Ministers of housing and urban development from around the Asia-Pacific meeting pledged in a new declaration at the weekend to build up better, safer, more inclusive and sustainable cities in the world's most populous region.
Winding up four days of talks at the first Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development, the ministers on Saturday unanimously adopted a new mechanism setting up a permanent secretariat.
They adopted the Delhi Declaration and the Enhanced Framework of Implementation for Sustainable Urbanisation in the Asia-Pacific providing a new political blueprint for better managed, more inclusive and sustainable towns and cities cross this region.
Kumari Selja, the Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, which hosted the conference said: "We must accept 'inclusion' of the poor as the core in all urban policies and programmes. My Ministry has been emphasising the need for 'inclusive zoning', 'inclusive planning' and 'inclusive cities and municipalities'," she said.
Acknowledging the huge scale of India's slum crisis, she said India would be glad to support a new forum for inclusive cities which would be a think-tank, comprising a bank of best practices in inclusive civic development and acting as an agent of change for pro-poor governance and service delivery in cities.
More than 35 ministers from the Asia-Pacific agreed in the Enhanced Framework on four pillars for better cities – pro-poor urban governance and planning, slum upgrading, the delivery of the Millennium Development Goals on water and sanitation, and financing sustainable urbanisation.
UN-HABITAT's Executive Director, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka told the conference the year 2007 will be the year in which for the first time, half of humanity will be living in towns and cities. It marks the beginning of a new urban era. It is projected that by 2030 that figure will rise to two-thirds. She said the cities growing fastest were those of the developing world, and that the fastest growing neighbourhoods are the slums.
"We therefore have to use every means at our disposal to ensure a new era of urban-rural balance. UN-HABITAT's latest research shows that Asia is already home to half the world's slum population of 581 million," she said.
She said she expected the new conference to work on a similar basis to two similar permanent secretariats established in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. Mrs. Tibaijuka and the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), Mr. Kim Hak-Su, were at pains to remind Asian delegates that they had to to keep the Pacific urban agenda in mind during their deliberations.
"In view of the tremendous problems of urban poverty and slums on mainland Asia, the urban problems of the Pacific island developing countries tend to have been overlooked," said Mr. Hak-Su. Mrs. Tibaijuka agreed, adding: " I do not want to overstate the vast challenges before us when it comes to slum improvement and prevention in the world's most populous region. Whether they live in the capital of a small island vulnerable to disaster or a huge inland city, the poor deserve the same security, development and rights as everyone else. We owe it particularly to the new generation of young people."
The preamble of the new Enhanced Framework for the Asia-Pacific states in part: "With half of humanity now living in towns and cities, the world has entered a new urban era. Cities create much of the pollution that causes climate change. The urban poor are particularly vulnerable to disasters. This makes many cities giant disaster traps. New thinking is needed so that countries in the Asia-Pacific region regard and treat their cities as living eco-systems."