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16th Session of Commission on Human Setllements


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.

Discussions during the session

Habitat Assessment Reports

The two assessment reports of Habitat discussed during the session were a report of the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), and a report on the centre's organization and management, which was sponsored by the governments of Denmark, the Netherlands, South Africa and Uganda.

The OIOS report recommended, among other things: integration of research and technical cooperation activities of the centre;

- strengthening of regional activities;

- improved internal communication flows and transparency;

- compliance with audit recommendations; and

- introduction of a mechanism to monitor and evaluate organizational performance.

During the discussion, Dr. N'Dow said that while Habitat espouses the idea of an assessment of its work by member countries, the centre must be given the opportunity to be a full partner in the assessment process. He said that Habitat takes note of the OIOS report findings and accepts its recommendations. He said, however, 'the centre has been unable to correlate the main findings of the report with its recommendations."

He noted that several of the OIOS recommendations were already underway, and were either being implemented or being formulated when the OIOS assessment team undertook a one-week review of the centre in September last year. However, he explained that some administrative matters had been overshadowed by preparations for Habitat II and preconference activities. "The conference," said Dr. N'Dow, "took its toll on our small staff and presented us with challenges we had not faced before, not least of which was limited resources."

Several member governments agreed that assessments of the centre could contribute positively to discussion on its revitalization. A representative of India, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 Developing Countries (G77) and China, said that while management and financial matters deserved the attention of the commission, its interest lay in ensuring that the work programme and budget are implemented by a centre that is capable.

The Kenyan delegation, which supported the position of the G77 and China, said that while it is important to make Habitat more effective, accountable and transparent, the centre also needs more resources and support to fulfil its mandate.

The Netherlands delegation noted that the last three years in particular have been difficult for Habitat, since the centre was burdened with organizing a global conference. The delegation noted that the main concern of the commission should be to ensure that the Habitat agenda is implemented. In that regard, the Netherlands delegation said it expects the centre to come up with its own proposals for restructuring.

In a resolution, the Secretary-General is requested to ensure prompt implementation of the recommendations of the report of the Office of Internal Oversight, taking into account the observations and comments of the Executive Director of the centre and the views expressed by the members of the commission at the 16th session.

The Bureau of the Commission, with the support of the Committee of Permanent Representatives, is requested to monitor improvements in the administrative and financial management of the centre and to report thereon to the commission at its 17th session.

A statement by NGOs said that the assessment reports were flawed because they based their analysis on opinions and responses that were not diverse enough. "What is missing from these assessments," said the NGOs, "is a detailed examination of the actual programmes of work of the centre and their impact, and the incorporation and views of the various partners and beneficiaries themselves; these elements and perspectives must also be reviewed."

The NGOs said they recognized the central role that Habitat had played in involving civil society in the Habitat II process, and they support the centre's mandate of implementing the Habitat Agenda. "It is vital," they stressed, "that the centre be strengthened so that it may take full advantage of the energy and ideas generated by Habitat Il in the implementation of its mandate and to more effectively respond to people's processes."

Revitalization of Habitat

A resolution on revitalizing the Habitat Centre sets out guiding principles and recommendations to focus the work of the centre and improve its efficiency. Recommendations on general management include implementing a series of clear and coherent policies incorporating the centre's mandate, strategic plan and mission statement and developing further formal processes of institutional learning. Financial resource recommendations include the urgent need to broaden the centre's funding base, and take measures to attract more nonearmarked contributions (earmarked funds are those tied to a particular project specified by the donor). With regard to administrative management, the resolution says the financial arrangements of the UN office in Nairobi "should be brought into line with those of similar United Nations administrative offices...Consideration should also be given to whether the continued existence of the United Nations office at Nairobi is justified." The centre should develop human resources and staffing strategy that, among other things, promotes the development and recognition of skills, greater emphasis on staff development, more team-based work, improved management practices and a high degree of staff involvement. "The existing imbalance and disparities in gender and geographical representation," says the resolution, "especially at the senior levels, must be rectified urgently through affirmative action." There was no discussion of merging the centre with other UN agencies.

Involvement of Civil Society

In 1996, the General Assembly requested the commission to review at its 16th session its working methods in order to involve in its work the representatives of local authorities or international associations of local authorities, and the relevant actors of civil society.

There was consensus at the commission that the involvement of local authorities, NGOs,- the private sector and other members of civil society is vital to Habitat's work and for the implementation of the Habitat Agenda. However, several delegations said Habitat's proposal to expand membership of the commission to include partners from civil society was not legally tenable, and India and China were against expanding membership. Not all NGOs favoured becoming commission members for fear it would threaten their integrity and their independent role. However, all delegations were unanimous in their opinion that there is a need to involve members of civil society in an on-going process of consultation and in implementing projects in member countries.,

In a resolution entitled Review of the Working Methods of the Commission on Human Settlements: The Involvement ofPartners, the commission decided that at its future session it will provide opportunities for partners to engage in a dialogue among themselves and with governments.

Future Role of the Commission

In a resolution on its future role, the commission affirmed that in fulfilling its mandate, it will assist the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in monitoring, reviewing and assessing progress made in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, among other things, through the analysis of relevant inputs from governments, local authorities and their associations, relevant NGOs and the private sector. The commission will also identify issues where system-wide coordination needs to be improved and modalities for achieving this.

The resolution also urges the commission to adopt a multiyear programme for a focused and thematic approach, culminating in an overall review and appraisal of the Habitat Agenda in the year 2001. The work programme will, inter alia, provide a framework to assess the progress achieved in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda and will be in line with the coordinated UN follow up to the 1990s global conferences. The work of the commission in relation to the programme of work shall be primarily focused on the relevant provisions of the Habitat Agenda, with a view to ensuring its effective implementation. The commission, at its future sessions, will include the following substantive items, derived from Habitat II:

- consideration of issues identified in the multi-year programme of work;

- review of the relevant UN plans and programmes of action pertaining to the themes "sustainable human settlements development" and "adequate shelter for all;" and

- emerging issues, trends and new approaches to issues affecting human settlements development.

At its 17th and 18th sessions, the commission will focus on monitoring implementation of the Habitat Agenda and assessing its impact. The sessions will be structured around the four substantive areas of the Habitat Agenda, as follows:

- adequate shelter for all, incorporating also the monitoring of the Global Shelter Strategy;

- sustainable human settlements in an urbanizing world, incorporating also the monitoring of chapter 7 of Agenda 21;

- capacity building and institutional development; and

- international cooperation and coordination:

Concerning Habitat's activities toward the realization of the human right to housing, the commission decided that, in addition to existing approved elements of their work programmes, a joint programme will be elaborated between Habitat and the Centre for Human Rights. The programme will aim to assist member states with the implementation of their commitments in the Habitat Agenda to ensure the full and progressive realization of the human right to housing.

Work Plan and Budget

Although the commission did not adopt a work plan, it endorsed the overall orientation of Habitat's medium-term plan for the period 1998-2001, which will be implementation of the Habitat Agenda. Several delegations expressed the need for a clear linkage of the 1998-1999 work programme with the Habitat Agenda and the financial aspects of its implementation. For this reason, the commission decided to request the secretariat to prepare by 15 June 1997 a revised work programme, which will take into account the centre's revised budget. The commission also requested a report on the clear linkages between the Habitat Agenda and the future work programme of the centre.

The proposed budget for Habitat was the subject of much debate during the session. Habitat noted that while the overall level of voluntary contributions to the Habitat and Human Settlements Foundation continues to grow, the level of nonearmarked contributions continues to decline. According to Dr. N'Dow, in 1991 only US$3 million of Habitat's funding was earmarked. However, by 1996 the figure had risen to US$16 million. This trend affects various activities of the centre, which has introduced measures to reduce expenditure. The centre is also preparing a fund-raising strategy based on the new medium-term plan.

The commission approved a budget of US$24 million for the biennium 1996-1997 and a budget of US$21 million for the following biennium. During the session, 23 governments pledged contributions to the Habitat and Human Settlements Foundation.

1999 Commission on Human Settlements

The commission decided that it will focus on the following special themes at its next session, to be held in 1999:

- local implementation of the Habitat Agenda, with particular attention to Agenda 21; and

- international cooperation for the implementation of the Habitat Agenda.

NGO and other activities at thr 16th session


Nairobi-based NGOs formed a National Host Committee in January in anticipation of the commission's 16th session and held planning meetings and discussions regarding issues to be addressed at the session. A circular on The Partnership Agenda was sent to over 1600 NGOs around the world to provide easy-to-understand information on the main issues of discussion; the circular was jointly produced by the Environment Liaison Centre International (ELCI), Shelter Forum, UNCHS and SNV-Kenya. Kenya-based NGOs also exchanged ideas on their role in the commission's work, especially in follow up and implementation of the Habitat Agenda, at a Nairobi workshop on 11 April entitled The Place and Role of the NGOs/CBOs (community-based organizations) in the. Post-lstanbul Process. Seventy-six representatives of 38 local NGOs attended the meeting.

On 26-27 April 165 participants attended the NGO Forum to discuss a report on Habitat Agenda follow up and implementation prepared by a consultant working for the International Facilitating Group (IFG). NGOs and CBOs met in daily caucus sessions. Daily editions of ECO Newsletter were produced, and NGOs and CBOs organized over ten parallel events on their experiences in the field of human settlements during the commission's session. NGOs were disappointed at the low level of government participation in several government-NGO dialogue sessions organized by UNCHS. A Partner's Committee, initiated by the World Association of Cities and Local Authorities Coordination (WACLAC), ELCI, Youth for Habitat II, the Habitat International Coalition, Forum of Researchers, and the Women, Homes and Community Supercoalition, among others, was formed to facilitate and enhance partners' efforts to implement and monitor the Habitat Agenda. In the next two months the Partner's Committee will consider its decisionmaking mechanisms and functional structure. A further meeting for Kenya-based NGOs is planned for July to plan follow-up activities.

Contact: ELCI, PO Box 72461, Nairobi, Kenya, telephone +2542/562015, fax +254- 2/562175.

Cities and Local Authorities

The World Association of Cities and Local Authorities Coordination convened an event on 25 April in Nairobi to discuss the lessons of Istanbul, and to build a new partnership approach with the commission during its 16th session. WACLAC stressed what it called huge expectations that the promising Habitat II conference had aroused in the local government sector in terms of partnership. "Local governments ask now," said the association, "for the CHS to deepen this partnership by recognizing their specific responsibility and making room for local government to play an active part in CHS policy formation."

WACLAC says it intends to concentrate its efforts through local government networks worldwide to "make the Habitat Agenda a fruitful and effective programme for improving the quality of life of our citizens." According to the association, the essential concerns for the international local government community committed to the success of the Habitat Agenda are promotion of democratic decentralization and local autonomy; a constructive spirit of partnership; and shared responsibility and participation.

Norbert Burger, President of WACLAC and Mayor of Cologne (Germany), said the Commission on Human Settlements should commit itself to involving local governments fully in its work, and to initiate jointly with WACLAC the process of preparation of a Worldwide Charter of Local Self-Government, for promulgation by the United Nations.

Private Sector

A private sector roundtable presented its findings to the commission on 29 April. The roundtable, which was convened by Habitat, said partnerships between the UNCHS (Habitat) and the private sector are welcome, useful and appropriate. However participants, comprising 50 representatives of Habitat's network of private sector partners, said the attitude of the private sector toward UN organizations in general is ambiguous, since "it was generally felt that the bureaucratic structure of the United Nations made it an unsuitable business partner."

Participants said that although there is tremendous potential for business in low-income countries, the private sector remains largely unaware of these opportunities. Participants suggested that greater knowledge and information on human settlements could attract potential private sector investment.

Roundtable participants recommended that Habitat disseminate information on local opportunities and facilitate contact between governments, local authorities and the private sector. They also recommended that Habitat establish a private sector service bureau, and develop an electronic network linking Habitat with its partners.

Information sources

The text of the Istanbul Declaration and the Habitat Agenda can be found on the web site /un/habitat/agenda or on the apc conference <un.habitat.gen>. All documents related to the 16th session of the CHS can be found on the web site of the UN office at Nairobi (http://www.unon/org/unon/unchs/CHS163.


Christina Engfeldt, Chief

Information and External Relations

UNCHS (Habitat)

PO Box 30030

Nairobi, Kenya

Telephone +254-2/623067

Fax +254-2/624060

E-mail <christine. engfeldt@>

The E&D File is produced by the United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (NGLS) for NGOs and others interested in the institutions, policies and activities of the UN system and is not an official record. For more information or additional copies contact NGLS, Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland, fax +41-22/788 7366, e-mail <> or NGLS, Room FF346, United Nations, New York NY 1001 7, USA, fax +1-212/963 8712, e-mail <>.

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