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close this book Commission on Human Setllements - 16th Session
close this folder 16th Session of Commission on Human Setllements
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Introduction

The 16th session of the Commission on Human Settlements opened on 28 April 1997 at the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) in Nairobi (Kenya). Issues on the agenda of the commission, which met until 7 May, included its role in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, which is the global plan of action adopted at the second UN Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), held in Istanbul (Turkey) in June 1996. The commission discussed the functions of the centre with a view to its revitalization, including strengthening of human and financial resources and restructuring proposals; whether or not to expand the commission's membership to include relevant actors of civil society; and how to strengthen Habitat's role in promoting adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development in an urbanizing world.

Although the session adopted a series of 25 resolutions, the substantive discussions were overshadowed by two reports that reviewed Habitat's financial and administrative practices. For this reason, budget and management issues became the focus of the session, and cooperation with Habitat's partners was to be put on the agenda again for the next session.

The session was attended by representatives of 53 governments, 14 local authorities, 118 NGOs, 11 private sector organizations and four intergovernmental organizations.

Ambassador Afsarul Qader (Bangladesh) served as chairman of the session; the vice-chairs were Ambassador Jonathan Ng'eno (Kenya), Ambassador Leandro Arellano (Mexico) and Mr. Sven Mehli (Norway). Ambassador M. Pavel Suian (Romania) served as rapporteur.

The Commission’s Tasks

As a policy-making organ of the United Nations and as Habitat's governing body, the main task of the Commission on Human Settlements is to set and promote policies, priorities and guidelines regarding existing and planned work in the field of human settlements.

Established in 1977 with 58 members elected for a four-year term (as decided at Habitat II?, the commission has also been given a central role in promoting, reviewing, monitoring and assessing the implementation of the Habitat Agenda at the local, national, regional and global levels. The Habitat Agenda contains the principles, commitments and the programme of action negotiated and adopted by the Istanbul conference. The agenda is a global call for action, which sets out approaches and strategies to help achieve the sustainable development of the world's cities, towns and villages over the next 25 years. The fourth part of the agenda contains the programme of action and the strategies, policies and approaches for its implementation. This includes principles, commitments and a programme of action, which addresses issues and problems related to urban and rural human settlements into the next century. In December 1996, the General Assembly designated Habitat as a focal point for the implementation of the Habitat Agenda and called for a comprehensive and in-depth assessment of the centre with a view to its revitalization. (See NGLS Roundup on Habitat II, September 1996).

Opening Session

Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi opened the session on 28 April. In his inaugural address, he emphasized the central role that Habitat has played in advising and assisting countries to formulate and implement shelter and human settlement policies, and in organizing Habitat II.

In a message to the commission, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that the UN needs new approaches and new partnerships that bind the peoples and states of the United Nations. He noted that the Istanbul conference was a decisive step in that direction, because it "deepened the alliance between state and non-state actors committed to the pursuit of sustainable development, opening the way for new partnerships between the United Nations and the institutions and organizations of civil society worldwide."

Dr. Wally N'Dow, Assistant Secretary-General of Habitat, said that future social progress and economic well-being of societies will be shaped in human settlements, especially towns and cities. He noted that unemployment and pollotion, and lack of adequate housing, basic sanitation and clean water will increasingly result in major social, economic and political challenges. These challenges, he said, will test the imagination and ingenuity of national and local governments.

Dr. N'Dow said he hoped Habitat would become a knowledge centre, acting as a conduit for the transfer of knowledge through awareness and capacity building, policy advice, exchange of information on best practices and new technology applications. He added that in the future, "knowledge and information will be the true measure of power, not just for governments and corporations, but also for entities of the United Nations....This must be kept in mind as we build the new Habitat. But even as we reshape our visions, we must remember that the centre cannot exercise its future role in isolation of the overall UN reform process."

Ms. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), also based in Nairobi, said that UNEP and Habitat were inextricably linked since "there can be no global ecological sustainability without community sustainability." She said nearly all of UNEP's programmes play an important part in supporting implementation of the Habitat agenda. She added that UNEP's new Global Environmental Citizenship Programme, which is a conscious acknowledgement of environmental responsibility by different sectors of society, has the greatest potential for collaboration with Habitat.