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Address by Dr. Anna Tibaijuka Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN-HABITAT on the occasion of World Habitat Day
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Your Excellency, President of the Republic of Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos,
Excellency, Presidente da Assembleia Nacional, Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos,
Honourable Prime Minister, Antonio Paulo Cassoma
Honourable Minister of Urban Affairs and Housing, Sita José
Honourable Governor of the Province of Luanda, Francisca do Espirito Santo
Honourable Deputados da Assembleia Nacional de Angola
Honourable Membros do Governo da Republica de Angola
Honourable Ministros Africanos para Habitação e Desenvolvimento Urbano,
The Resident Representative of the United Nations System in Angola, Jocelline Bazille-Finley
Distinguished Dignitaries,
Colleagues in the United Nations system
Ladies and gentlemen,

Amigos y amigas

I would like to thank your Government, Mr. President, for offering to host this year’s global celebration of World Habitat Day in this wonderful city of Luanda. On behalf of my staff and myself I would also like to convey our sincere appreciation for the warm reception and hospitality accorded us. We are grateful for the elaborate arrangements you have made to ensure the success of this important occasion on the international calendar.

I would also like say a special word of appreciation to everybody here in this most distinguished audience: your presence here today shows how strongly committed you are in our joint quest to fast-track progress on achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals in general and those related to human settlements in particular thus turning our settlements into Harmonious Cities – the theme for World Habitat Day this year.

Your Excellency Mr. President
Honourable Ministers
Ladies and Gentlemen,

After many years of a very painful and long war, Angola has now finally embraced peace. The recent Parliamentary elections – the first in 15 years – were a milestone on the road to peace and reconciliation.

We in the United Nations system commend you for that. We commend you for the very ambitious national reconstruction programme. It has already resulted in an impressive number of new roads, bridges, railways and other infrastructure either damaged or destroyed during the war.

And we commend you too, Mr. President and Honourable Ministers, for the importance that the Government of Angola attaches, among other urgent priorities, to the delivery of social housing and basic services, like water and energy for Angolan families.

Starting now, we are ready to stand by you in our joint quest to achieve harmonious cities, towns and villages  in Angola. Indeed, this is our very hope and ambition for the near future. Your decision to invite us to observe this important day in your country bears testimony to all of the resolve you have in this matter of building a harmonious society in this great country.

We have noted with satisfaction that the Government has stressed that in the new five year plan it will focus, among other areas, on the delivery of social housing and basic services like water and energy for Angolan families. The goal of harmonious cities in Angola is our hope and ambition for the near future. Today is a historical day for Angola, a watershed of good things to come.

As you embark today on the new Angola Slum Upgrading Programme and the new National Social Housing Programme, I want to emphasize that UN-HABITAT is here to support you throughout this process on the road towards implementing the Millennium Development Goals related to the Habitat Agenda – namely of adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development in an urbanizing world.

We are here to help you as you requested, especially with some of the technical and institutional aspects of this process. And in taking up your request, UN-HABITAT is confident that the Government of Angola will ensure with us that this excellent rehabilitation programme will forge ahead on the basis of equity, fairness and in full respect for human rights – especially for the poorest of the poor and people living in urban slums. I believe it will also take into account the special challenges and needs of women, and the children they support.

Mr. President, slum upgrading and providing a decent home for everyone is a matter of  governance. It is a challenge that no country can achieve without the leader of the land being in the driver’s seat, guiding the rest of us, paving the path we have to follow. The events of the past week in the USA are a living testimony of what I mean.

With the melt-down of mortgage finance systems  that have had a terrible contagion on the Wall Street banking system, we have seen that President Bush has not been able to rest until a solution is  found! Where it has been necessary, institutions have had to be nationalized, even in a market economy. World Habitat Day this year comes right at this historic turning point.

The current housing finance crisis in the developed world has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that in matters of delivering adequate shelter for all, the Government has a key and decisive role to play. It must take the lead both in providing land for affordable housing development, and also in promoting and supervising housing finance systems that are pro-poor and will cater for all income groups. The Government must ensure that the population is financially literate to take on housing loans to avoid widespread fore-closure and the social disorder they unleash, when they happen.

We in the United Nations system have a responsibility to remind all countries, whether rich or poor, that they are not immune from the impacts of poverty. And that is why, as we all worry how the global financial crisis will hit us as ordinary people, we must remind all again that investment in basic urban services and adequate shelter is essential. When we get it right we derive economic, social and health benefits for all.
Mr. President, I do not have to tell you that 85 percent of the Angolan population representing some 7.5 million of this country’s growing number of urban dwellers live in slum conditions. For a country rich in natural resources, expecially oil, we are sure that the means are there to address these needs now that this country has earned its rightful place as a country at peace.

Let me therefore make a proposal for your consideration: Make this day historic by allocating just 10 percent of the country’s oil revenue for the delivery of harmonious cities and towns in this country! Imagine, that with such a decision, 20 years from today,  slums and unplanned settlements would be a thing of the past. What an enduring legacy that would be.

Mr. President, I am not suggesting that you issue these funds as handouts to communities. I am urging you rather to deliver planned settlements in which everyone has a decent affordable home according to their means. Mortgage systems need to be devised so that everyone contributes in the amount and the time frame they can afford.

Let the money also be used to provide a place where every child finds not only a school but also a playground; let it be used to build a place where young people find not only sporting and recreation centres, but also vending sites to start small businesses; and, yes, a place too where expectant and nursing mothers can easily find health care facilities not too far from home.

Last but not least, my dream for Angola is that of cities and towns  where public transport for all generations – including senior citizens  - gradually takes over from expensive cars that pollute the environment, a place where trees and gardens blend well with beautifully designed but environmentally friendly buildings. I know this is an oil producing country, and fuel might not be expensive, but its excessive use  is contributing to carbon dioxide emmissions that the global community is committed to reduce. A harmonious city takes into account all these aspects of development!

Amigos y Amigas - ESTAMOS JUNTOS !

Your Excellency Mr. President
Honourable Ministers
Ladies and Gentlemen

In fact this is why this year, for the first time, Chinese cities have dominated the Habitat Scroll of Honor. Mr. President, this year, we confer the Habitat Scroll of Honour Special Citation not on a distinguished indiviual, but instead upon the ancient City of Nanjing, home of the Ming Dynasty!

The very fact that, apart from Nanjing,  this year we honour the exemplary poverty reduction and envorinmental conservation meansures in one Chinese City (Shaoxing), as well as recognize model setting success in sustainable urbanization through rural-urban linkages in yet another (Zhangjiagang)  shows that it can be done. And with visionary leadership and determination, in record time too! And it shows us all too, that we can learn from the great strides that Chinese cities have taken, especially at this time of global financial crisis. I am happy that we are able to showcase these successes here in Angola where conditions for learning from the Chinese experience are ripe.

I ask you therefore not to be daunted by the magnitude of the  challenge. Angola is by no means alone in Africa or the world when it comes to chaotic urbanization and growing urban poverty. This is a universal challenge that all developing countries, such as China have to contend with. What matters is our determination to prevail over the problem. Allow me to quote one of Africa’s legendary leaders, the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania. He always insisted that “It can be done, play your part”.

Already half the world’s population lives in towns and cities. But because of a combination of growth and migration, the number of urban dwellers is projected to reach two-thirds by the year 2030, with most of the growth taking place in Africa, and Asia.

UN-HABITAT, the agency for the built environment, works to promote the idea of Harmonious Cities and a better urban future for us all. It is our job to monitor progress on the Millennium Development Goals. And what transpires in this work is a shocking indictment: The latest research shows that sub-Saharan Africa today still has the world’s highest proportion of its city dwellers living in slums. They constitute 62 percent of Africa’s urban populations. That compares to 43 percent in South Asia, 37 percent in East Asia, 28 percent in Southeast Asia, 27 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 15 percent in North Africa. 

Translated into reality, these figures mean that well over half of our continent’s urban populations lack one of the five basic conditions of what we refer to as decent housing: Namely, adequate sanitation, improved water supply, durable housing or adequate living space, and absence of overcrowding. Even if the growth rate of slum dwellers drops, we need be under no illusion that the fast expansion of towns and cities will make it difficult to improve living conditions quickly enough to meet Target 11 of Millennium Development Goal number 7. In it world leaders call on us, and I quote – to achieve significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020, and also endorse the vision of cities without slums.
In sub-Saharan Africa, looking beyond the overall regional statistics, the situation is acute. In countries like Chad, the Central African Republic, and Ethiopia, for example, four out of five urban dwellers live in slums.  Many live more than three to a tiny room. It is health and life threatening, especially form women, when those living in abject poverty are forced to go somewhere outside to the toilet, or to fetch water, or cooking fuel. Such deprivation means that most of our city children cannot dream of a good education, let alone employment afterwards.  First, they have to survive the hazards of malnutrition and disease that threaten and take the lives of so many of our infants every day.

We all know that this situation can pose a threat to our social fabric.

It is clear to me and my colleagues in our fruitful discussions with the Government of Angola that everyone here realises how important this new five-year plan will be both for poor families, but also for the economy.

In the past, housing was often considered a “non-productive” good that constituted a burden to rapid economic development. Consequently, most policy-makers assigned a low priority to housing in their national development strategies, or ignored it altogether. It is now firmly established that a symbiotic relationship exists between housing, in its broader dimension, and the factors by which we measure economic development. Housing should be considered a critical investment and valuable contributor to economic growth. Indeed, we know that housing investments and the consequent forward and backward linkages within the economy contribute significantly to rapid growth and development in many countries across the world.

The symbiosis between housing and economic development is enhanced through the intermediation of fiscal and financial systems. The latter not only valorises asset formation, provides the linkage to markets and shelter investments, but it also acts as a regulatory instrument for influencing the geographical locus, size and rate of housing development. Housing finance is thus a requisite catalyst for optimizing the role of housing in economic development. Context-specific policy and institutional frameworks that foster efficient and equitable functioning of the housing system are also necessary. When I asked for the allocation of 10 percent of the oil revenues to housing and urban development, I was in fact talking about economic investment,  and the generation of employment for the youths who would get employment! I was thinking of a win-win situation for all of us.

Mr. President,

As we move irreversibly in Angola and around the world into a new urban era, this is an issue dear to our hearts at UN-HABITAT, as well as the African Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development (AMCHUD), which is part of the African Union. I am pleased to see that some of its leadership are attending this World Habitat Day celebration in Luanda.

Indeed it is for these reasons that we award and recognise this year the great city of Nanjing, China  for the huge improvements it has undertaken in conferring upon it the Habitat Scroll of Honour Special Citation. Let me stress yet again: The achievements of Nanjing and our two other award winning Chinese cities, would not have been possible were it not for solid and constant government and municipal commitment, political support and leadership. Indeed as we shall soon elaborate, all the winners of this year Habitat Scroll have great things to teach Angola and the World. But no one knows it all, they are also here to learn the things that Angola has done so well, the great achievements you have made that have culminated into you hosting this day that is observed in every city, town and hamlet, the world over.

Before I present the awards, allow me to conclude, Mr. President, by saying that today you spearhead the global celebration of World Habitat Day by having taken the first steps towards harmonious cities in which all have a right to decent housing, clean water, energy, education, health, safety, security of tenure and all of those stepping stones so essential to securing a decent, peaceful future for our children in a sound economy.
Creating a harmonious city is a lifetime cultural, social, political, economic and financial undertaking! Angola is blessed to have you so keenly interested in showing the way forward.

I congratulate you! We stand right by you!

Thank you for our kind attention!

Muito obrigada !  

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