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International Forum on Urban Poverty in Marrakech, Morocco
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His Majesty Mohammed VI, King of Morocco, Emir Al Mouminin
Hon. Ministers and Government representatives
Your worship Mayors and municipal councilors
Hon. Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Your Excellencies.
Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a great honour and privilege for me to address this important Conference in the presence of the most important dignitaries in this beautiful country of Morocco and I would like to thank His Majesty, the King of Morocco, and his government for making it possible for all of us to gather here to discuss how best we can solve the problems of urban poverty all over the world.

Distinguished delegates, at the dawn of the new millennium, some of our dreams are coming true. We are beginning to live in a better world, a world of universal human rights, democracy and a livable world for many people.

However, even as we achieve these goals we find that we are living through a nightmare of renewed conflicts, intolerance, terrorism, human misery and injustice. There is a growing gap between the rich and the poor. 80 per cent of humanity own only 20 per cent of all resources, including land and knowledge. At the same time, the three wealthiest people on the planet possess a fortune higher than the combined Gross Domestic Product of the 48 least developed countries in the world,

The world is increasingly being divided between the haves and the have-nots. The world of the rich is one in which they live in a universe apart, with their own security and with all the benefits that urbanization and technology have to offer. For the rest, especially the poor, life is a struggle without access to adequate shelter or basic services such as water, sanitation and shelter. What is worse, many of the poor live under constant threat of eviction.

Such stark differences and divisions can be found between regions and nations and also within countries and cities. This is a world where urban zones of poverty and despair overlook glamour zones of plenty. And if current trends are not reversed we will all be destined to live in increasingly divided cities and communities.

There can be no question that we need to connect the two worlds in our cities. We need to open new avenues and build bridges so that there can be a dialogue between North and South, and between the rich and poor in every city, town and village. We need to shape a new urban geography that gives hope, solidarity and dignity to the poor. But to do this we need to understand their problems.

Your Majesty, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, the Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus, wrote in his last book " The First Man" that:

"Poverty is becoming a fortress without drawbridges."

He was right. Poverty is not just a matter of the lack of means and resources, opportunities and constraints but also of how human goals are achieved. And we are gathered here to think about how best we can achieve the goal of a world without poverty.

For those of us leading privileged lives, it is all too easy for us to forget the appalling conditions that confront the poor and dispossessed. Permit me then, if you will to describe the lives of ordinary individuals who live in slums and spontaneous settlements.

Often the families in slums come from rural areas looking for better circumstances. But instead of being provided with safe and secure shelter, the poor are confronted with the prospect of having to raise their children without a decent roof over their head, in an environment that has no basic services. Apart from living under the constant threat of eviction, the shacks of the poor are frequently built on hazardous land. These homes are the first to be washed away during floods and natural disasters. At the same time, the poor often pay up to 100 percent more than the rich for basic services like water.

In these areas, the lack of any basic infrastructure such as drainage and sewage means that in cities of the developing world 5.8 percent of children die before reaching the age of five. The crime rate is so high that in many cities young males are five times more likely to die violently than those living in more affluent areas. If that is not enough, it is known that the highest concentration of HIV positive populations is in slums and squatter settlements.

Urban poverty is a monster with many heads and arms that limits the possibilities available to the poor. Most of them live one day at a time. The poor are marginalized to the point where they are unable to determine their own destiny.

What is worse is that the living conditions of the poor have not improved over time. In fact, they have experienced a continuous deterioration in their living environment. At the same time there has been a considerable increase in the number of urban poor. Only twenty years ago, only one third of the world's poor was living in urban areas while it is estimated that now half of the poor are concentrated in cities and towns. Now, it is estimated that of the world's population of six billion people, half of whom live in urban areas, there are over one billion poor people living in slums and spontaneous settlements.

Your majesty, King Mohamed the VI, your Excellencies:

Ironically enough such poverty exists at a time when we are in the midst of an international economic revolution. The process of globalization has been driven by cities and towns that serve as national and regional engines of economic growth. Since time immemorial cities and towns have been the centres of technological and cultural creativity and human development. Indeed, today cities and towns form the front line in the development of the international economy. Cities are also promoting social progress.

In this globalizing world, cities have an enormous influence on how national economies are integrated into the regional and international economy. Urban settlements, properly planned and managed, hold the promise for human development. Because cities offer economies of scale, they can also be designed to protect the world's natural resources. In other words, in an increasingly competitive international economic environment, cities play a key role in ensuring a new connectivity among economic actors. Productive cities can generate growth, create opportunities and can be the centres of economic progress.

However, we need to recognize that many cities in the developing world are far from achieving their potential. The connection between these cities and the global and the regional economy is rather limited and tenuous. Some cities are not performing to their maximum. Others are growing so rapidly that they the are confronted with more problems than they can handle. They are unable to fulfill the promise of raising the living standards of their inhabitants. In the midst of plenty you find islands of insecurity and desperation. Many cities have also become major sources of pollution.

But it is our argument at Habitat that cities can be productive and inclusive at the same time, and we need to work to build on this interdependence. The concept paper that Habitat will present in this Conference will further elaborate this approach stating that productive and inclusive cities are mutually reinforcing concepts and any attempt to separate this synergy can only lead to greater poverty and exclusion.

Your majesty, King Mohamed the VI, your Excellencies:

We are gathered here to make common cause against the poverty and to use Camus' phrase, we are here to build the drawbridges to open the fortress in order to break the cycle of poverty.

We are here to find collective and individual ways and means to improve the conditions of the urban poor.

We need to fight to tackle not only the most tangible symptoms of poverty on living conditions but also some of its root causes. We need to stop excluding the urban poor from the benefits of urban life.

In other words, distinguished delegates, the challenge is how to include the poor in the future of our cities, towns and villages.

Unfortunately, what we are seeing too often in the world today is the tragic result of exclusion. Exclusion traps the poor because they have no access to land, basic services, shelter, factors of production, and employment. They also lack any political participation or representation in the major economic, social, cultural and political institutions.

Those who are excluded cannot share our dreams with us instead they live in a world of nightmares.

Five years ago, on the occasion of the First Forum on Urban Poverty held in Brazil, the Recife Declaration proclaimed:

"People want to be defined through what they are, what they have and what they can do -and not by what they lack. The basic point of departure both in policy and intervention, should be the respect for what the poor themselves are thinking and doing, for their initiatives and forms of organization". If the image of poverty does not change, its reality will not either.

Today, five years later, though democracy is taking hold in many parts of the world, the poor are still excluded from participating in economic, social and political life. In many parts of the world, though decentralization and devolution are being effectively implemented, many local authorities still do not have the means to fulfill their role.

At the same time, in some cases, the problems have been exacerbated because local governments still have not accepted that there is a need for greater participation of civil society. Local authorities need to recognize that an inclusive dialogue, involving all stakeholders, is needed not only as a consensus building strategy but in order to promote a communal understanding of the hard choices involved in its solution. The best managed cities are those in which local authorities have been able to involve the local community in prioritizing their needs and in involving them in implementing the most realistic solutions.

Your majesty, King Mohamed the VI, your Excellencies:

Since its inception in 1978, Habitat has been the UN agency responsible for human settlements development. Since 1996, when over 171 countries adopted the Habitat Agenda, Habitat has been the focal point within the UN system for the implementation of the Habitat Agenda. We at Habitat are dedicated to supporting governments in their fight against urban poverty.

The significance of this challenge must not be underestimated. In fact, aware of the magnitude of this problem, last year at the millennium summit, world leaders committed themselves to halving the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015 and improving the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.

If the international community is to meet these targets then the work of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements is even more critical. And we at Habitat are more than willing to meet the challenge. Our technical experience and broad-based competence is available to all governments, local authorities, non-governmental organizations and other Habitat Agenda partners to help improve the living conditions of the poor.

But distinguished delegates if we are to make common cause, we need to understand the problems and possible solutions. Therefore, I would like to outline a number of conditions that are necessary.

  • First we need to concede that the resources, including capital, technology and human skills, that are required to launch a global war on poverty and underdevelopment exist in abundance but they are badly allocated. Therefore, any policy pertaining to alleviating poverty may have to commence with agreement on all sides --rich and poor; included and excluded--, of the necessity for change. The status quo is unsustainable.

  • Second, we need to acknowledge that a free market is a necessary condition for long-term growth but growth is not enough in itself to reduce poverty. Habitat's basic belief is that equitable and sustainable growth is the key to poverty reduction but that it needs to be mitigated with social policies that encourage and enable the poor to develop.

  • Third, we need to recognize that poverty, which has for long been associated with rural areas, has increasingly become urbanized and feminized, therefore growing attention needs to be given to the urban poor and particularly to the situation of women.

  • Fourth, we need to address poverty in all its dimensions and not only as an issue about income. Evidence compiled by our Centre and other UN agencies shows that there are close links between poverty, shelter and environment; between gender and poverty; between the level of human capital and poverty; and finally between exclusion and poverty.

  • Fifth, we need to conceptualize poverty in such a way as to place more emphasis on the dignity of the poor and their participation in social and political life as a functioning criteria of society.

  • Finally, we must be aware that armed conflict is a major cause of poverty but that poverty also contributes to armed conflict. Insecurity and violence, or vulnerability to disaster are all aided and abetted by the process of exclusion and poverty. Therefore, social policies should raise issues of justice. At the same time it is important to provide social and economic safety nets for the poor. This must also include strategies to reduce their vulnerability to natural disasters.

The above conditions have been based on more than 20 years of Habitat's experience. Our work confirms that any innovative plan for urban poverty reduction must take these conditions into account.

Your majesty, King Mohamed the VI, your Excellencies:

During Istanbul + 5, Habitat was given the mandate to track progress towards the implementation of the Habitat Agenda -whose ultimate goal is the reduction of poverty- by developing an appropriate process for governments, parliamentarians, local authorities, private sector, NGOs, civil society and other partner groups to evaluate their own performance in implementing plans of action. These reports provided an important database for assessing how best to effect anti-poverty strategies. At the same time, Habitat's own work has provided us with many insights into what works and what does not. So I would like to share with you some of Habitat's recent ideas on how best to meet the challenge of reducing poverty.

  • First, if strategies of poverty reduction are to be successful, it is important to form coalitions and alliances in favor of social action. Successful solutions demand an integrated approach to the task. Activities can not be implemented in an isolated way. It is therefore important to develop strategic alliances that will contribute to developing a coherent framework of intervention commonly shared by everybody. Our Centre is establishing a broad and multi-dimensional perspective on urban poverty reduction. This includes policies needed to generate pro-poor economic growth in the cities, upgrading urban utilities and services and improving the governance of urban centres. At the same time, this approach extends to working with a number of partners such as local governments and civil society on how to work together on issues of equity and vulnerability. This includes supporting the empowerment of the urban poor to change their unacceptable living conditions through the active exercise of their rights and their capabilities.

  • Second, it is important to advocate people centred policies. Recently Habitat has launched two advocacy campaigns as a new strategic entry point for the implementation of the Habitat Agenda. The Campaign on Good Urban Governance and Security of Tenure share a common goal: "Inclusive Cities without Slums".

    The Campaign on Urban Governance envisions an "inclusive city" where everyone, including the urban poor can contribute productively and enjoy the benefits of urban life. It is designed to promote accountable and transparent urban governance by supporting consensus-building processes which inclusively establish priorities for socio-economic development which benefit all sectors of the economy and of society.

    The Campaign for Secure Tenure argues that provision of security of tenure is one of the most important catalysts for attracting large scale capital necessary for comprehensive slum-upgrading. Security also encourages the urban poor themselves to invest in their own dwelling and communities. The campaign calls for the establishment of innovative tenure systems that minimize displacement of very low-income tenants brought about by rapid regularization of informal settlements. It also promotes negotiation as an alternative to violent forced eviction, encouraging governments to recognize the rights of the urban poor, especially women, as genuine development partners.

  • Third, it is important to build constituencies to monitor anti-poverty strategies. Evidence from country level reports suggests that the most successful anti-poverty programmes relied on constant feedback about the success and failure of projects. It is important to have a continuous flow of urban indicators to help policy makers monitor the trends within their countries.

  • Fourth, the international community must provide technical assistance principally to municipalities and city governments. Habitat is presently working in more than 60 countries in the world, many of them Least Developed Countries (LDCs), providing technical assistance in the form of field projects and advisory services on human settlement issues. The Centre's strategic intervention to fight poverty in human settlements is one of the areas where the comparative advantage of coordination is most visible. Habitat has been fostering policy coherence at this level in two main areas: adequate shelter for all -slum upgrading in particular- and sustainable urban development to review the specific actions they can take in contributing to urban poverty reduction.

Your majesty, King Mohamed the VI, your Excellencies:

There is a powerful global consensus emerging that good urban governance is critical for poverty reduction. Good governance and peace are the foundations needed for tackling poverty and to develop pro-poor policies and strategies. We, at Habitat, reaffirm the need to establish an inclusive, modern and democratic governance system as a way to collectively fighting against poverty

All of us gathered here need to remember that unless we establish a consistent overall strategy that allows for an ongoing social, economic and political dialogue with the poor themselves, we will continue to fail to achieve genuine, sustainable results in the fight against poverty. And poverty will continue to spread and intensify in many developing countries.

This Fourth International Conference on Urban Poverty brings to an end the first round of five years of collaborative efforts from developing agencies, governments, civil society organizations, the academic world and other partners to discuss and find alternative solutions to urban poverty. At the same time, it opens a new era of dialogue, which will take place through the Urban Forum that UNCHS (Habitat) is launching next year as a series of biennial consultative gatherings that will be diverse and inclusive. The first session of this forum will be held in Nairobi in May 2002. The recommendations and conclusions of this conference will be followed up at the urban forum next year. Therefore I wish you every success in your deliberations.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank his highness, His Majesty, King Mohamed the VI and the Government of Morocco, for making it possible to hold this conference here in Marrakesh. Their support is critical in making this conference a success.

Your majesty, King Mohamed the VI, your Excellencies:

I would like to conclude by saying that the fight against poverty is a call to our consciences. We cannot let people live in such despair and degradation. It is morally indefensible. More that, divided cities and communities are socially unsustainable. In a increasingly globalized world, essential requirement for stability, peace and human security, is the eradication of poverty.

All of us gathered here are caught between the dream of a future without poverty and the nightmare of a world of divided cities, towns and villages. But we cannot give up our dream of a future of a world without poverty. We can and we must enable the poor to free themselves from their nightmare. They should be allowed to dream of inclusive and productive cities. With our combned efforts, in the new millennium, the dream of cities for all will become a reality.

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