Press Releases

    9 September 2005

    In Remarks to "United Cities and Local Governments", Secretary-General Says Local Action Needed to Achieve Global Goals

    NEW YORK, 8 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of today's remarks, as delivered, by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to "United Cities and Local Governments" in New York:

    Let me, first of all, thank you for the signatures, which reflects significant support at the grass-roots level for the Millennium Development Goals.

    It is a great pleasure to welcome you to United Nations Headquarters on the eve of the 2005 World Summit.  Next week's event is a unique opportunity for world leaders to take bold decisions to make our world fairer, freer, more prosperous and more secure, and to strengthen the United Nations itself.  It will be a crucial moment.  As such, it is not just appropriate but essential that you, who are so closely in touch with the daily lives and aspirations of the world's people, have gathered to offer us your views and your vision.

    As you know well, the world has entered the urban millennium.  Half the world's people now live in cities and towns.  That in itself marks a historic transition.  But what will happen over the next 30 years is just as significant.  According to United Nations projections, virtually all of the world's population growth will occur in the urban areas of low- and middle-income countries.  How we manage that growth will go a long way towards influencing the world's future peace and prosperity.

    At their best, the urban centres of the developing world are engines of economic growth and wellsprings of dynamism.  But many of them have also become reservoirs of poverty, with people living under life- and health-threatening circumstances, lacking water, sanitation, shelter, adequate living space and security of tenure.  One of every six people on earth now lives in a slum or squatter settlement.  Should present trends continue, the decades ahead will see the urbanization of poverty.

    This urban context is a critical part of our work to meet the Millennium Development Goals.  In adopting the Millennium Declaration, Member States committed themselves to achieving a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020.  While that is the only formal target specifically addressing urban poverty, the urban connection runs through the full list of goals.  How can we expect to reach the Millennium Development Goals, and advance on the wider development agenda, without making progress in areas such as education, hunger, health, water, sanitation and gender equality?  Cities and local authorities have a critical role to play in all of these areas.

    The vulnerability of cities has only increased since the Goals were adopted.  Globalization is creating jobs and other opportunities, but is also bringing economic and other disruptions.  The AIDS pandemic has continued to spread rapidly, further taxing the capacities of public health systems.  Environmental problems are becoming more acute in many places.  Terrorism has added new burdens, including post-attack reconstruction and economic hardships, as well as heightened communal tensions in places already grappling with violent crime and other threats to social cohesion.  And as we have seen since Hurricane Katrina struck 10 days ago, natural disasters can bring havoc to major cities in rich and poor countries alike.  The United Nations stands ready to do its part as the recovery effort continues.

    These challenges cut across a wide range of interlinked issues.  Global and local matters are more intertwined than ever before.  Where once many problems were the sole domain of national governments, today they can be tackled only by partnerships that involve central governments, the private sector, civil society and local authorities -- and often international institutions, too.  So we will need you to do your part both as local managers and as some of your country's most influential politicians.  We will also need your national leaders and governments to give you the space to act.  A State which treats local authorities as partners, and allows public tasks to be carried out by those closest to the citizens, will be stronger, not weaker.  Weak cities will almost certainly act as a brake on national development, whereas strong local democracy can be a key factor enabling a country to thrive.

    UN agencies and programmes are determined to continue strengthening their engagement with you.  Forums such as the UN Advisory Committee of Local Authorities are also proving valuable in raising the international profile of local authorities.  And new rules offer you an opportunity to take part in the biennial sessions of UN-HABITAT's Governing Council.  I urge you to take advantage of this welcome change.

    Next week's World Summit is expected to be the largest gathering of heads of State and Government ever.  The negotiations on the draft outcome, under the leadership of the President of the General Assembly, are seeking to build consensus across a range of issues -- on financing for development, health, the environment, terrorism, non-proliferation, post-conflict reconstruction, human rights, and reform of the UN itself.

    But whatever is achieved next week, let us not imagine that these next few days represent the end of the process.  Rather, it is a beginning.  And much as we hope for a good beginning here in New York, ultimately it is in the streets of your cities and towns that the value of what's decided here will be tested.  You are essential partners.  It is there, in the daily lives of your citizens, in their safety and security, in their prosperity and sense of opportunity, that our progress will be most visible, and our setbacks felt most keenly.  While our Goals are global, they can most effectively be achieved through action at local level.

    I thank you for your commitment to the United Nations, and to working hand in hand with the international community to advance on these pressing agendas.

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