for our vision of adequate and sustainable human settlements. In striving towards an "African Renaissance", we recognize the important coordinating role which Habitat can fulfil in building links and sharing best practices in the region. We support the principle of maximum devolution of governance and that of strong local government as a key to the successful implementation of the Habitat Agenda. South Africa has also focused its efforts on a democratic sustainable process of housing development that, among other things, gives priority to the needs of the poor and to special focus groups, including youth, elderly, disabled, women, and HIV/AIDS victims.
One of our key successes is the inclusion of the right to adequate housing in our Constitution. Satisfying that right has resulted in a housing programme that has delivered more than 1,155,300 houses and, to date, nearly 5,776,300 people have been housed. Despite many advances in the country’s persistent efforts to fight poverty and underdevelopment, it still faces daunting challenges. They include management of the social, economic and legal impacts of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, as well as the promotion of informal settlement eradication and inner city renewal and safer cities free from crime. Poverty eradication is another priority. The target group for our national housing programme is the poor. We feel that poverty is closely linked to the housing problems we face, including homelessness and informal settlements. We are now examining the sustainability of the current housing subsidy programme, so that it can continue to meet the housing needs of the poor.
LARS-ERIK LÖVDÉN, Minister for Housing of Sweden, on behalf of the European Union and associated States: Urbanization is a complex phenomenon affecting all parts of the world. The challenge is to empower people and create decent, healthy living conditions. The inheritance of the Istanbul Conference calls for a more decisive approach and a strategic mobilization of political will, to ensure the full implementation of the Habitat Agenda.
The Union believes that concrete actions should be considered while we continue to fulfil our commitments from Istanbul. For instance, we should spare no efforts to promote access to safe drinking water for all and to facilitate the provision of basic infrastructure and urban services.
We sincerely believe that local authorities are essential to further implement the Habitat Agenda. They are the closest partners to citizens, historically linked with the fulfilment of their basic needs. Increased cooperation between all levels of government is, therefore, required. In this regard, we should, in accordance with national legislation, strengthen the capacities of local governments. Cooperation between governments, non-governmental organizations, and other parts of civil society is of particular importance in promoting a participatory citizenship. We also need to address the need to adopt more sustainable production and consumption patterns.
This session gives the international community an important opportunity to express its political will to identify and endorse ways of realizing a better world, with adequate shelter for all and sustainable development of human settlements. These are political challenges for which we, Ministers charged with human settlements issues, have a responsibility in our pursuit of peace, justice and democracy through economic, cultural, social and environmental development. The European Union is committed to actively work towards achieving these important goals. A booklet describing the Union’s measures and intentions with regard to the Habitat Agenda will be distributed.
SADIQ BAKSH, Minister for Housing and Settlements of Trinidad and Tobago: The Government of Trinidad and Tobago totally supports the mission of Habitat, and strongly commends Habitat for its efforts to be consistent with the overall goal of the United Nations –- reducing poverty and to promoting sustainable development.
Because of its participatory approach to urban and rural development, the need for shelter, the empowerment of women, and the need to provide comfort to the landless and dispossessed, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago has made substantial progress since the Habitat Conference in Istanbul. We have adopted a number of strategies, including legislation, more appropriate institutional support structures and a supportive environment for increasing the land and housing stock through multiple or "smart" partnerships. Perhaps our greatest success in addressing housing needs is in partnering with civil society groups. The Government emphasizes the use of indigenous materials and technologies to lower the cost of building components and increase the country’s housing stock.
We need international support to mobilize manpower, mind-power, materials and money. We believe that official development assistance (ODA) should be restored to the previously agreed amounts. The goal of cities without slums by the year 2015 cannot be achieved if we do not commit to helping the least developed countries. We also need to revisit the international and national frameworks and institutions that hinder humans the world over from enjoying the basic right to housing. I take this opportunity to exhort all partners to reaffirm our commitment to the principles of the Agenda.
JANG-SEOP OH, Minister for Construction and Transportation of the Republic of Korea: The globalization process is rapidly transforming our world, with widespread implications for our habitat. This is, therefore, an opportune time to appraise our achievements since Habitat II in 1996, and to renew our commitment to enhancing the living environment.
From an economic, social and cultural standpoint, cities are becoming an ever more important space for mankind. At the same time, rapid urbanization has posed serious social and economic problems that threaten sustainable development and the assurance of an adequate habitat. These include lack of roads, water supplies and other basic infrastructure and services, disparities in wealth, environmental pollution and urban crime. While urban problems are largely concentrated in the developing world, they are by no means confined to a specific area. Thus, effective implementation of the Habitat Agenda has become a common task for the global community.
As a result of the Government’s cooperation with major stakeholders, including local governments and civil society, improvements have been made with respect to the stability of shelter supply, land ownership, equality in use and other basic shelter services. Strides have also been made towards improving overall living conditions, such as shelter environment and home financing. Since the late 1980s, efforts to expand the housing supply have resulted in the resolution of a countrywide housing shortage. The quality of shelter has also been enhanced, particularly with modern facilities and greater living space per house.
Nevertheless, the unprecedented financial crisis of 1997 has led to increased uncertainty for Korea’s housing policies. In the wake of the crisis, housing construction dwindled and household income declined in both real and nominal terms. Faced with these new challenges, the Government has introduced a number of bold measures to normalize the housing market. While these achievements have been significant, a number of challenges, including the continued concentration of the population in the capital region and ensuing socio-economic problems, still need to be addressed.
CHRISTODOULOS CHRISTODOULOU, Minister of the Interior of Cyprus: Despite substantial economic growth since 1974 and considerable improvement of living and working conditions, the enforced division of the island’s territory undermines the future of Cyprus and its sustainable development. Major problems stem from the prolonged severance of the centuries-old settlement system, the natural environment and the social fabric of our multi-cultural society. This unnatural and anachronistic deformation lies at the heart of most of our major concerns. These include: the sudden expansion of urban centres in government-controlled areas, due to the influx of refugees from the occupied part of the island; immense pressure on scarce natural resources; and the deformation of the demographic characteristics of the population, due to ethnic cleansing and the illegal influx of settlers from Turkey.
Settlements in Cyprus are also being affected by many of the problems facing the rest of Europe, such as traffic congestion and urban sprawl. These have become commonplace and hinder efforts to achieve sustainable development. Human settlements are also experiencing a variety of problems. Those along the coastline are under severe development pressure as tourism threatens environmental integrity. In the hinterland, numerous villages suffer from the results of economic stagnation, population losses, the ageing of the remaining inhabitants, inadequate infrastructure and insufficient social facilities. Regional disparities in the government-controlled area of Cyprus are being dealt with through the implementation of special development programmes, policies and projects that seek to promote regional development and bridge the gap between more and less developed areas of the island.
Cyprus has succeeded in the task of providing decent temporary housing for the one third of its population forcefully displaced from their ancestral homes and settlements. Today, 58,000 refugee families live in acceptable housing conditions as they await their eventual return home in the occupied part of the island. The very active private sector is supplemented by semi-government agencies, specializing on housing financing and development.
Since Habitat II, housing policies and programmes have been under constant review. We have recently taken steps to integrate the multiple and rather fragmented housing programmes into a comprehensive National Housing Strategy. Environmental concerns should also be incorporated into national, social and economic development policies. Thus, the Government has incorporated environmental considerations and quality indices into most sectoral policies, including in the tourism and service sectors.
ISMAEL HURTADO SOUCRE, Minister for Infrastructure of Venezuela: The Constitution of Venezuela states that all persons have a right to adequate housing. The progressive satisfaction of that right is the shared responsibility of the people and the State. The State would help families of low resources to have access to housing. There is consistency between our Constitution and the objectives of the current special session.
The evolution of State policy has generated qualitative and quantitative change and provided adequate motivation to continue in the quest for human progress. Providing housing has not depended on State housing alone, but also on participation by the private sector and civil society. There is an integrated housing policy. We have implemented programmes to improve conditions in urban centres, including indigenous areas.
Venezuela is proud of its land-ownership project. We are supporting that policy so that people can feel that they control their own destinies. The Ministry of Infrastructure bases its work on providing the community with the appropriate physical environment for its activities. I hope that in New York the objectives of Habitat will be enhanced by the combined efforts of United Nations Members, so that we may work towards a proper habitat for human kind.
JACQUES ADIAHENOT, Minister of State and of Habitat, Town Planning and Land Registration of Gabon: The session provides an opportunity to identify obstacles and craft new approaches. The Istanbul Conference and the resulting Istanbul Declaration and Habitat Agenda recommend the creation of viable human settlements in an urbanizing world and decent housing for all. In keeping with these recommendations, we have conducted a policy of urban management that adheres strictly to this framework. We have created an urban affairs department and a national committee for habitat, and promoted community infrastructure pilot projects funded by the World Bank.
These pilot projects seek to create jobs, promote small- and medium-sized businesses in the building industry, and improve living conditions through building community infrastructure in poorly integrated districts. Our most important action has been the adoption of an urban development strategy funded by the World Bank, which took the form of the "Urban Policy Declaration of Gabon". An unvarnished assessment of the situation, it pointed to the absence of control over urban sprawl, deterioration in public infrastructure and environment, insufficient transportation and urban services, and a lack of necessary financial resources for urban development.
The new urban policy, adopted on 26 January, highlights the determination of our Government to improve the contribution made by cities to economic growth, set up anti-poverty measures and strengthen good governance in the municipalities. It also seeks to develop an urban economy capable of stimulating urban growth and improving the living conditions of urban populations, particularly in poorer neighbourhoods. Given its heavy debt burden, Gabon, like other developing countries, cannot face the situation alone, but needs partners.
HOVIK ABRAHAMYAN, Minister for Territorial Administration of Armenia: My Government has adopted a programme for the elaboration of towns to help step up urbanization efforts in Armenia. Natural disasters, such as earthquakes, have affected transportation hubs. In that context, the Government has taken measures to address landslides, among other problems.
The influx of refugees from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has also caused housing-related difficulties, as have problems to do with unemployment. A programme to guarantee minimum standards has, therefore, been set up. The number of houses that deported Armenians have left behind in Azerbaijan is extremely high, and they have not received adequate compensation. This problem must be resolved through bilateral talks and agreements. To help, our Government has elaborated a programme to assist deportees.
The ecological problems facing Lake Sevan are of great urgency and must be solved. In our implementation of various programmes, we have been cooperating with many international organizations and governments. I would like to express the hope that the special session will encourage sustainable urban planning for the future.
KIMMO SASI, Minister for Foreign Trade of Finland: I fully support the statement made by the representative of Sweden on behalf of the European Union. The challenges set forth in the Habitat Agenda are of immense importance in the world today. Due to rapid urbanization, irreversible changes are taking place that will have a decisive effect on our cities and other human settlements. Despite enormous investments in urban development, housing conditions in many areas of the world are insufficient, and the direction in which conditions are developing is not necessarily positive.
Poor economic development and rapid population growth are widespread. The international community should, therefore, evaluate the positive and negative features of various policies and approaches and learn from and disseminate such information. In line with the spirit of the Habitat Agenda, Finland has promoted the right to adequate housing in a 1995 amendment to its Constitution. In legislation, the right to housing is not guaranteed; apart from specific exceptions, however, the supportive role of public authorities in that regard is stressed.
A key problem worldwide is the division of cities into high- and low-income areas, which has led to great social and financial problems. We have made concentrated efforts to ensure a social mix of inhabitants in all residential areas, including by locating social and other housing in the same areas. General equality has also been a central socio-political target. Despite progress in several fields, many issues still need to be addressed.
RICARDO GOROSITO (Uruguay): Our Government has adopted a number of strategies to deal with the consequences of uncoordinated actions in the field of human settlements. Among those initiatives are: strengthening regional forums; diversifying lines of access to housing with special emphasis on channelling direct public subsidies to the most disadvantaged sectors; and launching major projects for the protection and preservation of the environment and promoting urban master plans in coordination with government departments.
In terms of its regional policies, Uruguay came out solidly in support of the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR) process. To that end, the Government, in coordination with local administrations and with technical cooperation from France and South Africa, developed strategic plans to promote the physical integration of the country within the region. My delegation would also like to underline the relevance of the regional plan of action on Habitat and the support given to it, which we acknowledge as an essential strategic platform.
Public-sector initiatives have been directed mainly to older age groups with limited resources and to addressing the problem of unplanned settlements. To this end, a low-cost housing programme was launched for the benefit of non-working low-income groups. Under this programme, beneficiaries receive lifetime benefits of excellent quality housing located, preferably, in central and intermediate areas of cities. To ensure the sustainability of the system, the dwellings are administered and maintained by the State. The State is also seeking to counter the growing phenomenon of unplanned and makeshift settlements in various ways. In conclusion, our Government reiterates its firm commitment to the future revitalization of the Habitat Agenda.
SALVADOR GOMILA, Vice President, National Housing Institute (Cuba): Implementation of the Habitat Agenda was not at all encouraging for the so-called third world countries. The dramatic realities far exceeded statistical expressions. Despite recent explosive population growth, there has not been a corresponding development of housing settlements and agreements. Latin America and the Caribbean suffer from insufficient social investment and increased marginality, insecurity of land rights, violence, and a deteriorating environment. This is exacerbated by the frequent occurrence of natural disasters. Indeed, the present reality is no better for our region than in 1996.
Commitments undertaken at Habitat II represented a glimmer of hope for those who live in poverty and deteriorating environments, but declining international assistance and cooperation from the most developed countries, and the obvious tendency to reverse the basic commitments of Istanbul, endanger the prospects of success. Governments must be unswerving in their efforts to preserve the principles of the Habitat Agenda and progress resolutely towards their implementation.
Despite the tightening of the 40-year-old trade and financial blockade against my country, its population enjoys guaranteed access to education, health, culture, sports and more. We have supplied drinking water to all rural settlements and electrified 96 per cent of the country’s housing. Financial and loan facilities have increased access to housing. Given the importance of this session, we reiterate our desire for integration and cooperation with all countries in the field of housing and human settlements. Let us combine our will power and efforts to stem the growth of poverty and ensure a better future for all.
RAKAD BIN SALEM AL-RAKAD, Minister for Public Works and Housing of the United Arab Emirates: Despite many initiatives by governments and partners in implementing Habitat II, recent statistics affirm that more than a billion people still live without adequate housing and basic social and health services, in addition to increasing poverty and civil conflicts. They represent fundamental obstacles preventing developing countries from implementing their plans and development programmes. The international community must adopt more measures to achieve peace and sustainable development.
The United Arab Emirates considers human settlements to be among its most important priorities. It has adopted a principle of partnership between the Government, private sector and civil society to meet housing needs and providing stability for its citizens. It has made progress by building new modern villages, providing proper housing and all health, social and educational services. The Emirates sees the Declaration of the special session as one of the most significant of documents, affirming the importance of the specific cultural, social and ideological heritage of all peoples and political systems.
Iran’s occupation of three islands of the Emirates, and its continued attempts to change the character of those islands, is a clear violation of the sovereignty of the Emirates. I call on the international community to support the appeal of the Emirates to end that occupation by bilateral negotiations, or by submitting the case to the International Court of Justice. The destruction of housing and farms by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories, making Palestinians citizens homeless, is contradictory to the objectives of the special session. We call upon the international community to bring pressure on the Israeli Government to stop the aggression, to implement the agreements with the Palestinian side and end the occupation of the territories, including Jerusalem.
GIAN NICOLA FILIPPI BALESTRA (San Marino): Implementation of the Habitat Agenda depends not only on profound and wide-ranging knowledge of the problems, but also on an immediate and efficient response from governments. These two relevant and necessary steps must be interlinked and coordinated. The new concept of habitat does not lie only in the mere definition of "physical and chemical conditions that characterize the space in which a determined species lives".
Climate changes have made some lands unproductive and provoked the exodus of rural populations towards the cities. This rapid increase of the urban populations has made living conditions in the cities unbearable. Many cities have no communication networks, no water pipe systems, no schools or health-care centres, and no other forms of infrastructure or services. While increased industrial production has created new job opportunities, it does not help the natural environment or the living conditions of some urban centres. This has resulted in huge environmental damage which must be addressed fast and efficiently.
After the Second World War, San Marino underwent a fast and radical transformation. Like other cities, it had to face the exodus from the countryside, but lacking big urban centres it had to cope with an agglomeration process which encouraged the creation of small centres characterized by different functions. Recent building development has shortened the distance between centres and deprived the old urban structure of balance, turning the dispersed villages into one big agglomeration, vitiating its original character but failing to transform it into a new urban centre. But thanks to its limited population and recent economic well-being, San Marino does not have to face a housing problem.
Certain political and legal measures have been adopted. For example, we established a policy to make home buying more accessible, in particular, for young couples. We adopted measures to facilitate and promote the offer of homes for rent, and promptly answered the need of temporary homes for disadvantaged social classes. Green areas were created, as well as infrastructures, parking places and public roads. We do have a serious problem to tackle – namely, safeguarding our territory through future balanced town planning, focusing on sustainable development, and analysis of the impact on the natural environment.
HIRO KINOSHITA (Japan): Based on the spirit of partnership, we aggressively work on the concrete realization of the Habitat Agenda through public involvement. Human settlement issues are extremely wide and varied, and they include economic, social and cultural factors. It is, therefore, necessary to plan comprehensive and systematic national land policies in order to solve the problem. Japan’s national land policies aim at brightening the lives of individuals, ensuring security, conservation and the creation of a beautiful and favourable environment, and the formation of diversified regions.
As half of Japan’s population lives in the country’s three metropolitan areas, we make efforts to promote twenty-first-century urban renaissance projects that target the revival of the cities from the standpoint of the environment, disaster prevention and globalization, in order to enrich the lives of urban residents. I would also like to mention the water issues which are essential for environmentally sustainable, sound and favourable human settlement. The third World Water Forum will be held in the Kyoto area in the year 2003 to discuss important water problems.
We also have to tackle the problems of poverty, environmental degradation, natural disasters, HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, conflicts and refugees and various other threats to human life and dignity from the viewpoint of human security. For this purpose, Japan cooperates in projects aimed at improving living conditions in low-income areas. This has been done by establishing the Trust Fund for Human Security at the United Nations, to assist in efforts by international organizations to strengthen human security. In the twenty-first century, when we are becoming powerfully aware of the finiteness of the environment and the Earth’s resources, all nations must cooperate to realize a lush and full world, enabling its inhabitants to enjoy economic, as well as spiritual, affluence.
GEDIMINAS ŠERKŠNYS (Lithuania): Implementation of the outcome of the Habitat II conference has always been a goal for the Lithuanian Government.
Both the ongoing process of the country’s accession to the European Union and aspirations to increase universal well-being are carried out through macroeconomic activity, which creates preconditions for implementation of the Habitat II outcome.
A network of urban areas has already been formed in Lithuania, and it demonstrates a balanced settlement structure with distribution of different functions among urban centres. Even at lower levels, the settlement structure appears balanced. Such a situation creates conditions favourable for the integration of urban and rural areas, as well as their development in new social and economic conditions.
In order to fulfil the commitment of the State-supported housing programme and to facilitate conditions for the acquisition of dwellings through purchases, building or renovation, the Government has taken a number of measures to implement the strategic housing policy. An important legal act for improvement of the residential property management is the Civil Code, which was first enforced in Lithuania this year. Formation of homeowners’ associations in privatized multi-family houses is being promoted, and constant perfection of legislation for activity of homeowners’ associations is under way. Currently a new law on residential building construction associations is being drafted.
BERND NIEHAUS (Costa Rica): Poverty eradication, the sustainable development of human settlements, and the provision of decent housing for all are fundamental duties of the international community as a whole, as well as of each and every government. Implementation of the Habitat Agenda and the declaration on cities, soon to be adopted, should be profoundly realistic. Full enjoyment of human rights lies in enhancing individual productivity. Cities are the supreme product of civilization and the ideal setting for creative and constructive interaction. Only in cities can one find the broad range of options needed for full personal development.
Regrettably, however, cities are also home to the most abject living conditions. That, along with conflicts and natural disasters, turns towns into profoundly dehumanizing places. It is easy to be blinded by the bright lights and ignore the suffering of a city’s inhabitants. Without the necessary economic resources, it is impossible to improve the living conditions of our citizens. The challenge of poverty is multifaceted. Tackling it means meeting the needs for food, health, education, job training, employment, fair wages, and access to opportunity. Structural obstacles that intensify the problems of poverty, such as financial imbalances and a lack of capital, must also be combated. The danger of irregular growth, which widens the gulf between rich and poor, should also be addressed. Effective measures should be taken to create more equitable societies.
In Central America, we have witnessed repeated natural disasters whose deplorable effects have been exacerbated by deficiencies in urban development. Urban design must reduce the vulnerability of settlements to such disasters. To do so required the adoption of building techniques that minimized the effects of earthquakes, floods and avalanches. An environmental policy that guarantees sustainable land management, prevents deforestation and erosion, and ensures proper water management is the best guarantee in combating natural disasters.
MARC NTETURUYE (Burundi): The strategies and relevant recommendations formulated during the preparatory process have demonstrated the importance of human settlements in economic development. Burundi has a very high population density and a high population growth rate. The rate of urbanization, however, is only 7 per cent, and the majority of the population is rural. This is why the Government has initiated a voluntary policy to encourage the development of secondary urban centres and help alleviate pressure on agricultural lands. Those centres must be equipped with the tools of urban planning and management.
Housing is a fundamental human right, equal to that of food and health. Before the crisis afflicting the country, the Government undertook a broad programme for the improvement and production of housing throughout the country. Remarkable performance was registered, but the current crisis, in addition to causing death and displacement, negatively affected development.
Burundi has drawn up a national programme focusing on such factors as reconstruction, reinstallation and reintegration of displaced persons, promotion of housing, and protection of the environment. For the programme to be fully implemented, however, peace is needed. This is why the Government has initiated a reconciliation process with the facilitation of former South African President Nelson Mandela. We hope that promised aid will be made available as soon as possible, and appeal to the international community to come to the assistance of our Government in the implementation of the national programme.
ANGEL EDMUNDO ORELLANA MERCADO (Honduras): Internal immigration from rural to urban areas is a major problem of human settlements, common to all peoples and to all eras. Today, several factors have been added to that problem. Globalization has come to define fundamental relations between all countries. There are concerns about an adequate supply of basic services, such as energy. Environmental pollution creates problems, as well.
Recently, natural disasters of apocalyptic dimensions have been added to those problems and concerns. One of those disasters was Hurricane Mitch in Honduras. The problems of human settlements were multiplied in an instant. Providing shelter and creating conditions to revitalize the economy were the priorities of the Government after the disaster.
With generous support of the international community, progress has been made. In all the Government’s projects, the environment was a main concern. The range of outstanding issues was considerable, but the foundation has now been built. We subscribe to the universal principles included in the session’s declaration, and hope that the declaration will be adopted.
ABDALLAH BAALI (Algeria): In Algeria, the size of villages and towns is carefully proportioned to available natural resources. This translates into a whole culture of community life. The concentration of population is leading to greater poverty, and this is leading to greater insecurity. Population density pushed outside the boundaries of towns is worsening and increasing feelings of insecurity. The Habitat Agenda offers a useful framework for addressing these issues.
Mass urbanization linked to poverty gives rise to a number of questions. Archaic management and local governance issues must be addressed. The approach to the question must be based on human rights. Security of employment is also important to help ensure access of the poor to housing and public services. Local governance implies recognition of the rights of the population to participate in the decisions affecting them.
This is an opportunity for us to recall our collective responsibility to address issues of human settlements. We should work to put into concrete form the Habitat goals of adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development.
RASHID ALIMOV (Tajikistan): The most important requirement of globalization is the provision of a genuine and just distribution of economic benefits among all countries and populations. We firmly support the goals of the Habitat Agenda, and are undertaking huge efforts to provide decent housing and living conditions for all segments of the population. We are confronted with considerable difficulties, caused by the civil conflict which left tens of thousands of people without housing. The transition to a market economy has also been challenging. Insufficient investment is a most serious problem that requires outside assistance.
The recent Tokyo meeting yielded valuable results in terms of contributions by the World Bank and international donors. This should motivate development in our country, as well as efforts towards a stable peace. At the same time, we will do our utmost to achieve the goals of the Istanbul Conference. A priority is mitigating the effects of conflict on urban areas and rebuilding the economy. The special session should have the international community decide to multiply efforts to assist conflict-torn countries in achieving the sustainable development of their towns and other populated areas.
Despite this difficult transitional time, we are formulating a national mechanism to provide equal opportunities, especially in education and employment. We are also elaborating a programme to fight poverty. Strengthening the health system in both towns and rural areas and providing access to clean drinking water are other priorities. Despite the difficulties, we are striving to implement the goals of Istanbul through motivated and well designed national policies, aided by the support of the international community.
NASSER AL-KIDWA, Permanent Observer of Palestine: Other members of the Palestinian delegation have been prevented from coming because of the closing off by Israel of the Palestinian territories. The harsh policies and practices of the occupying Power have affected every aspect of Palestinian life and threatened its very existence. The most serious issue in this regard is the colonization of the occupied Palestinian territory through the transfer of the civilian population of the occupying Power, the establishment of Israeli settlements and the ongoing confiscation of Palestinian land. The impact of Israel's illegal settlement activities has been particularly severe in occupied East Jerusalem, where the occupying Power's practices have aimed at Judaization of the city, have altered the demographic composition of Jerusalem, and have affected the historical and cultural character of the city.
Another issue regarding human settlements is the plight of the Palestine refugees and displaced persons, now numbering approximately 3.8 million people and representing the world's largest and longest-standing refugee population. These refugees have lived in severely cramped and crowded dwellings, lacking basic services. The refugee camps of Gaza are among the most densely populated parcels of land in the world. The poverty and unemployment rates are severe and have continued to rise astronomically during the recent turmoil. The current uprising in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, has been met with severely debilitating practices by the occupying Power, including excessive use of force and violence against the civilian population.
The situation has worsened both urban and rural poverty, prevented any real progress towards sustainable development, and precluded the direction of attention to other issues of importance as outlined in the Habitat Agenda. During this special session, we reaffirm the need for the international community to intensify efforts to speed the process of resolving the tragic plight of the Palestinian people. Efforts need to be undertaken to resolve the many problems that continue to hinder implementation of the Istanbul Declaration and Habitat Agenda. The first and most important step in this regard must be bringing an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people.
* *** *