|Journal of the Network of African Countries on Local Building Materials and Technologies - Volume 3, Number 1 (HABITAT, 1994, 44 p.)|
1/ In the preparation of this paper, the report of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) entitled: United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II): Substantive Issues and Draft Guidelines for Preparations and Reporting at the Country Level (HS/C/14/14 of 7 April 1993) and presented to the Commission on Human Settlements at its fourteenth session held from 26 April to 5 May 1993 was used as reference.
WHY A UNITED NATIONS CONFERENCE?
The grave deterioration of living conditions the world over has prompted governments to call upon the United Nations to hold the second UN Conference on Human Settlements: HABITAT II. The Conference will confront the emerging urban crisis and initiate urgent worldwide action to improve shelter and living environments. The overall goal of the Conference is to make the worlds cities, towns and villages healthy, safe, equitable and sustainable.
WHEN AND WHERE WILL IT TAKE PLACE?
HABITAT II will be held in Istanbul, Turkey, in June 1996, twenty years after the first UN Conference on Human Settlements: HABITAT held in Vancouver, Canada. Whilst HABITAT I drew international attention to problems in settlements of all kinds, rural as well as urban, HABITAT II will focus on cities and towns as they will accommodate a growing majority of the worlds population in the coming century.
THE CITY SUMMIT
The Rio Conference on Environment and Development was labelled the Earth Summit. Its purpose was to commit the highest levels of government to the goal of saving a planet endangered by excessive consumption on the one hand, and poverty and underdevelopment, on the other. But most of the actions agreed to in Rio can only become reality through localized action focused on the places where development challenges and environmental threats are increasingly concentrated - cities.
WHO WILL TAKE PART?
It is expected that national delegations at the City Summit will include representatives from local authorities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the professional and academic communities, business and industry, as well as civic and community groups.
WHAT CAN HABITAT II DELIVER?
HABITAT II will deepen understanding of urban challenges and opportunities so that realistic steps can be taken at city, country and international levels to overcome the problems and enrich the potentials of urban life. Governments and international agencies will draw up a Global Plan of Action and make commitments to provide resources and to embark on new partnerships with other urban actors including local authorities, NGOs, business and communities, to deliver short- and long-term improvements to the living conditions of people worldwide, including:
· affordable housing
· safe neighbourhoods and streets
· health, education and community services
· improved public utilities
· protection from health hazards and natural disasters
· safe and affordable public transport
Boutros Boutros-Ghali, United Nations Secretary-General
..... The City Summit encompasses many issues. There are hard questions to answer. How can we improve the governance and finance of human settlements? What policies are needed to improve conditions for the poorest people, families and communities? How can we ensure basic hygienic conditions in urban areas, while avoiding long-term damage to the environment? Can we ensure that, by a target date, adequate shelter will exist for all? What must be done to mitigate the effects of natural disaster and war? Can the cycle of deprivation, conflict, devastation and failure to develop be broken?
Wally NDow, Secretary-General, Habitat II
HABITAT II is more than a conference. It is a recognition by the international community - an awakening, if you will - that time is running out on us, that if we want to save the future, we have no choice other than to find answers today to one of the most neglected and urgent problems of our time, one that goes to the very heart of our everyday lives - how we live, where we live, and, above all, if we live.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN IN YOUR COUNTRY?
A unique feature of this Conference will be the involvement of citizens, community groups, local authorities, academics and professionals, the media, the profit and non-profit making private sector and NGOs in the preparatory processes at country levels in the run-up to June 1996. Countries are called upon to:
· Set up a National Committee engaging all the main actors mentioned above.
· Adopt a two-year work plan for national preparations.
· Make an assessment of shelter, settlements and urbanization issues and strategies through the application of rural and urban indicators and the identification of best practices.
· Prepare a National Plan of Action containing shelter and sustainable settlements objectives, legislation and budgetary actions.
· Encourage initiatives of local coalitions of key actors and community groups in formulating local plans of action.
STEPS TOWARD ISTANBUL
National Progress Reports to the Secretariat by 1 December 1994
Preparatory Committee II in Nairobi, Kenya, 24 April-5 May 1995
Preparatory Committee III in New York, February 1996
The City Summit (HABITAT II) in Istanbul, Turkey, 3-14 June 1996
I. THE NEED FOR HABITAT II
The human settlements crisis that confronts virtually all human beings - rich or poor, urban or rural - is increasingly being recognized by all nations. It is a crisis that comes from distant rural areas to the depth of urban ghettos in cities now exploding at a rate and pace never dreamed possible. The result is that in another few years not long after the dawn of the 21st century a new urban world will come into being.
In fact, at no other time in history have so many human beings lived in such poverty and misery as today. The agony and despair of those who lack the basic necessities of life - food, shelter and health - cannot be quantified. Recent estimates, however give a global figure of one billion people living below the poverty line. High population growth and rapid urbanization, both predominantly in the developing countries, are the two striking characteristics of the past two decades. It was against this background that the General Assembly of the United Nations decided in December 1992, to convene a second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II).
The convening of the Habitat II Conference comes at a pivotal point in history for harnessing scientific, technological and organizational tools for improving the living environment of all people. It is also a unique and welcome challenge for the people working with the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat). The Conference offers a historical opportunity to document, with a degree of penetration never attempted before, the nature, extent and depth of settlement problems humanity is now facing in a rapidly urbanizing world; to understand what has gone wrong; to document and analyse the many good things that have happened; to identify opportunity; and to build, on the basis of this new knowledge, a vision of a better world to come that we can all build together, with full respect for cultural identity.
II. KEY AREAS OF CONCERN
In light of the decisions of the General Assembly and the views put forward by the organizational session of the Preparatory Committee, it is clear that national governments are looking to the Habitat II Conference to concern themselves with settlements and urban policies which will be innovative and enabling, and capable of generating sustainable economic growth, alleviating poverty and enhancing the urban environment.
Governments are also expecting that the Conference will address: (a) the integration and participation of the urban and rural poor in the political, social and economic life of human settlements; and (b) capacity-building at the community, local and national levels to enhance the efficient management of human settlements and the effective implementation of national human settlements development policies. Finally, it is clear from the issues elaborated by the General Assembly and the Preparatory Committee that the issue of resources - human, financial and technological - will have to be an a priori concern at the Habitat II Conference, especially given the need to use these limited resources more efficiently.
The objectives of the Conference as spelt out in General Assembly resolution 47/180 of 22 December 1992 include, inter alia, the adoption of a general statement of principles and commitments and a global plan of action capable of guiding national and international efforts through the first two decades of the next century. The substantive part of such a plan of action should include:
· guidelines for national settlements policies and strategies to eradicate urban and rural poverty and promote sustainable economic development;
· programmes and sub-programmes to implement relevant elements of Agenda 21 in order to promote environmentally sustainable human settlements;
· proposals for the mobilization of human, financial and technical resources, internationally and nationally, from the private and public sector, to implement Agenda 21 programmes; and
· measures to strengthen national, metropolitan and municipal institutions and machinery in order to enhance human settlements development.
During the discussions at the organizational session of the Preparatory Committee for the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) specific issues were elaborated. Some of these represent a confirmation of concerns already expressed in General Assembly resolution 47/180, or refinements of previously-stated issues, while others were new. These issues are summarized as follows:
(a) Implementation of the Global Strategy for Shelter to the Year 2000 and human settlements-related parts of Agenda 21, including technology issues;
(b) Eradication of poverty - urban and rural poverty issues and human settlements;
(c) A comprehensive plan of action based on capacity-building and the enabling approach;
(d) Housing policies and finance - regulatory regimes for housing, building and land-use management and the role of the private sector;
(e) Promoting investment as a contribution to economic growth, employment and improvement of the quality of life;
(f) Economic and spatial policies and development strategies for rural and urban settlements, their sustainable interaction and linkages and interdependence;
(g) The contribution of cities to global sustainable development.
III. SUBSTANTIVE THEMES
Considering the major areas of concern and issues elaborated in the previous section and given the crucial importance of urbanization and adequate shelter as endorsed by the General Assembly, two central themes have emerged for Habitat II which would assist national governments and communities to harmonize their efforts in the course of the preparatory process. These two themes are:
(a) Sustainable human settlements development in an urbanizing world;
(b) Adequate shelter for all.
IV. THE NEED FOR A NEW AGENDA
The above-mentioned issues and concerns necessitate the formulation of a new human settlements agenda, the definition of which is based on three compelling objectives:
(a) To form a positive vision of the urbanized world of the future in order to inspire forward-looking principles and actions;
(b) To manage human settlements of all sizes better, and to arrest the social and physical deterioration of the human environment;
(c) To place human settlements within the macro-economic and social context in order to understand better the pivotal role investments in human settlements can play in bringing about equitable social development, economic growth and a better quality of life.
The United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) and the process leading up to it can focus the attention of the world on:
(a) Recognizing human settlements development as a strategic cross-cutting dimension of the development process;
(b) Helping to reorient governmental, donor and lender interventions in an urbanizing world;
(c) Redefining the role of UNCHS (Habitat) and strengthening its capacity to respond effectively to global, national and local human settlements challenges in the next two decades;
(d) Recommending appropriate United Nations organizational arrangements to implement and monitor the global plan of action.
V. THE PREPARATORY PROCESS
First, we must define the Habitat II goal in terms that are comprehensible to everybody and that mobilize the worlds commitment, energy and imagination. Habitat II cannot be a celebratory event. There is little reason to celebrate the fact that more people live in poverty than was the case 20 years ago; that more people - women, men and children - are living today in unhealthy and precarious housing conditions than ever before in the history of humanity; that the settlements of the world, both developed and developing, find it increasingly difficult to ensure acceptable social, economic and, in particular, environmental conditions to all their citizens. All of these problems are becoming worse in urban areas, and increasingly so in rapidly growing large agglomerations. Cities, poverty and the environment are realities that everybody understands: they are respectively issues, problems and values that we all share and identify with.
Second, we must reach out to our constituencies. Habitat II, like other United Nations conferences, is called for by governments for governments. Yet governments, and this is an emerging reality world-wide, are ultimately accountable to citizens. Also the scope and range of action of central governments is becoming much more limited in terms of what they can do themselves. They can, however, become a powerful force and amplify the impact of their legislative, regulatory and promotional action if they succeed in mobilizing local action; in acting strategically rather than controlling indiscriminately; in developing the humility to understand, and the vision to act according to a humane and, thus, intelligent perception of the problems at hand. If we can use Habitat II as an opportunity to reach out to all our constituencies at the global, national and local levels, and thus capture the win-win options at hand, we shall set in motion processes, the beneficial effects of which will go far beyond the 1996 Conference itself.
Third, and finally, we must develop a truly global perception of critical human settlements issues and opportunities. For too long we have worked on the assumption that the North has everything to teach, and the South has everything to learn. We must start thinking in terms of a two-way flow. There is a lot that the North can share with the South in terms of national and local experiences in human settlements planning, development and management; in transparent and participatory approaches to decision-making and local development. But there are many lessons that everybody can learn from the South. Thus, one of the challenges for the preparatory process is also to document innovative and successful experiences and to use the process itself to set up a global capacity for identifying, documenting and exchanging experiences on a continuous basis, paying particular attention to local and community-level action. This, too, will help us to develop a momentum which will go well beyond the Conference itself.
VI. CONCLUDING REMARKS
The consideration of key issues and areas of concern mentioned above have one ultimate objective: to make the Habitat II Conference a success. Although criteria for success is difficult to predetermine, it is felt that three essential elements will be needed: focus, realization and participation.
The Conference will not be able to, nor should it, cover all aspects of social and economic development. It will, on the contrary, serve a very important purpose if it can show how sustainable-settlements management can make a major contribution to achieving this goal. An attempt should, however, be made to focus on three main areas, namely: policy; democratization and capacity-building; resource mobilization and investment.
It will be essential to avoid building unrealistic expectations on the amount of external resources that the Conference well be capable of mobilizing. Even under the most favourable conditions, external funding is only a fraction of the total amount of resources devoted to human settlements in all countries. Although a larger flow of external funding and assistance to human settlements development is a desirable outcome, sustainability can only be achieved in the medium and long term by using scarce external resources in a strategic and catalytic way. Defining this will be a major challenge for the Conference and another element of its success.
In the past, many United Nations conferences have culminated in a decision-making process for governments and a separate forum for non-governmental organizations from all over the world using the Conference as an occasion to meet and discuss common strategies. Participatory processes at the country level should lead to one United Nations Conference on Human Settlements: an event capable of coalescing the views and commitments emerging from all countries into one vision, one commitment and one global action programme based on consensus and constructive dedication to a common goal.
Construction of buildings using appropriate technologies and materials can contribute to structural stability of buildings