Ladies and Gentlemen,
The World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, presents a unique opportunity for us to think of all the people around the world, who have been struggling for the defeat of all kinds of discrimination. The victorious fight of the people of South Africa against the apartheid system gives us hope to consider that racism and all kinds of institutionalized discrimination can be successfully fought and eradicated from our human settlements. At Habitat, the United Nations Centre responsible for human settlements, we are committed to helping the international communiyt build a common human society of mutual understanding, nonracism, non-sexism, human dignity and prosperity for all.
However, the world is still suffering front deep divisions and alienation, simply because nations, peoples and communities belonging to different groups adhere to different values. Uneven distribution of socio-economic advantage, especially within countries and and marginalization worldwide. This leads to a or village, there is spatial segregation that separates cities, has created further division deepening of tensions. In every town people.
At the core of many of the conflicts the world is facing today, are religious, ethnic and cultural differences often exploited for reasons of economic advantage. The resulting xenophobia and discrimination on the basis of group characteristics increasingly present major challenges to the governance of cities and towns. And no nation is exempted from these challenges.
Eliminating intolerance and discrimination goes hand in hand with the promotion of inclusive cities for all that actively encourages integration and full participation, regardless of our differences.
An unprecedented 50 percent of the world's total population currently lives in cities. Nobody can fail to notice that urban density -and the physical proximities they imply - have reinforced a human need to seek comfort and protection from in-group cultures. Increasingly, this is leading not only to urban spatial segregation, but also to conflict on the basis of variations among such groups. Rather than utilizing the variances to create multi-cultural communities that build on each other's aggregate knowledge and wisdom, the world is sliding deeper into patterns of polarization.
Through its mandate as contained in the Habitat Agenda, the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements is fully committed to the elimination of all undesirable forms of societal polarization, discrimination and exclusion.
The spatial concentration of population groups is not a new phenomenon. Societies have segregated their inhabitants for thousands of ears - most commonly along socioeconomic lines. Sheer life-style differences between social groupings make it inevitable that central cities will be demographically different from suburbs. However, spatial segregation between social groupings may facilitate the building of urban communities, by strengthening group identity without necessarily raising questions of equity.
Spatial segregation often has socio-economic reasons. Increased land and housing prices can force lower-income groups out of certain areas, while fear of violence frequently leads to a voluntary form of segregation. The latter is the case with so-called "Gated Communities" - fortified upper-income residential enclaves where private companies provide security for those who can afford it and from which "unwanted elements" can be barred.
But urban spatial segregation is increasingly no longer simply expressing socio-economic differences. Rather, it is becoming the spatial embodiment of urban fragmentation and societal breakdown. It has become the physical expression of xenophobia, racism and discrimination and the legitimatization of `irreconcilable' inequalities. Along these lines, legal frameworks can be created for institutionalizing the separation of social groupings. In every city, the streets tell their own story about social apartheid. 1 Here in South Africa, this was the case with the former apartheid regime. As President Mbeki has said there is something "both pathetic and dramatic about the difference between human fulfillment and human degradation".
Segregation can be a major factor in reinforcing disadvantage and exclusion. It may lead to the formation of underclass ghetto- or slum-communities with restricted geographic and social mobility. Thus urban spatial segregation is the first step on the way to societal breakdown, socio-cultural fragmentation and divided cities.
Urban spatial segregation has distinct geographic faces. In developing countries, the lowest-income groups become concentrated within informal settlements, without services like sanitation, water or electricity. In industrialized countries, spatial segregation frequently takes on ethnic and cultural dimensions in addition to socio-economic variation. All over the world there are an estimated one billion poor people living without adequate shelter or basic services. For the poor, spatial discrimination is equated with life chances. The issues of urban spatial segregation are about whether people from socio-economic groups, different cultures, and different ethnic groups mix with each other or not. In other words, the critical question is whether we will allow our cities to be an amalgamation of segregated small worlds, or whether we want them to become the stage for cultural interaction and exchange. Do we want our social spaces to encourage learning about difference or learning from difference? Are our cities for everyone or just for those wealthy or socially secure enough to partake in and enjoy the benefits of urban life?
We have much more to understand regarding the social problems in and among segregated urban areas. There is an urgent need for multidimensional urban policy responses that promote economic adaptation to globalizing economies, while cushioning social dislocations caused by economic decline. Even in countries where multiculturalism is declared a national policy, indifference, xenophobia and outright segregation can still be a problem.
Recent urban research, as shown in Habitat's Global Report on Human Settlements and The State of the World's Cities Report, suggests that national and local political conditions influence discrimination and inequality. Cities with a tradition of popular action and active networks of community-based organizations are more able to deal with segregation and discrimination issues than polarized cities that are more dependent on private investment and conservative politics. Through participation in community organizations, minority groups can partake in local political discussion in order to create an intercultural arena for the formal negotiation of differences. Civic life requires settings in which people meet as equals. Cities and towns should be inclusive where people meet without regard to race, class, national origin, gender or religion.
The United Nations Centre for Human Settlements is committed and determined to help the world eliminate social exclusion, discrimination and societal polarization. We aim at making the world's cities and other human settlements more inclusive for the poor and vulnerable groups, reaffirming the right to non-discrimination in general and, in particular, the right' to an adequate standard of living for all.
It is critical that we place housing and discrimination within the context of the indivisibility and universality of human rights. With a majority of the global population living in cities, our urban environments are central to the realization of human rights. A future of cities without slums, but of livable neighbourhoods and healthy communities is not possible if our cities do not function. Cities will not work if they are not inclusive or if they are politically, economically and socially divided. We cannot continue living in segregated cities.
Today, we at Habitat join members of the international community to commit ourselves to creating a world without discrimination and to cities without segregation. In the urban millennium, when over half of humanity lives in cities and towns, there is an urgent need for concerted national action and international cooperation and support, backed by solidarity at all levels.
Together we can ensure that our children will one day live in human settlements without racial discrimination, Xenophobia and related intolerance.