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Address to the second committee of the 64th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations By Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director. New York – 04 November 2009
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Implementation of the outcome of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) and Strengthening of the United Nations Human Settlements
Programme (UN-HABITAT) By Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, New York – 04 November 2009

Madame Chairperson,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour to report to you today with an update of the activities of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme. As my term of office comes to a close, this occasion marks the last time that I appear before this Committee in my capacity as UN-HABITAT’s Executive Director to highlight the achievements and the challenges that confront us in a rapidly urbanising world. I will also attempt to chart the way forward to achieving our mandate – that of a more sustainable urban development.

You have before you three reports. The first document, A/64/260, is the  Report of the Secretary-General on the Implementation of the outcome of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) and strengthening of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme.

The second document, ECOSOC E/2009/80 is the report of the Secretary-General on coordinated implementation of the Habitat Agenda, ECOSOC E/2009/80.

And the third is the Report of the Twenty-second session of the Governing Council of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, A/64/8.

Since I last had the honour to address this committee, considerable progress has been made in terms of the strengthening of UN-HABITAT to coordinate and monitor the implementation of the Habitat Agenda.

However, the continuing worldwide impact of climate change, compounded by the global financial crisis, conflicts in many countries and migration patterns accelerating the rate of urbanization are taxing us more and more. Indeed, this means that the international community is facing an unprecedented set of daunting challenges on several fronts.

I thus stand before you yet again with a sense of urgency. As we witness a slowdown in world economic growth, we are already seeing the impact on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.

The economic crisis and the growing number of disasters wrought by climate change threaten to undo and possibly reverse many of the gains made on achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

In this first decade of our new urban era, there are approximately 1 billion people living in slums and squatter settlements in the world. Slum prevalence is highest in sub-Saharan Africa at 62 percent. Then come south Asia 43 percent, east Asia 37 percent, and Latin America and the Caribbean, 27 percent. Figures carried in our 2008-2009 flagship report, the State of the World’s Cities, show that one out of every three people living in cities of the developing world lives in a slum. If no remedial action is taken, their numbers are projected to rise to 1.4 billion by 2020. This implies that developing countries will face even greater urban poverty problems than they do today.

Yet I also stand before you with a renewed sense of optimism and hope.

It is of historic significance – and I choose my words carefully here – that for the first time the President of the United States himself delivered a special message to mark World Habitat Day; that for the first time the President of the United States publicly acknowledged this situation we face, and the challenges of implementing the Habitat Agenda.

On World Habitat Day, the 5th of October 2009, President Barack Obama said in his message to us and I quote:

“Every year, World Habitat Day gives us the opportunity to raise awareness and offer ideas about how we can make our planet a better place for ourselves and our children. This year’s commemoration comes at a moment of challenge for America and the world. We find ourselves in the midst of a global recession. Millions of families in our nation and all nations have lost their homes or fear that they will lose their homes some time in the future.”

The President acknowledged the importance of the urban agenda. He was also at pains to stress the commitment of his administration to working with us – yes, all of us in the United Nations family! – at home and around the world.

As he stated, and I quote him again briefly: “We are committed to working with the United Nations and our partners around the world to help more families to find a safe and secure place to live.”

Distinguished delegates,

The Governing Council

The twenty-second session of our Governing Council drew delegates from 104 countries  representing national and local governments, non-governmental and civil society organisations, financial institutions, professional associations and the private sector.

It took some landmark decisions of great importance. The resolutions on Cities and Climate Change and the request to the General Assembly to convene a third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) are clearly forward looking decisions. They provide our staff and our closest partners with the necessary vision and impetus to move ahead.

The resolution on affordable housing finance is also a major milestone. As the Secretary-General has so starkly reminded us, UN-HABITAT is here to tackle persistent urban poverty.

Member States were invited to contribute to the support and the replenishment of the UN-HABITAT trust funds, including the experimental reimbursable seeding operations and the Slum Upgrading Facility.

As all three documents before you show, the Programme continued to strengthen its catalytic role in facilitating cooperation between domestic banks, local authorities and urban poor organizations to mobilize and package domestic capital, public investment and community savings for slum upgrading. Implementation of the Facility, and the experimental reimbursable seeding operations are intended to show how financing for affordable housing can be undertaken by combining the efforts of the private sector, micro-finance and community financing arrangements. Lessons from these experiments will help inform policies and strategies that have the potential to benefit millions of urban poor who currently do not have access to formal credit facilities.


I beg your indulgence on this occasion of my last address to you as UN-HABITAT’s Executive Director to look back briefly at the road we have taken.

To think that what is today known the world over as UN-HABITAT all started as a consequence of the World War II destruction of towns and cities across Europe and Asia.
How many in this audience are even aware that the first UN-led housing programme was to provide emergency shelter to those huddling in the post-war ruins of cities? The General Assembly, in 1946, subsequently called for international exchange of expertise on housing to assist countries in their recovery and reconstruction.

Another 30 years would pass, however, before housing and urban issues began to flicker on the radar screen of a United Nations created when two-thirds of humanity was still rural.

The UN General Assembly cited its concern at what it called the “deplorable world housing situation” in 1969, and declared human settlements as a priority for the 25th anniversary of the United Nations in 1971.

The next year, the UN held its first global conference on the human environment in Stockholm. This Conference was historical in recognising the link between the environmental agenda – the so-called green agenda – and the root causes of the environmental degradation, namely human activity, human settlements and urbanisation.

The Stockholm Conference recommended a global conference on human settlements and the creation of the United Nations Habitat and Human Settlements Foundation. The Foundation was established by the General Assembly in 1974 and the Habitat I Conference was held in Vancouver in 1976.

After the Vancouver Conference, the General Assembly established the 58 member Commission on Human Settlements and its Secretariat: the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, headquartered in Nairobi.  

Despite growing awareness of the consequences of rapid urbanisation, development theory and development practice would remain focused on rural poverty and rural development. The underlying assumptions were that urbanisation was a temporary and could even be reversed; that the formal sector would absorb the informal sector over time; and finally that market forces and trickle down effects would cater to the housing and basic needs of the burgeoning urban populations.

But 20 years, the UN Conference on Human Settlements (HABITAT II) was convened in June 1996 in Istanbul, Turkey, largely in recognition of the fact that these basic assumptions had been taken over by a very different reality characterised by urban slums, urban poverty and accelerating urbanisation. The Habitat Agenda, and its twin goals on “shelter for all” and sustainable human settlements in an urbanising world, provided the basis for a renewed and explicit normative mandate.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In 2000 when I was asked by the Former Secretary-General Mr Kofi Annan to leave my career of choice at UNCTAD and move to Nairobi to revitalize this organisation, the Millennium Summit marked another major milestone in our history. It recognised the dire circumstances of the world’s urban poor. It articulated the commitment of member States to achieve significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020. (Target 11, Millennium Development Goal No. 7). It also pledged to reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water by the year 2015. (MDG 7, Target 10).

These two targets showed a new political commitment of direct relevance to UN-HABITAT’s mandate. Shortly thereafter, and as a result of the special session of the General Assembly in 2001 to review progress in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, UN-HABITAT was elevated to a fully fledged Programme and the Commission on Human Settlements, which was a mere standing committee of ECOSOC, was transformed into a Governing Council which is a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly.

The World Urban Forum

One of the first decisions of the new Governing Council was to convene the World Urban Forum, merging two previous forums, one on urban poverty and the other on urban sustainability. The first World Urban Forum was held in Nairobi in 2002 as part of the preparatory process for the World Summit on Sustainable Development later that year in Johannesburg.

The second World Urban Forum was in Barcelona in 2004, and the third in Vancouver marking our 30th birthday.

The most recent was in Nanjing, China, in November last year. It was attended by approximately 8,000 participants from some 155 countries. The exhibition attracted more
than 20,000 visitors in four days.

In clear messages to policymakers at every level of national and local government, the Forum cited the need for policies and interventions to ensure that the growing legions of urban poor in a rapidly urbanizing world did not get left behind.

The Forum, which has become the world’s premier conference on cities, at many levels and in many debates, stressed the importance of the link between overcoming urban poverty and winning the battle against the scourge of climate change.

It also stressed the importance of  working more closely with the private sector, and this led to the launch of the first Habitat Business Forum in New Delhi in July 2009.

Flagship Reports

At the Forum we launched our biennial flagship report, The State of the World’s Cities 2008/9. It explores the concept of “harmonious cities” as a theoretical framework to understand today’s urban world and as an operational tool to confront the most important challenges facing urban areas and their development processes.

UN-HABITAT also launched its new quarterly magazine, Urban World, at the forum.

The Programme’s other biennial report, the Global Report on Human Settlements 2009 – Planning Sustainable Cities, was launched in Washington on World Habitat Day. It reviews the major challenges currently facing cities and towns all over the world, the emergence and spread of modern urban planning and the effectiveness of current approaches. It identifies innovative urban planning approaches and practices that are more responsive to current and future challenges of urbanization.

The Mid-term Strategic and Institutional Plan (MTSIP) 2008-2013

A review of progress in implementation of MTSIP in mid-2009 highlighted some achievements, some challenges and identified next steps.

Suggested next steps include, development of the MTSIP Road-Map 2009 – 2013 through revision of the MTSIP Action Plan which would define the steps to be taken with clear allocation of roles, responsibilities and accountabilities tied to time-lines, aligning staff competencies with MTSIP priorities, improving efficiency, transparency and delegation of authority, as well as review of institutional governance and management structure.  Particular attention will be paid to results-based management capacity building.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,

As we prepare for the next Forum in Rio de Janeiro in 2010, I must stress that the Forum has become the world’s premier gathering of minds, of ideas and of exchange of practices on matters urban. We intend to use the Forum to elevate the Habitat Agenda still further with the launch in Rio of a new World Urban Campaign.

It is important to say here that the most telling indicators of our success in enabling UN-HABITAT to elevate the visibility and importance accorded to housing and urban development can be found with a few key indicators.

An obvious one is the progression of our budget which has steadily increased during this period. This is indeed a great show of faith in our work and our vision.

Another key indicator is the volume of delivery in our country-level activities. These have also progressed substantially over the last five years.

A third key indicator is the ratio between fixed costs, or staff costs, and activities. This ratio has improved over the last biennium, and constitutes the first steps in efficiency gains and the lowering of transaction costs.
Other key indicators include our membership in the CEB and in the IASC, the scope and depth of our partnership agreements with UN agencies, professional associations, grass roots organisations and the private sector. Last but not least, I can proudly point to the fact that we are increasingly leveraging our policy advisory and capacity building services with investment follow-up.

One indicator that we can all feel proud about is that we have moved from a peripheral technical organisation to an agency responsible for convening global forums and to spearhead a system-wide event devoted to “Better Cities, Better Life” at the Shanghai Expo in 2010.  

But we must never lose sight of the fact that these gains are still minute when compared to the 1 billion people living in slums and sub-standard housing, and the thousands that are joining them every day.  We are indeed sitting on a social time bomb that is ticking away in many overcrowded, poverty-stricken corners of a geopolitical chessboard already fraught with problems.

In just one example of our work here, we co-organized and hosted the first tri-partite ACP-EC-UN-HABITAT International Conference on Urbanisation Challenges and Poverty Reduction for ACP countries, headquarters in June.  This Conference advanced three-way cooperation for the implementation of a combined operational and normative approach to slum upgrading and prevention.


Another example carried in the reports before you, comes from the results of a survey on youth-led development initiatives and 200 peer-reviewed good practices in youth-led development from around the world were disseminated at the fourth session of the World Urban Forum. This led to the launch of our new Opportunities Fund for Urban Youth-led Development. The Fund is designed to provide small grants to youth-led initiatives in skills development. The procedures and criteria to be used for approving support have been prepared and widely shared with Habitat Agenda partners interested in urban youth issues


I would like to share with you what UN-Habitat believes are some of the emerging issues that need to be addressed head on and with firm commitments. These issues are:

  1. The link between rapid and chaotic urbanization and the urbanisation of poverty. Understanding this link will be critical to our collective ability to attain not just the slum and water and sanitation targets of the MDGs, but practically all of the MDGs;
  2. The link between rapidly growing, poorly planned and managed cities with increasing volatility in the prices of food, energy and water. This link is vital to developing effective strategies that recognise the importance of urban-rural linkages and managing the complexities of metropolitan development;
  3. The link between rapid and chaotic urbanisation and climate change. This link is born form the realisation that any serious attempt at climate change mitigation and adaptation must include our cities as front line actors.
These are the red warning lights, so to speak – the battleground for sustainable development.

Excellencies, distinguished ladies and gentlemen

In closing allow me to thank you most sincerely for the confidence you have shown in me by allowing me to serve through two full terms at the helm of this very important Programme of the United Nations. It is with your support that we have been able to consolidate the gains made and to strengthen our activities.
Allow me also to thank you most sincerely for helping us get the funding which has improved so considerably during my tenure.
As my successor prepares to take over, I have every confidence in your continued and steadfast support.

Thank you for your attention.

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