7 June 2001


NEW YORK, 6 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the address of Secretary-General Kofi Annan delivered today in New York to the General Assembly Special Session for an overall review and appraisal of the implementation of the outcome of the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) (Istanbul, 1996):

The Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements, whose fifth anniversary we mark with this special session, was not an isolated event. It was an integral part of the series of landmark conferences held by the United Nations during the 1990s. Though each conference had its own specific topic, they were all related to one another and to one over-arching aim: to give men, women and children, in cities and villages around the world, the chance to share in the wealth and opportunities of our times.

The world is in the midst of a historic and radical transformation, not only in how people live, but in where they live. A majority of the world's people are now city-dwellers, and the rapid increase in urbanization is expected to continue, with most of it coming from the developing countries. Cities have always been crossroads of peoples and ideas, and great founts of culture and innovation. Today, urban areas are the major driving forces of development and globalization.

But, with the shift to cities, many of society's inequities and ills are also becoming more and more urban. Two thirds of the cities in the developing world do not have waste-water treated. In countries with economies in transition, 75 per cent of solid waste is disposed in open dumps. And everywhere, we see stark contrasts: gritty slums and gleaming skyscrapers side-by-side in unplanned urban sprawl; conspicuous consumption alongside great pyramids of waste that threaten the environment and human health; and growing gaps between housing costs and housing supply, and between housing costs and salaries offered by labour markets.

At the same time, we must not forget the needs of rural settlements and communities. After all, in developing countries the rapid rate of urbanization is caused mostly by past failures in rural development. Of the more than 1.2 billion global poor, three quarters live in rural areas. If humanity is to have a sustainable future, we must improve the lives of the poor everywhere.

The Istanbul conference was an attempt to show that, with proper guidance, urbanization can be a positive force for the reduction of poverty and the achievement of sustainable development. Five years along the path of implementing the Habitat Agenda, a few points stand out.

One is the importance of partnership. Two thirds of the world's cities have established new public-private partnerships in the last five years. Most countries have adapted housing and other policies to reflect internationally agreed principles. Such steps are not the work of States alone. Local authorities, non-governmental organizations, women's organizations and other civil society groups made enormous contributions. They spread the word, and they mobilized people and lobbied for change.

A second key point is urban governance. This is a precondition for economic efficiency and effective administration. A healthy society is one that gives all its members a chance to participate in decisions that affect their lives. Improved urban governance, therefore, implies greater democracy and strengthened local authorities. In particular, we must strengthen the role of women and ensure that all decision-makers, male and female, address the issues that affect women, who are the unsung heroes of poor urban areas.

A third very important issue facing tens of millions of urban families is the lack of secure tenure. In some cases, people have houses but lack titles to those homes, and live in fear of arbitrary forced eviction. Others are engaged in business activities, but lack licenses to operate them. This absence of legal protection and support often leads to the enlargement of the informal sector, allowing people to put food on the table, but inhibiting the ability of people to raise capital, attract investment and receive water and other basic services. We must reduce this insecurity, and build up the legal and other infrastructures on which stable communities depend. Action in this area has the potential to create considerable wealth and provide a major route out of poverty.

The world's cities face a long list of common challenges, which means that rich and poor nations should be able to find common ground. But progress will not happen without leadership. That is where you come in: you, the ministers and mayors responsible for urban policy; you, non-governmental organizations, women's groups and others in civil society. All of you, in your own way, are leaders who must answer to the inhabitants of the world's slums, favelas, barrios, ghettoes, shanty-towns and squatter settlements.

Shelter is an often neglected aspect of economic and social development. Our challenge at this special session is to create lasting momentum for action on housing issues. If this session does its work well, you will agree on measures needed to implement not only the Habitat Agenda, but also the Millennium Declaration, in which the world's leaders pledged to achieve significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020. You also have an opportunity to contribute to next year's World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.

The world has entered the urban millennium. Let us rise to its many challenges. I wish you a very productive and stimulating session.

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