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Nineteenth Session of the Governing Council of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme The UN-HABITAT Strategic Vision
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Your Excellency, the President of the Republic of Kenya, Hon. Mwai Kibaki, Your Excellency, Ambassador Sid-Ali Ketrandji, Your Excellency (Chair of the Committee of Permanent Representatives to UN-HABITAT), Ms. Rosalinda Valenton Tirona Your Excellency, Kenya Minister for Roads, Public Works and Housing, Hon. Eng. Raila Odinga, Your Excellency, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, Prof. Klaus Toepfer, Excellencies, Ministers, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to welcome you to the first meeting of the Governing Council for the newly elevated United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT).

Mr. President, allow me also to point out that this meeting is taking place for the first time under a new NARC-led Government under your able leadership. May I therefore once again take this opportunity to congratulate you, and all members of your cabinet and senior government official who are present here today, for winning the confidence of the Kenyan people to lead your country to development and prosperity. I believe all delegates in this meeting are as optimistic as I am that under your leadership UN-HABITAT and UNEP, which are the only UN agencies headquartered in a developing country, will continue to deliver their respective mandates to Kenya and to the entire global community.

Our new status as a fully-fledged programme of the United Nations is indeed a milestone and a clear signal from the international community that sustainable urban development, adequate shelter and the plight of the world’s urban poor are irrevocable priorities on the world’s development agenda. A most notable indicator in this regard has been the placement of adequate shelter and slums alongside the original five priorities of water and sanitation, energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity (WEHAB) at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg last year.

Since the year 2000, the United Nations system has been electrified by the Millennium Declaration, adopted by Heads of State and Government at the United Nations Millennium Summit in New York. As a distillation of the platforms and plans of action negotiated at major United Nations conferences throughout the previous decade, the Millennium Declaration embraces a shared set of measurable goals and targets. The achievement of these goals and targets represents humanity’s greatest potential to rid the world of poverty.

Never before have the United Nations, the World Bank, governments, business and civil society rallied so strongly around a common commitment. The first seven goals – focused on the alleviation of poverty and its causes – are linked to the eighth goal, which calls for systemic changes in ways of financing development and in global governance structures. Of most direct relevance to the UN Human Settlements Programme is Goal 7, Target 11: to achieve a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, by 2020.

As the most visible manifestation of urban poverty, slums are where the city’s problems all come together. Disease, including HIV/AIDS, illiteracy, vulnerability and insecurity – especially of women and children – lack of adequate shelter, unemployment, pollution and a shortage of resources to fix what’s wrong all define the slum. In curing the city of these manifold problems by upgrading the slum environment, we will certainly be improving the lives of slum dwellers.

Since the year 2000, during the final phase of the revitalization process, UN-HABITAT and our Habitat Agenda partners have refocused on slum-upgrading, mounting a direct attack on this most squalid of settings for human life. The UN-HABITAT work programmes for the biennia 2002-2003 and 2004-2005 clearly express this orientation. We are putting nearly every resource at our command into the attainment of Target 11.

Yet, slums are not static targets at which we may fire when ready. Since the year 2000 when the Millennium Declaration was signed, more than 75 million people have entered the vortex of slum life. This is already three-quarters of the slum population targeted by the Millennium Development Goals.

By the year 2050, when two-thirds of the world’s 9 billion inhabitants will live in cities, we expect there to be 3 billion urban slum dwellers. Slums, especially in the developing world, are forming at a rate five to ten times faster than the rate targeted by the international community to upgrade them. Member States of the United Nations have not only already slipped behind in achieving the target, the problem appears to be much larger – or the solutions much different – from what was assumed in the year 2000.


Ladies and gentlemen, we might win the battle, but we are in danger of losing the war. The formation of slums is today very much like an epidemic disease. Think about the 3 billion people who will be living in urban poverty in less than five decades. This is exponential growth that outpaces current abilities to mitigate the problem. We must not, therefore, focus only on symptoms of poverty in the slums themselves. To avert the runaway growth of slums, we must restructure the economic, social and political vectors that nourish and transmit inequity and poverty.

At the top of the list of carriers of urban poverty is an anti-urban bias that finds expression in national policies of urban neglect, tolerance for under-resourced and unaccountable urban governance, a willful ignorance of the role of cities in national economic life and a fatalism about the inevitability of slums and poverty. Other vectors include an international economic system that removes many safety nets from beneath vulnerable populations and forces redundant workers into city slums where there is no work. At the local level, slum formation can be encouraged by a perception that the poor have nothing to contribute and by a lack of effective land use planning that would anticipate population growth, for example, with dedicated rights-of-way and land for housing and services.

Certainly, slum upgrading is urgently needed everywhere. And the UN system, particularly UN-HABITAT, must redouble efforts to develop demonstrable means for directly improving the slum environment and the lives of slum dwellers. Thus we are targeting: (a) the physical upgrading of housing, infrastructure and environment; (b) social upgrading through improved education, health and secure tenure; and (c) upgrading of governance through participatory processes, community leadership and empowerment. Ideally, there will be scaling-up and transfer effects that result in much greater impact – even an exponential impact – than might be expected from our relatively meager resources.

Nonetheless, if we are to eradicate slums, as called for in the Millennium Declaration by endorsing the Cities without Slums initiative of the World Bank and UN-HABITAT, we must also turn our attention to the root causes and carriers of urban poverty. These must be dealt with through effective local and regional development planning and through strong national pro-poor urban policies that are incorporated into national economic development plans and promoted by global institutions seeking to deliver a balanced territorial development. The rural-urban linkages and dynamics that will be discussed in this coming week must be well understood. Strategies include: (a) stimulation of job creation through citywide advance development planning; (b) development and management of the urban revenue base; (c) urban infrastructure improvements; (d) provision of attractive amenities; (e) more effective city management and urban governance practices; (f) community empowerment; (g) vulnerability reduction; and (h) citywide security.

At the level of the urban region and its hinterlands, strategies include: (a) reduction of urbanization impacts through national urban policies and enabling laws that strengthen secondary and tertiary cities; (b) effective metropolitan governance; (c) the planning and management of integrated urban-rural infrastructure systems; and (d) securing enduring peace and stability in rural regions afflicted by war and conflict, especially on the African continent.

In all of this, we must work toward expansion of the urban middle class, which is the only avenue grand enough to enable so many to leave the slums and slum life behind. And, we must also work to create and strengthen regional hierarchies of cities, towns and villages that optimize economic advantage of place. Cities are centers of economic growth, social and political advancement, not to mention centers of cultural diversity and vitality. As such, even if we tried, we cannot possibly reverse the flow of people leaving the rural areas for the city. The objective therefore is to create magnetic alternatives to the primate city by linking value added in one place to that added in another, casting a net of productivity across the rural hinterlands. With another 50 years of urbanization in front of us, mostly in countries of the developing world, these can be effective strategies in guiding our fate away from poverty and the urban slum.

Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen, there is a practical constraint to all of this that requires UN-HABITAT to consider its mandates, resources, abilities and the objectives of its partners. Turning these real limitations into an advantage is what makes a vision a strategic one.

Urban poverty reduction strategies derive from an understanding of current conditions and trends (for example, urbanization, globalization, the growth of slums and the gross inequities in urban life) and from the norms and principles that guide the United Nations response to these conditions. These norms and principles include, among others, sustainable urban development, adequate shelter for all, improvement in the lives of slum dwellers, access to safe water and sanitation, social inclusion, environmental protection and the various human rights. With experience and understanding also comes the recognition that urban and shelter finance mechanisms are essential to poverty reduction and, also, that very little may be achieved without collaborative effort, as expressed in partnerships.

With these imperatives in mind and with a sharper focus on urban poverty and slums, the UN-HABITAT strategic vision is both forward looking and pragmatic, being consistent with social norms and political principles as well as with UN-HABITAT mandates, capabilities and partners’ objectives. The UN-HABITAT strategy to meet the Cities without Slums goal of the Millennium Declaration is comprised of five components that integrate both ends and means.

  1. The first is information generation and knowledge management, without which there can be no assessment of either the extent and condition of the world’s slums or the trends in slum formation and changes in the lives of slum dwellers.
  2. The second component is advocacy of agreed norms for improving the lives of slum dwellers, using two campaigns – on secure tenure and good urban governance -- and various global programmes as vehicles. These norms are derived from, among other sources, key commitments and recommendations of the Habitat Agenda that relate to sustainable urban development and amelioration of slum conditions.
  3. The third component, field operations, ties the advocacy function to the learning process whereby technical assistance and capacity building projects are designed to test methods and concepts that may be scaled up and transferred and to provide feedback to policy-makers at all levels.
  4. The fourth component is the institutionalization of mechanisms for the financing of housing, infrastructure and other development requirements that will improve the lives of slum dwellers. It is about functional approaches to make pro-poor investments on a large scale. The challenge of reviving the Habitat and Human Settlements Foundation so it may deliver its original objective of assisting poor communities with such investment is also before this meeting.
  5. Finally, the key to carrying out its slum related mission is for UN-HABITAT to enter into partnerships with organizations that hold resources, skills and mandates that complement and extend those of UN-HABITAT. The assigned task of coordinating work on the Habitat Agenda necessitates this component.

The first four elements of the strategic vision find their expression in the sub-programmes of the overall UN-HABITAT Work Programme (that is, Monitoring the Habitat Agenda, Shelter and sustainable human settlements development, Regional and technical cooperation and Financing human settlements) and in the derivative divisional structure of the UN-HABITAT organization. The fifth element, strategic partnerships, is a sine qua non for the successful implementation of all UN-HABITAT objectives. I would like to take my few remaining minutes to mention very briefly some of these key partnerships that have been forged so far.

First is The Cities Alliance, where UN-HABITAT, the World Bank, donor governments and global associations of cities support integrated city development strategies as prerequisite for slum upgrading efforts.

Second, UN-HABITAT and UNDP have also entered into a landmark agreement whereby national Habitat Programme Managers are being placed within UNDP country offices as advocates and experts on urban poverty reduction. These professionals will provide input to UN Development Assistance Frameworks and Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers and will serve as UN-HABITAT agents in advocating norms and implementing projects. Heretofore, shelter issues have been neglected or forgotten in national development frameworks purporting to fight poverty. This partnership should help in addressing this particular problem.

Third, two regional development banks, the Asian Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, have recently signed agreements with UN-HABITAT to collaborate in important spheres of activity. In the case of the Asian Development Bank, major funding, in the amount of US$ 500 million, is being made available for investment in Asian urban water projects as follow-up to UN-HABITAT’s policy and governance activities.

Fourth is a break-through in partnership with civil society and now the private sector through a recent public-private partnership with the leading maker of Geographic Information Systems software, the Environmental Sciences Research Institute. Under this support, worth the equivalent US$15 million, UN-HABITAT will be able to provide up to 1000 cities in developing countries with Geographic Information System software and training in support of the urban indicators programme of the Global Urban Observatory. This adds up to our expanding collaboration with NGOs and CBOs at all levels.

Fifth, in the most comprehensive and innovative partnership strategy, UN-HABITAT and the government of The Netherlands are pioneering the UN-HABITAT Partnership Agreement that encourages multi-year donor funding of work on selected themes, strategies and outputs of the UN-HABITAT biennial work programme. I would encourage all delegations to review the Partnership Agreement to determine how it might fit into your countries’ development assistance frameworks and I would like to thank those Member States who have already agreed to give their support through this arrangement.

Each of these partnerships is described in more detail in the information document, Update on UN-HABITAT Strategic Vision (HSP/GC/19/INF/10) that should be in front of you.

Finally, please allow me to once again emphasize that our assessment of slum dynamics in the coming decades argues for a multi-dimensional approach to the millennium slum target. By itself, slum upgrading, the most commonly adopted process for combating urban slums, will not be able to keep up with the rate of slum formation. This makes it imperative that we deal with the macro-forces underlying urban poverty and slums.

In addition to slum upgrading, UN-HABITAT must strengthen its capacities in the areas of urban economic development and of urban regional development as well as its ability to advise on national urban policy and legislative initiatives. The object in this is to strengthen the urban component of the national economy, both to help move people out of poverty and to keep them from entering into that condition in the first place by addressing institutional bottlenecks and other mechanisms of social exclusion that perpetuate poverty. The view into the future is sufficiently clear to indicate that our coming work programmes must help us strengthen capacity for urban economic development among all our partners.

Mr. Chairman,
For a variety of reasons, many of them political, cities in most developing countries have not been given the tools needed to play the strong role that modern development theory would assign to them. They are still relatively dependent upon highly centralized political and bureaucratic systems that are too often unresponsive to urban needs. Such cities may not be granted sufficient authority or financial means to deal with acute pains of growth, let alone chronic poverty. Without sufficient resources and proper capabilities, cities will continue to be perceived as a development problem not as a solution. Until member states of the United Nations become more confident in their own local authorities, expressing that confidence in policy that welcomes national subsidiarity in matters local, the national developmental toolkit will remain functionally deficient. In this regard, I would draw your attention to the dialogue on decentralization that will also take place at this meeting.

Distinguished delegates, not only do you constitute the Governing Council of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, you represent many of the individual countries that are UN-HABITAT’s ultimate source of support. You also have, literally, a controlling interest in the development of your own cities. In this, it is important to emphasize that UN Member States’ Habitat Agenda commitment to decentralization implies an obligation to help the UN system target its technical cooperation activities to the local level.

While Member States are still the primary clientele for UN developmental activities, the need to prepare local authorities for a growing set of responsibilities would ask for your support to a Programme that can work directly with local stakeholders, as well as with national governments, to serve as an advocate for both local interests and global norms. The UN-HABITAT vision and our strategy for implementation are packaged in a programme of activities that encompasses this broad range of tasks.

With this statement, I welcome you to the first, and 19th, session of the Governing Council of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme and wish you well in your work during the coming week.

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