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ECOSOC High-Level Segment 2003 Plenary on “Promoting an Integrated Approach to Rural Development in Developing Countries for Poverty Eradication and Sustainable Development”
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Your Excellency Mr. Gert Rosenthal, President of ECOSOC,
Hounorable Ministers,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have great pleasure participating in this year’s ECOSOC High-Level Segment. The theme of this year’s High-Level Segment - Promoting an Integrated Approach to Rural Development in Developing Countries for Poverty Eradication and Sustainable Development - is of utmost development importance.

Mr. President, we shall have more time to elaborate on the issues later this afternoon at the Ministerial Round Table on Rural-Urban Interface and Slums, which will take place in Room 25, beginning at 4.00 p.m. Let me therefore in the interest of time just highlight the thrust of my thoughts on these issues.

Although more than 60% of people in developing countries still live and work in rural areas and a significant proportion of them live in abject poverty, we live in an era that is experiencing very rapid rural-to-urban migration. In the last 40 years, Latin America has experienced a rapid rate of urbanization such that today 75% of them live in urban areas. Over 30% of Latin American urbanites live in slums called favelas. Asia, which is home to 80% of humanity, is also urbanizing and currently 36% of Asians live in cities. Some of the world’s biggest megapolis such as Mumbai, Calcutta, Bangkok have over 10 million people and between 1/3 and ½ of them are in slums. Africa is a bigger challenge because it is the fastest urbanizing continent. Pushed both by rural poverty and decades of civil strife and conflict, 37% of Africans are already in cities and more than half of them live in slums. Our projections show that by 2030, Africa will cease to be a rural continent as over 50% of its population will be in cities and towns – this is in a matter of one generation.

While people move to cities in the course of economic development and structural transformation in search of better opportunities, poverty and hardships in rural areas tend to accelerate rural-to-urban migration and lead to premature urbanization and the problems it creates. The rapidity and enormous volume of this rural-to-urban population transfer intensifies slum formation as the city planning and management system is unable to adequately cope with the massive population influx. This exacerbates the urban slum-housing crisis we experience today. Currently nearly 50% of humanity lives in urban areas. Nearly 32% of the world’s urban population lives in slums and in developing countries about 43% of the urban population are slum dwellers.

In livelihood terms, a significant proportion of the new urban population, especially women, for lack of alternatives, engages in urban and peri-urban food production, for subsistence, making irrelevant the discrete dichotomy between economic activity in rural and urban areas and their division of labour.

Considering the inter-relationship of these forces, it is my view that development should no longer be cast in discrete rural and urban contexts but rather be contextualised in balanced territorial development terms and integrated rural cum urban development strategies through developing and strengthening intermediate-sized secondary and tertiary towns and rural service centers that serve to add value to rural products and generate non-farm incomes as agricultural productivity rises. In other words, cities and towns are the growth nodes around which rural development has to take place. City economies are an essential part of the equation in our search for sustainable rural development.

In a resolution, the just ended Governing Council of UN-HABITAT requested me, as the Executive Director, to identify and disseminate good practices and policies for mutually beneficial urban-rural development relationships, which could be replicated in other countries.

Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is in this context that the Ministerial Round Table this afternoon on Rural-Urban Interface and Slums, referred to earlier, has been organized to further share experiences on this issue and to solicit suggestions on more effective development approaches that would enhance improvement of the conditions of people living in both rural and urban areas. I take this opportunity to invite you all to this Round Table.

Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

I sincerely hope that the deliberations at this High-Level Segment will contribute to tackling the twin problems of rural and urban poverty and under-development in developing countries in a more coordinated way. I very much look forward to the outcome of this ECOSOC session.

I thank you for your attention.

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