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close this bookHabitat Debate - Vol. 6 - No. 4 - 2000 - Urbanization of Poverty (HABITAT - UNDESA, 2000, 52 p.)
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Message from the Executive Director


Half a century ago, less than 30 per cent of the world’s population lived in urban areas. Two decades from now, in 2020, 57 per cent of the world’s population will be urban. An increasing share of this population will live in urban areas of developing countries. Currently, nearly two-thirds of the world’s urban population is from the developing world. By 2020, three-quarters of the world’s urban dwellers will live in cities and towns of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

UNCHS (Habitat) estimates that the total number of urban poor in developing countries has reached one billion, if the definition of poverty incorporates not only income levels, but people’s lack of access to decent shelter, basic services and infrastructure.

Since the Habitat II Conference in 1996, the international community has made a significant effort to address the issue of urban poverty. But, as many articles in this issue of Habitat Debate suggest, these efforts are clearly not enough. Often, they are not even an integral part of the policies and strategies of international donor agencies and governments.

This is unfortunate as national and local governments in developing countries not only lack the financial capacity to deal with their rapidly urbanizing populations, they are also marginalized from global processes that exclude them from global markets and trade.

UNCHS (Habitat) is no exception to the rule and, like many other multilateral agencies, struggles to contend with obstacles that impede its efforts to reduce poverty. The Centre has recently attempted to address such limitations by launching Global Campaigns for Secure Tenure and Good Urban Governance. Furthermore, it has established a partnership with the World Bank and donor agencies, known as the Cities Alliance, in an effort to improve the impact of international development cooperation in the area of urban poverty reduction.

At the national level, there is growing evidence that governments are beginning to tackle the issue of poverty seriously through the formulation and implementation of participatory and consensual poverty reduction strategies. High level government commitment to urban poverty eradication was also demonstrated at the recent Millennium Summit where Heads of State and Government endorsed the goal of improving the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.

There is now an emerging international consensus that good governance is a crucial pre-requisite for poverty eradication. Good urban governance implies that city governments respond to and are accountable to all urban residents, including the poor. It implies inclusive and participatory approaches in which each group and stakeholder has adequate representation. It means empowering the poor and recognizing their right to the city. It means ensuring that everyone - especially the vulnerable and disadvantaged - has access to basic services, such as potable water, sanitation and affordable transportation. It means recognizing that urban poverty is not inevitable.

This issue of Habitat Debate provides a global overview of urban poverty and proposes solutions to what UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, calls "an affront to our common humanity". A common thread linking all the articles is the idea that the poor must have a voice and a choice in decisions that affect their lives. Poverty elimination starts with listening to the poor, fostering their initiatives and giving them a chance. Unless this is done, poverty reduction efforts will continue to remain illusory.

Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka
Executive Director
UNCHS (Habitat)