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close this bookJournal of the Network of African Countries on Local Building Materials and Technologies - Volume 4, Number 1 (HABITAT, 1996, 42 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe aim of the Network and its Journal
View the documentSecond United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) -''The City Summit'', Istanbul, Turkey. 3-14 June 1996
View the documentHabitat II and the Construction Sector
View the documentConstruction Sector For Housing And Infrastructure Delivery - An Issue Paper Prepared For The Habitat II Conference**
View the documentHabitat II - A Breakthrough for Non-governmental Organizations in Committee II of the Conference
View the documentHabitat II - Shelter-Afrique Launches a Continental Housing Investment Programme and Seeks to Expand Membership
View the documentCost - effective Building Technologies - Technology Transfer, Dissemination and Extension: The Indian experience***
View the documentHabitat II - Conference closes as Habitat Agenda is Adopted, UNCHS to be Strengthened as Implementing Agency
View the documentEvents
View the documentPublications Review
View the documentBack cover

Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) -''The City Summit'', Istanbul, Turkey. 3-14 June 1996

This issue of the Journal is devoted to the Habitat II Conference which was held in Istanbul, Turkey from 3 to 14 June 1996.

The Conference was attended by representatives of 171 states, 25 United Nations agencies and 22 Intergovernmental organizations. In addition, thousands of participants from non-governmental organizations, local authorities, the private sector, journalists and individuals representing different agencies and institutions from civil society attended the Conference.

During the high-level segment of the Conference, 117 heads of State, Governments and their personal representatives attended the Conference and made statements.

The Conference through its Resolution No. 1 adopted the Istanbul Declaration on Human Settlements and the Habitat Agenda: goals and principles, commitments and the global plan of action. The Conference, also by this same Resolution recommended to the General Assembly of the United Nations to endorse the Istanbul Declaration and the Habitat Agenda at its fifty-first session in the fourth quarter of 1996, in New York.


The aim of the first United Nations Conference on Human Settlements, held in Vancouver, Canada in 1976, was to develop strategies to mitigate the effects of rapid urbanization. In the two decades since then, urbanization and the growth of mega-cities have continued relentlessly. Recognition of the urgency of the problem led participants at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) to request the convening of a second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) to address problems of adequate shelter and urbanization.

In 1992, the General Assembly of the United Nations decided to convene the Habitat II Conference in 19%. It established a Preparatory Committee and assigned UNCHS (Habitat) the duties of secretariat for the preparation of the Conference. At its first session, in April 1994 in Geneva, the Preparatory Committee recommended that the Conference aim to increase awareness of the problems and potentials of human settlements, and to commit the world's governments to making cities, towns and villages healthy, safe, just and sustainable.

The second session of the Committee, held in May 1995 in Nairobi, concentrated on elaborating the draft statement of principles and commitments and the global plan of action of the Habitat Agenda. Also during the session, the Committee recommended that the General Assembly authorize - as a departure from established procedure - representatives of local authorities and non-governmental organizations to participate without the right to vote in the deliberations of the Conference.

The Conference's main themes were: "Adequate Shelter for All" and "Sustainable Human Settlements Development in an Urbanizing World". The Habitat Agenda, adopted by the Conference offers a positive vision of sustainable human settlements where all have adequate shelter, a healthy and safe environment, basic services, and productive and freely - chosen employment.

In view of the significance of this major international event, the foreword and the editorial of this issue are replaced by excerpts from the statements made by the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Secretary-General of the Conference.

The Secretary-General of United Nations, Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali addressing the Habitat II Conference on 3 June 1996. Photo: Amrik Kalsi, UNCHS (Habitat)


The United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), is the last in a series of United Nations conferences that have shaped, during the 1990s, an agenda for development. At the same time, this Conference, in its innovative design, is a new departure for the United Nations. We should all be conscious today that the decisions taken here in Istanbul will be of significance not only for the world of today, but also for the world in which our children must live and prosper.

I do not wish to pre-empt our discussions over the next few days, and I shall not, therefore, treat the various issues before the Conference. However, there are three points which, in my opinion, can provide useful background as you embark upon your conference debates:

1. Habitat II as a link in a series of international conferences,
2. Habitat II as an innovation in international conferences,
3. The Habitat Agenda as a follow-up to this international conference.

Habitat II as a link in a series of international conferences

... following the end of the cold war, it is important to view development as a cooperative venture, as an endeavour where all partners can benefit from the fruits of growth. This vision of development was in sharp contrast to the understanding of development as a zero-sum game, where the gains of one economy necessarily meant the loss of others. A cooperative vision of development stems from the basic premise that there can be no isolation, that, in a rapidly globalizing world, we all have stake in the management of growth and development.

Starting from this premise, therefore, and from this vision of development as a cooperative endeavour, the United Nations launched a series of world conferences and summits linked to development....

These conferences have been criticized for their cost. Some have criticized their lack of achievement. I wish here, from this forum, to state, in the strongest possible terms: I consider the conferences of the United Nations central to the work of the Organization, essential to the fulfilment of its mandate, and crucial for the determination of the future of life on this planet.

People have journeyed to Istanbul by thousands for this Conference. Nearly 50,000 went to Beijing to set new standards for the role of women in society, and some 47,000 came to Rio de Janeiro to find a better balance between economic growth and environmental sustainability. At Copenhagen, for the World Summit for Social Development, 118 Head of State or Government came to express their concern over the issues of unemployment, marginalization and social disintegration.

The conferences of the United Nations, and the action programmes and agendas produced by these conferences, together form an agenda for development committed to by the world community. Through these conferences, development cooperation will be revitalized and reinvented. The United Nations, its Member States and you, the delegates at the conferences, are deciding development patterns for future generations. You are deciding the form of development cooperation to be adopted by the United Nations; you are setting the standards by which the actions of States, organizations and individuals will be judged. This is the importance of the international conferences of the United Nations. This is the context of the next few days at Istanbul.

Habitat II as an innovation in international conferences

But your presence here today is far more than just the continuation of a pattern set by the Earth Summit in 1992. Each conference has its specificity, its own qualities that distinguish it from all the others. In the case of Habitat II, you have gone farther than other conferences in recognizing the universality of the issue of human settlements.

The range of participants here today provides ample evidence that this is truly a conference of partners. Representatives of all the institutions and organizations of civil society here at Istanbul will be presenting their respective platforms and commitments before the Conference.

Broad-based national committees have completed more than 120 national plans of action identifying national priorities for the sustainable development and growth of human settlements. Local authorities, on which the implementation of Habitat II will depend, have joined non-governmental organizations as full partners of this Conference of the United Nations. Even more, we shall have the private sector, as a dynamic power for growth, represented in every aspect of Habitat II.

The United Nations is primarily an organization of States. However, the increasing contribution of non-State actors is essential if the United Nations is to succeed in its work. Indeed, the active participation of non-State actors in the work of the United Nations is an essential aspect of the democratization of the international system.

I am pleased to see that, in addition to this spirit of partnership, there is a turn towards realistic solutions rather than good intentions. Over 100 national committees have contributed more than 700 Best Practices to the Best Practice Initiative for Improving the Living Environment. Many of these initiatives illustrate, in concrete examples, how we can act on these issues already identified in Agenda 21, and in the agendas for action on population and development, social development, small island States and women adopted by preceding United Nations conferences.

The "Habitat Agenda" as a follow-up to this international conference

We have come a long way from Vancouver and the first United Nations Conference on Human Settlements. In the last 20 years, the world has changed in dramatic ways. But the problems we faced in the 1970s have not disappeared. Poverty, hunger, disease, population imbalances, the lack of equity are still with us.

Human Settlements, and especially cities, are indeed becoming a key factor in the complex equations of the growth and development, environmental sustainability, human rights and the eradication of poverty.

By the year 2000, almost half the world's population will live in urban centres. Problems of jobs, housing, infrastructure and environmental safety will increasingly acquire an urban face. By the year 2025, urban dwellers will total sum 5 billion people and 80 per cent of them will be in developing countries.

...Inner city dwellers, the inhabitants of insalubrious slums or marginalized favelas, ghettos and barrios, share in the misery, dangers of their health, and a vision of hopeless unemployment and marginalization. But such common problems also provide the basis for common action, for mutual learning, for cooperation in finding solutions.

This common purpose should not, however, blind us. In some regions of the world, we must balance our concern with cities and towns with a need to develop rural settlements and the rural economy. In other regions rapid urbanization accompanied by rapid economic growth has resulted in great gaps in infrastructure, spiralling land prices, housing beyond the reach of most, and growing environmental decay. In the most urbanized parts of the world, cities are becoming the focus of national policy. What joins us all, is the awareness that human settlements will be central to growth and sustainable development. Our policies must reflect this.

Our collective response will be the Habitat Agenda - a global plan of action that embodies our vision of human settlements for cities, towns and villages that are viable, safe, prosperous, healthy and equitable. This is our vision of the common future, this must be the spirit of Istanbul.

My final words relate to the world beyond the next two weeks. For I am certain that before you adjourn, there will be full agreement on what will be known as the Istanbul Plan of Action. In that sense, success is not in doubt. But, as in all other United Nations global conferences, real success will be measured over the years by the degree to which participants in Habitat II live up to what they will commit themselves to in Istanbul. Central and local governments, municipal authorities, civic organizations and all other non-governmental organizations, bear the heavy responsibility of implementing, in good faith, the decisions of Istanbul.

The United Nations family of agencies and programmes shares in this responsibility and will play a central role in this monitoring and accountability process. The people of the world will be watching and will call all of us to account.


In the course of our preparatory work for this Conference, we have all encountered the fallout of the urban explosion that in less than half a century has literally changed the face of our planet: cities springing up everywhere; the exponential statistics of homelessness and inadequate shelter affecting hundreds of millions; slums and shanty towns larger than the original cities that spawned them; and all the urban ills now spreading with the speed of a plague - poverty, crime, drugs, disaffected youth, paralyzing traffic, polluted air and water, unhygienic sanitation compounded by a growing shortage of potable water - the list is long the ills the common denominator of urban life today.

Yet bad as conditions are in the city - and no one in any country, rich or poor, can doubt that they are getting worse - the situation in rural settlements of many developing country is even more desperate, and that is no less our charge. The spotlight is on our urban areas, but let no one make any mistake about it: our task is to shine that spotlight whenever people huddle in the dark shadows of their despair - in mega-city or hamlet - without the most elementary facilities for decent living. The well-being of the rural dweller is no less the business of this Conference. Their future is no less at stake in the urbanizing world of tomorrow. And with world population in the decades ahead growing at the rate of a quarter of a million people a day, the likelihood now is that by far the greater part of these rural dwellers will end up in the shadows, too, either homeless or in shelter that constitutes an insult to their very humanity.

We are here in Istanbul not merely to talk about these things. The time for talk is long past and the time for action is here. For our cities, with their densely packed concentrations of humanity, are nothing less than social time bombs, capable of setting off collisions of powerful forces that might otherwise peacefully coexist, with all that this implies for the stability of the international system and for the United Nations itself.

There is another no less serious implication, too. It is that the unresolved problems of our human settlements also threaten a new global division between rich and poor, within and between nations. And with dramatically increasing numbers of people living in poverty, it is a division that may well become the dominant characteristic of the new global urban world order, with consequences at least as dangerous as the period of East-West rivalry the world has only recently left behind.

For all the problems and difficulties of urbanization, we cannot stop it, nor should we. Not only is it at the heart of the new world in the making, it is the engine driving it. Indeed, it has long been recognized that urban centres and the economic activities associated with them constitute the biggest contributor to many a nation's wealth. Our "global economy" is singularly dependent on the fact that cities work, that their institutions work, that their communications work, that their laws work.

Today, no country can be a success if its cities are failures. As never before, the fate of nations and cities are interwined. Indeed, the fate of humanity is tied to what is happening - and what will be happening - in our cities. For it will be in cities and towns where solutions will have to be found for new and old challenges, where the scourges of hopelessness, poverty, and environmental decay will have to be met, where we have to take on the challenge of social disintegration, and forge the bonds of human solidarity without which our future will be neither peaceful nor assured. It is where we must localize the ideas of Agenda 21 to build the foundations of sustainable growth and development for generations yet to come and for prosperity in a globalized economy.

Here today, in Istanbul, we stand before a new reality. The recipes of the past can no longer suffice. A new global social contract for building sustainable human settlements must be forged. Such a contract must reflect the transformation of the world's political, economic and social environment over the past twenty years: the globalization of the market economy and the rising recognition of the role of private economic forces in development growth, the increasing vitality and, indeed, volatility of the forces of civil society transforming once voiceless masses into an active, demanding citizenry.

We have only to look at the unprecedented growth of non-govermental organizations and other social organizations to see that any global project, or national undertaking, must today have the support of the economic, political and social forces of all society to succeed and must, therefore, reflect their needs and aspirations. Today, local authorities and communities must be engaged not as passive bystanders, but as active participants and partners. For partnership and enablement are the keys to forging a strategy for sustainable human settlements, and forging such a strategy is what the preparatory process for Habitat II has set in motion.

I am happy to say that the fruits of this effort are much in evidence here at Habitat II. We see it in the composition of official delegations and in the diversity of other participants who have worked unselfishly to make this Conference a reality. The commitment of Governments and their National Committees to the Habitat II process, was an ongoing source of inspiration to our preparations for the Conference. Our other partners, the local authorities, the non-governmental organizations, the private sector, research and academic institutions, the labour unions, foundations, women's and youth groups, professionals - all and more - were not only resilient in the face of obstacles, they were truly the co-creators of this process, of the innovations that characterized it. and the agenda for action that will be negotiated by this Conference.

The road to Istanbul has been marked by many innovations. One of seminal importance has been a pioneering change in the rules of procedure - a change that, was initiated during the preparatory process and subsequently endorsed by the General Assembly in recognition of the important role of local authorities and non-governmental organizations, both in the debate and in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda. As a result, all the organizations and institutions of civil society will receive unparalleled recognition at a United Nations conference, nominating their representatives to participate in a formal session....

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of this change within the context of this Conference, particularly in enabling local authorities to take the floor in their own right.

They speak for countless millions of men and women in the cities and towns across the planet, the true constituents of Habitat II, and we need to open our doors - and our minds - to their hopes and aspirations.

Habitat II, moreover, will break new ground as a conference in its focus on demonstrated solutions. In many ways, the Best Practices initiative has begun the process of identifying where commitments have already been made to improve human settlements around the world. Hundreds of communities and cities worldwide, in developed and developing countries alike, have taken part in a mutual learning process and exchange of concrete experiences on how to solve common problems. It has brought the world together and forged bonds of future cooperation between and among far-flung cities and communities. The Best Practices Initiative underscores as little else does that this Istanbul Conference will be an action conference dedicated to solutions, not to a litany of woes.

Furthermore, as part of the national preparatory process, cities and countries have begun to collect indicators on housing and urban conditions so that their national plans of action and future policies and programmes are shaped by priorities that, in turn, are shaped by accurate data and information. This will be a crucial element to the effective implementation of the Habitat Agenda and provides tangible evidence once again that we are not here to talk about the problems, but to do something concrete about them.

Our aim in the preparatory period has been to build the foundation for continuity and implementation in the post-Istanbul period. We have developed and honed the tools and mechanisms that will be vital to success. It is crucial, therefore, that at this Conference we accelerate our momentum by marshalling our political will and commitment to see the job through.

A key part of that job is directly tied in with the fact that Habitat II brings to an end a remarkable continuum of United Nations conferences held in this final decade of the century. In essence, it is a continuum that is rewriting the United Nation's economic and social agenda, providing us with a more holistic, more humane message about our global problems and the cooperative solutions they require in the new century. And in this respect, these conferences are a unifying force in finding new pathways for human welfare and in advancing peace and stability.

The draft Habitat Agenda before this Conference identifies those human settlement issues considered to he of greatest importance and highest priority around the world. As a consequence of the preparatory process during which it evolved, it truly gives voice to the aspirations of global civil society.

On our journey to Istanbul, the Habitat Agenda took shape as a framework for commitments - an indicative plan that will serve as a guide to all key groups in making commitments to improve the living environments of all people. It acknowledges that Governments have the primary responsibility for implementation through their own actions, through enablement of partnerships and participatory processes and through coordination at each relevant level.

If there is a key to the Habitat Agenda, it is in the recognition of the fact that most of the implementing activities will take place at the local level, and must involve a variety of partners. And here States must take seriously their role of facilitator, enabler and supporter of these partnerships. This is the fundamental challenge of the Habitat Agenda for our urbanizing world. It is the challenge we will have to face together in our human settlements.

Particularly important in a rapidly urbanizing world is the tracking of progress and the evaluation of national and local efforts at implementation. The United Nations system has, as a whole, a responsibility here to support a national and local authorities in their efforts to implement the Habitat Agenda. In doing so, I suggest, we must first and foremost, strengthen and adequately equip the existing institutions which it has already established for this very purpose - the Commission on Human Settlements and its executing arm, the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat).

As we start our deliberations, we need to see the challenge of the 21 st century in very clear terms. The challenge is to extend the process of sustainable development to the whole human family... For this we must be prepared to change. Change is the law of life, and the changes that lie implacably ahead will give the world's cities new problems, new perils, new possibilities. One of the reasons we are in trouble today in the city is because until very recently we either did not know, or did not care, what was happening to it, and so were not prepared for the changes.

Today, even as we grapple with the changes that have created our present urban dilemma, what may be one of the greatest changes of all is inexorably taking place right before our eyes. and we are only vaguely aware of it. The world is beginning to undergo today a structural shift as profound as the industrial revolution - the shift from a factory-based economy to a computer-based economy, and this shift will be even more fateful than the industrial revolution...

As this Conference now gets underway, it is my hope that everyone here - delegates and representatives of national governments, mayors and other civic leaders, representatives of local authorities, non-governmental organizations, entrepreneurs, professionals, women men and youth - will strive to bring to our deliberations the vision and the commitment that brought them to this Conference in the first place: the promise of global social progress and a brighter future for our children and all coming generations. That is a responsibility we all share.

May our work here lay the foundations of the glorious cities of the future and fill the hearts of people everywhere with hope and felicity.