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Address by Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations,Executive Director UN-HABITAT at the opening of the First Stakeholders Meeting of the Business Partnership for Sustainable Urbanisation, Nairobi, Friday 13 April 2007
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Honourable Soita Shitanda, Minister of Housing, Government of Kenya
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to open this First Stakeholders Meeting of the Business Partnership for Sustainable Urbanization. It is also a great pleasure for me to welcome you all. Among your number today in this distinguished audience are top business leaders and decision-makers, representatives of small and medium size enterprises, as well as organizations working with the business community. It is vital that we in the United Nations system work more closely with the business world! So I say a warm word of karibu – welcome to our Nairobi headquarters. And I extend you our hand of friendship and partnership!

This first Stakeholders meeting is important for UN-HABITAT because it opens a new opened door to strengthen our relations and work further with the private sector. At the dawn of new the urban age, with half of humanity now living in towns and cities around the world, it is more important than ever that we keep this door open.

I wish to recall here the wide ranging reform of the United Nations started by our former Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan. One important part of this process is the opening of the United Nations to non-state actors, including business and civil society, as essential partners for change.

Recent political and economic changes have fostered and intensified the search for collaborative arrangements with the private sector. Efforts to renew and reform the United Nations provide the overall rationale for closer cooperation and partnership between the United Nations and non-state actors, including the business community.

In this new process, the United Nations seeks new alliances with the business community that can help us fulfil our mission, by supporting our work, directly or indirectly. In particular, the United Nations looks for partnerships with entities that display corporate responsibility in the community, or which make a positive contribution to the environment. We look to companies and business leaders with a track record of socially-responsive behaviour, especially in their labour and environmental practices. These principles are embedded in the Global Compact with the business community that UN-HABITAT embraces as part of the UN family.

I believe that the business community has a growing role in generating employment and wealth through trade, investment and finance and UN member states have increasingly stressed the importance of private investment in development. I also understand that the business community is increasingly appreciative of the role of the United Nations in promoting peace and security, providing norms and standards and addressing issues of vulnerability, poverty, environmental degradation and social conflict. All of this is seen as helping provide a stable and favourable framework for business and development.

Our new Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has reiterated this commitment when he told a recent gathering of business executives in New York, and I quote:

“Even though business focuses on economic growth and profit while the United Nations works to promote peace and security, reduce poverty and ensure human rights, the United Nations and business need each other. The work of the United Nations can be viewed as seeking to create an enabling environment within which business can thrive.”

UN-HABITAT's mission is to promote socially and environmentally sustainable urban development with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all. Towns and cities are growing at unprecedented rates, leading to increased numbers of slum dwellers with little or no access to shelter, water, sanitation, education or finance. In this process of unprecedented changes, UN-HABITAT acknowledges that sustainable urbanization cannot be ensured without the help from the private sector.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our research indicates that in a generation from now, the number of people living in towns and cities will grow from 50 percent today to two-thirds. It is a shame at the dawn of our new urban era that the developing economies are witnessing an explosion of slums. Currently, more than 1 billion people are living in slums. Over the next 25 years, over 2 billion people will add to the growing demand for housing, water supply, sanitation, energy and other urban infrastructure services. Close to 3 billion people, or about 40 percent of the world’s population by 2030, will need to have housing and basic infrastructure services. This translates into completing 96,150 housing units per day or 4000 per hour.

No single government or municipality can afford the kind of financial outlay such infrastructure would require. Rather than raise taxes to meet such targets, it is far better to seek the help of the private sector here. It is only through business partnerships that we can meet the targets. Our limited experience in partnering with the business community shows how profitable investing in the urban poor can be – politically, socially and in terms of hard profits.

For example, Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi banker and Nobel laureate tells us that he sees credit is a human right. The small loan concept he pioneered has proved to be much more than kind-hearted charity: 99 percent of his Grameen borrowers repay their debts. Finding the capital to provide people with security of tenure, helping them own their homes, improve their neighbourhoods, makes for healthier and happier communities. The problems of crime, disease and unemployment are automatically reduced. It is a win-win situation.

A decade ago, when we in the United Nations system spoke of sustainable development as the key to the future, the Chinese Government, most notably and shrewdly at the Habitat II summit in Istanbul in 1996, insisted that the slogan should read, sustainable economic development. And look how much better Chinese cities are today. From Bangladesh and India, to China and beyond, there are plenty of examples to follow, from practice to policy.

Today I wish to cite especially our tsunami reconstruction work in Sri Lanka with BASF of Germany, and Coca Cola’s role in our Water for Asian Cities Programme.

UN-HABITAT is thus well aware that the private sector is not merely a part of the solution, but instead is a vital partner that must be engaged if the world’s cities are to achieve sustainability. However, the private sector includes a multiplicity of stakeholders.

The kind of private sector partners we need are the global leaders known worldwide for their engagement and contribution to sustainable development and their commitment to the Millennium Development Goals for poverty reduction. These companies advocate sustainable development approaches. They are committed to environmental conservation, innovation and corporate social responsibility. They want to participate in policy development so that business can contribute effectively to sustainable development. They want to demonstrate business progress in environmental and resource management. They want to show corporate social responsibility and to share leading-edge practices.

The challenge is first and foremost to address the shelter and basic services needs of low-income segments in urban areas. Doing this means exploring business models and untapped opportunities in cities while engaging the private sector to work towards a more sustainable urbanization. A further challenge is to scale-up operations through new partnerships in order to address the daunting challenge of rapid urbanisation and the growth of slums.

For national and local governments, significant rethinking will be also required to embrace the private sector while ensuring healthy governance and safe regulatory frameworks that can make this happen. The role of UN-HABITAT will be to bring the different partners around the table and take concrete actions.

I hope that this first meeting will allow us to draw the key directions, challenges and ways to shape new partnerships with the private sector.

Again, I thank you very warmly for joining us here today. I know that some of you have travelled very far to be here. I wish you every success in your important deliberations.

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