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Food for Thought: On the Road to Istanbul - Habitat II: The City Summit

The last of a series of major United Nations conferences that ushered in the Decade of the Nineties will take place in Istanbul, Turkey, from 3-14 June, 1996. Over twenty thousand representatives of government, non-governmental organizations, local authorities and other members of the civil society are expected to participate in the Second UN Conference on Human Settlements, Habitat II, named by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali "The City Summit." Sustainable human settlements development in a rapidly urbanizing world and adequate shelter for all are the two themes adopted by the UN General Assembly for the Conference.

Benefiting from lessons learned since the first UN Conference on Human Settlements held in Vancouver in 1976, Habitat II has taken up the relevant messages from recent UN conferences and developed them into an agenda for human settlements, the Habitat Agenda. Beginning with the UN Conference on Environment and Development (Rio, 1992), through the UN Conference on Human Rights (Vienna, 1993), the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994), the World Summit on Social Development (Copenhagen, 1995) and finally the Fourth UN Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995) a wealth of information, declarations, recommendations and commitments were produced with a view to enhancing sustainable economic and social development.

These conferences, as well as the ones on Small Island States (Barbados, 1994) and on Natural Disaster Reduction (Yokohama, 1994) addressed important sustainable development issues for which successful implementation requires action at the local, national and international levels. Indeed, most of the goals reflected in Agenda 21 Programme of Action can be realized only through increased international attention. These include pollution, inadequate sanitation, water supply and water management. As the world's urban population continues to increase dramatically, these problems can only worsen unless effective measures are taken without further delay.

In 1950, only 30 percent of humanity lived in towns and cities. Today over 45 percent of the world's population live in urban areas, and UN projections indicate that half of humanity will live in urban areas by the turn of the century, rising to two-thirds, or about 5 billion by the year 2025. While urban population explosion is universal, it is expected to weigh much more heavily on developing countries.

By 2015 nine of the 10 largest cities in the world will be in developing countries. Bombay, India-27.4 million; Lagos, Nigeria-24.4; Shanghai, China-23.4; Jakarta, Indonesia-21.2; Sao Paulo, Brazil-20.8; Karachi, Pakistan-20.6; Beijing, China-19.4; Dhaka, Bangladesh-19; Mexico City, Mexico-18.8. The only city that will be in the ten in a developed country is Tokyo, Japan-28.7. New York which occupies third place at present will drop out of the top ten, as will Los Angeles which is currently in seventh place.

The Global Report on Human Settlements, An Urbanizing World, to be released in early 1996 by the UN Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) projects that 80 percent of the world's urban residents will live in developing countries by 2025. Uncontrolled population explosion in major cities of the developing world, coupled with lack of adequate planning and poor management can lead to disastrous consequences. Homelessness and poor housing conditions are at the root of environmental, social and economic problems that the world will face in the coming century. With better management of resources and elimination of waste, urban areas should be able to cope with these problems.

Habitat II will address the mounting challenges of rapid urbanization, and will focus on people and our relationship to our living environment. It advocates the recognition by Governments that they alone cannot provide for the needs of their populations. Instead, Governments should play an enabling role through reforming policies, institutions and legal frameworks. It urges Governments and local authorities to embark on partnerships with urban dwellers to improve management of cities.

On their part, Member States encourage the active participation of non-governmental organizations, local authorities, the private sector, community based organizations and the academic and scientific communities. Partnerships between and among all actors from public, private and community organizations and individuals are essential to the development of sustainable human settlements and the provision of adequate shelter and basic services. The active participation of these major groups is built into the structure of the conference, whereby their recommendations and commitments will be taken up by the Second Committee of the conference. Additionally, NGO representatives are included in the informal negotiating group that produced the draft Global Plan of Action.

A major feature of Habitat II is the identification of best practices for improving the living environment. Successful and sustainable approaches to a wide range of issues that affect the quality of life in cities will be documented and disseminated widely. The main objective is to facilitate learning from successful and sustainable initiatives which have improved people's living conditions. A Global 100 Best Practices Catalogue will be distributed at the Istanbul Conference, and five special recognitions will be made. There will also be video presentations of best practices.

In the words of Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, "The City Summit encompasses many issues. There are hard questions to answer. How can we improve the governance and finance of human settlements? 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 disasters and war? Can the cycle of deprivation, conflict, devastation and failure to develop be broken?"

SOURCE: Farouk Mawlawi, U.N. Senior Advisor, Habitat, Executive Vice Chair WIT.


SOURCE: New Ground