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Welcoming address by Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Executive Director UN-HABITAT Director General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON)at the opening of the 21st session of the Governing Council of UN-HABITAT
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Your Excellency Mwai Kibaki, President of the Republic of Kenya
Your Excellency Ambassador Petr Kopriva, Ambassador of Czech Republic and  President of the 20th Session of the GC of UN-HABITAT and Distinguished Members of the Bureau
Hon. Soita Shitanda, Minister of Housing, Republic of Kenya
Hon. Minister Fahm Al Jowder &  Shaikh Hussam Bin Isa Al Khalifa, Special Envoys of His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Bahrain and Winner of the 2006 Habitat Scroll of Honor, Special Citation
Hon. Ministers and Heads of Government Delegations,
Mr. Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP
Your Excellency Ambassador Elizabeth Jacobsen, President of the CPR and its Distinguished Members,
Your Excellency Ambassadors, Permanent Representatives and Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Your Worship President of United Cities and Local Government, all Mayors and your delegations,
Representatives of Professional Habitat Agenda Partners, the Private Sector and Civil Society Representatives
Distinguished delegates, Members of the Press,
Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the opening session of the 21st session of the Governing Council in my current two capacities. Firstly, as the Director General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi, UNON, a responsibility bestowed upon me by the Secretary General last year after Dr. Klaus Toepfer retired. Speaking in that capacity, it is with great pleasure that for the second time this year, we are honored to welcome you, President Mwai Kibaki, to our UN Compound. Your personal presence is a testimony to the important support you are giving to the work of the UN in general, and in particular to the business covered by the UN environmental agencies headquartered here, namely UNEP and UN-HABITAT.

Mr. President, I believe I speak not only for myself but also for my colleague, Dr. Achim Steiner, the new Executive Director of UNEP, who is also attending this GC for the first time. I am pleased to say that since he arrived here in June last year, cooperation between UNEP and UN-HABITAT has been further strengthened. As I will elaborate in the course of this Governing Council, we are learning from him fresh ideas and approaches do things, with better impact. Please join me in a round of applause to congratulate Dr. Steiner for his appointment.

Allow me also to welcome my Deputy, Mrs. Inga Bjork-Klevby, to her first Governing Council. She came on board in January 2006 having served as Ambassador of Sweden to Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and before that as Permanent Representative to UNEP and UN-HABITAT during the critical period of our first restructuring exercise in 1999. Her extensive involvement as an advisor to the African and Asian Development Banks, and to the World Bank, is invaluable to many of tasks we have at hand. Please join me in extending a warm welcome to Inga.

I must also at the outset thank my colleagues from the Staff Choir for those wonderful songs, and the lovely and mesmerizing Moipei Quartet for their wonderful message. For the non-Swahili Speakers, and those who did not see these wonderful musical triplets and their sister in Vancouver, they were singing about the rural land crisis, how it is unleashing premature urbanization, leading to untold misery of poverty among the youth in cities. Please join me in a round of applause for these wonderful but purposeful messages.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished participants,

In welcoming you Mr. President in my other and main capacity as Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, let me also thank all the Hon. Ministers, Heads of Delegations and all participants who have come from different parts of the world to attend this important session. I trust you have had a safe journey and will find your stay here comfortable and enjoyable despite the heavy schedule before you. I hope you will find the preparations satisfactory, and assist us to take corrective measures in areas where we should.

While all weaknesses and omissions are my responsibility and the responsibility of my staff, I need to acknowledge the tremendous support we have received from the members of the Committee of Permanent Representatives in preparing for this Governing Council, and in the conduct of our activities since we last met in April 2005. The level of engagement, support and guidance afforded to the Secretariat by the Members of the Committee of Permanent Representatives, under the able leadership of Ambassador Elizabeth Jacobsen, Permanent Representative of Norway, has been unprecedented. We thank you sincerely.

Distinguished Delegates,

You are all here because you have found the agenda before this meeting relevant and important to the world and to your own countries and communities. It is my sincere hope that at the end of the day, the world will be better off for the contribution that you will make and the guidance you will give to UN-HABITAT and its partners on how to deliver our mandate.

Mr. President, Your Excellencies,

Every two years, we gather here in Nairobi, the home of UN headquarters in Africa and the Developing World, to decide on how we will conduct our business for the following two years with regard to the activities of the UN Human Settlements Programme.

This 21st Session of the GC of UN-HABITAT is taking place at a critical time in history. 2007 is a year when human beings will become an urban species, homo urbanus. From now on the majority of people will no longer be rural but urban. And there is no going back for this demographic shift and transition is irreversible. 2007 is also the year when the Governing Council is meeting for the first time following the 30 years anniversary of Habitat celebrated last year in Vancouver, at the 3rd session of the World Urban Forum. It is also the year when the GC is meeting 10 years after the adoption of the Habitat Agenda in 1996 in Istanbul. It is an opportune time to take stock of what we have accomplished and to re-strategize, taking into account the ongoing UN system-wide reform that has been given emphasis by member States.

Mr. President,

This, is also the first UN-HABITAT Governing Council to meet after a new Secretary General of the UN, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon has taken office. As you might have noticed during his first month in office, not only did the Secretary General visit Africa, but did so wearing his work boots. He started his tenure by visiting Kibera which, according to our research, is the largest contiguous slum settlement in Africa. His visit showed his respect and solidarity with the over 750,000 people who live without access to safe drinking water, sanitation, decent housing, and other basic services. It was a singular display of support by our new Secretary General for the work and business of this agency and the agenda before you.

As I was walking with the Secretary General and his wife through the narrow and crowded alleyways of Kibera, a number of curious but peaceful residents were holding cardboard placards. One read “Secretary General, we are hungry”, another one said “We are sick and dying”. Yet another read, “We have no schools for our children”, and then I spotted one reading “We are over-crowded, we want credit for affordable housing”. The Secretary General said he was “humbled” by what he saw. While addressing the Kibera residents he said, and I quote “The situation here is very serious. We have to act, the UN is coming, please be patient, and do not loose hope”.

Distinguished Delegates,

The blighted neighbourhoods like Kibera and Mathare that are created as a result of rapid and chaotic urbanisation are not a Kenyan or African phenomena. They are universal in most parts of the developing world. Thus, another feature of this new urban age is that 2007 will also be the year in which the global number of slum dwellers will reach the 1 billion mark. Let me cite some results of our research and monitoring activities from our Global Urban Observatory Programme. (See Box 1 attached).
Clearly, Governments alone, especially in the developing world, simply can no longer afford to house growing legions of the urban poor, let alone provide them with basic services such as water and sanitation, energy, health, education and public transport.  I believe that is why, at this Governing Council we are here not only as Governments but also as leaders of local authorities, habitat professionals, private sector and civil society actors, whether old or young, men or women, to see how we work together to prevail over this unacceptable state of affairs.

Mr. President,

In this regard, I am pleased that here in Kenya we have been working together under our joint Kenyan Slum Upgrading Programme (KENSUP) for which you are the Patron. I want to thank you for the personal attention that you are paying to this work ever since you came to office. It is gratifying to see matters of housing finance and slum upgrading being mainstreamed into government budgets and if I may, also beginning to feature as major election issues. It is indeed a good sign that the public domain cannot continue to ignore the plight of the urban poor. We have made considerable progress but, much remains to be done, not only here in Kenya, but in most other countries attending this Governing Council.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The unfolding inexorable transition to a predominantly urban planet bears with it many opportunities and consequences. It can be a promising transition to economic growth, improved education and health, cultural and scientific progress. But it can also bring with it greater divides between the rich and poor, and unsustainable and chaotic patterns of urban development that exacerbate social exclusion and threaten the natural environment.

The 2006 State of the World’s Cities report revealed, for the first time, that slum dwellers are just as likely to suffer from hunger and malnutrition, as are the rural poor! But there is also an urban penalty, in that the high population densities found in slums make living conditions much worse for the urban poor. Our research has shown that women living in slums are more exposed to HIV/AIDS than any other segment of the population and that child mortality is consistently high, even in countries with robust campaigns and programmes to protect child health.

The same report also revealed another very worrisome trend. Across the planet the rate of slum formation is almost the same as the rate of urban growth. This implies that most of the people who are migrating to cities, and who are born in cities, are joining the ranks of the urban poor and slum dwellers.

The conclusion of these and other findings are clear. We can no longer ignore the urbanisation of poverty and the growth of slums. We do so at the risk of not achieving the Millennium Development Goals for a significant and growing portion of the population. We also do so at the risk of massive social deprivation and exclusion, with all of its attendant consequences for peace, social stability and security.  

Distinguished delegates,

It is against this backdrop of system-wide UN reform and rapid urbanisation that UN-HABITAT has engaged in an intensive process of consultations with member States and its external partners to formulate a Medium-term Strategic and Institutional Plan for the period 2008-2013.

In line with UN reform, this plan is designed to strengthen the role of UN-HABITAT as a catalyst for the coordinated implementation of the Habitat Agenda and related Millennium Development Goals. UN-HABITAT realizes that to do so, it must make further adjustments to its framework and strategic vision which paved the way for its upgrading into a fully fledged programme by the General Assembly in 2001. Chief among these adjustments is a need to embark on a more focused strategic and institutional path guided by a vision, a mission, strategic objectives, and output indicators. The Plan is therefore a package of strategic objectives and activities in support of the realization of our mission and vision.

Our common goal must be to stabilize the unplanned and chaotic aspects of urban growth and unleash the productive potential of the urban poor. Our strategic objective must also be to address pressing global issues such as climate change that threaten citizens of the North and the South alike. Our vision is none other than realization of the Habitat Agenda for liveable, productive and inclusive cities offered by sustainable urbanization that will enable all city dwellers to become full urban citizens. It will allow for the achievement of balanced territorial development that fosters economic vitality and social harmony in cities large and small. It is a vision that seeks to empower marginal groups such as women and youth with full rights and opportunities! It is a vision that wants to prevail over urban crime delivering better urban safety and security, as elaborated in the Global Report on Human Settlements 2007, which will be launched in October this year. However, an advance copy has been circulated to assist you in your deliberations.

The proposed six-year Medium-term Strategic and Institutional Plan for 2008–2013 is pivotal to this vision. It will maximize our collective chances of success. It recognizes that sustainable urbanization requires a stakeholder-supported roadmap. From the outset, UN-Habitat has understood that for it to be a true catalyst the process must be participatory.

This Plan calls for ongoing and increasing alliance building with all those committed to making a difference. This implies first and foremost that we work with member States to develop effective policies and strategies to meeting the social, economic and environmental challenges of rapid urbanisation. It requires working in tandem with the UN family of agencies, programmes and funds to ensure a coordinated and concerted approach to mainstream sustainable urbanisation and urban poverty reduction. It includes reinforcing partnerships with international and domestic financial institutions so that capacity building and policy advisory efforts are followed up by investments and by tangible results on the ground. Finally it involves deepening our strategic working relations with Habitat Agenda partners at all levels, and especially with local authorities.

Again, as the Secretary General has urged in his message, our vision also requires that we get your guidance on how to revitalize the Habitat and Human Settlements Foundation so that this important institution and instrument can finally play its role of providing member States, local authorities and communities in need, with options and innovative approaches to mobilize domestic resources for investments in affordable housing and urban infrastructure, and move investments to scale. Stand-alone projects, however well-intentioned they may be, will not be enough to deal with the gigantic task at hand. The private sector including commercial banks, are key actors that need to be mobilized to become part of any sustainable solution.

The Medium-term Strategic and Institutional Plan therefore calls for the introduction of a Revolving Fund mechanism to move this process meaningfully forward. It is my hope that this august Council will make decisions that can unleash the enormous potential locked up among the urban poor in delivering decent housing for themselves. What they urgently need is assistance to kick-start appropriate housing credit systems that they can afford. Our research in the Kibera slum show, for example, that 80% of the people are tenants. They are paying exorbitant rents for the quality of the shacks they live in, such that the payback period for the slumlord is only 9 months! In real estate economics such profits are clearly excessive and point to how the poor are being exploited from neglect and indifference. But it also points out that with proper legal and regulatory frameworks and oversight by government, coupled with proper organization of the poor, such as in housing cooperatives, mortgage finance systems could be worked out, and bring on board investments for the formal private sector. This is an area where a win-win situation for everyone can be created. In the end it is a governance issue at all levels, international, national and local. It is now before you for discussion.

I believe that our vision is credible, and that UN-HABITAT - if it is to live up to the expectations of the UN General Assembly and deliver its mandate - can and must become an invigorated catalyst, including in matters of innovative pro-poor housing finance. We must work together like never before to stabilize the chaotic aspects of rapid urbanization and begin to reverse the trend of the urbanization of poverty and slum formation, including slum prevention through participatory planning and land tenure reforms with a gender perspective.

Recognition of the Prime Minister of Bahrain

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates,
Fortunately, we know that all these things are doable. It is not utopia to fight urban poverty and to eradicate slums. Allow me to demonstrate how and where housing poverty and homelessness has been prevailed upon successfully and in a relatively short period of time, within a lifetime because of vision, good governance, political commitment, care and solidarity with the poor.

The winner of the prestigious Special Citation Award of the Habitat Scroll of Honor for year 2006 is His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Bahrain. As his Special Envoy will further elaborate, Shaikh Khalifa has dedicated his life to deliver sustainable development in his country by fighting poverty and working for all his citizens. We at UN-HABITAT have admired and identified his leadership and policies as a best practice in good urban governance to be emulated. We have been working in that country for several years under our urban indicators programme and have collected and analysed reliable first-hand information that living conditions for all have been transformed dramatically. Some might hasten to add that the Prime Minister of Bahrain has presided over a country rich in oil. But if we look around, we see many other countries where huge oil and other natural resource endowments and revenues have failed and continue to fail to benefit the common citizen.  Instead such rich natural resources have become a source of conflict, and ended up displacing rural residents who are now refugees in sprawling urban slums. In many parts of the world, notably Africa, natural resources have become a curse rather than a blessing. In Bahrain, it is exactly the opposite. Under the able leadership of Shaikh Khalifa who has been at the helm of his country since 1971 as Prime Minister, the incomes from oil have trickled down to the lowest income levels of society, and resulted in a harmonious society. Please join me in a round of applause to congratulate Shaikh Khalifa for his outstanding achievements that have now brought him this prestigious recognition.

In conclusion, UN-HABITAT will be pleased to work with the Government of Bahrain in popularizing this approach, and inviting others to emulate this good example! One billion fellow human beings are counting on us. This Governing Council has a moral and ethical obligation not to fail them. Ethical issues apart, sustainable urbanization is also an economic and environmental imperative without which peace, stability and sustainable development cannot be achieved. It is after all in OUR COMMON INTEREST.

Once again I welcome you, wish you Godspeed in your deliberations and thank you for your kind attention.

Box One: Some important findings from UN-HABITAT’s
research and monitoring activities

World Population

  1. Today, virtually one out of every two people on the planet is an urban dweller.
  2. The world’s urban population is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 1.78% between 2005 and 2030, almost twice the growth rate of the world’s total population.
  3. Nearly all this urban growth (95%) will take place in the cities of the developing world. This means that every month a city the size of Tehran, Kinshasa or Madrid needs to be built in developing countries.
  4. By 2030, the total number of new urban households in the world requiring shelter will have increased by 877.5 million. This represents an increase of 35 million households every year between 2005 and 2030, or 96,150 households per day or 4,000 households per hour.

Cities of the World

  1. Thirty years ago only 4% of the world’s urban population lived in mega-cities. Today, this percentage has grown to 10%. Mega-cities growth will be the trademark of developing countries, and particularly in Asia and Africa. However, a new type of settlements above and beyond the scale of megacities is now gaining ground in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Called “metacities”, these are massive conurbations of more than 20 million people. Badly-managed they risk becoming colossal agglomerations of people most of who will suffer from malnutrition, irregular employment, ill health, insufficient schooling, crime and violence, to name just a few.
  2. In addition to the problems and potentials of mega/metacities; small cities (less than 500,000 inhabitants) and intermediate cities (1 to 5 million inhabitants) will absorb more than half of the urban population growth in the next 25 years. These intermediate cities are not prepared to cope with growing demands on housing, basic infrastructure and public amenities.

Slums and urban poverty

  1. Today, one billion urban residents in the world live in slum conditions. This represents 30% of the total urban population of the planet. Current trends predict the number of urban dwellers will keep rising, reaching 1.4 billion in 2020 and almost 5 billion by 2030, if no corrective action is taken.
  2. The vast majority of slums, more than 90%, are located in cities of the developing world, where urbanization has become virtually synonymous with slum formation.
  3. From every ten new houses that are built in the developing world, four are considered as slum dwellings.
  4. In many developing countries poverty is already becoming a severe, pervasive and largely unacknowledged feature of urban life.

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