| GATE - 3/96 - Entrepreneurship development |
Habitat II adopts an action plan for a sustainable housing and settlement policy
Istanbul - The Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) ended on the 15th of June by adopting the "Habitat Agenda" and the "Declaration of Istanbul". In these documents the governments of 171 participating nations committed themselves to integrate the resolutions made four years ago at the Earth Summit in Rio on ecologically sound and sustainable development, into the settlement and shelter policy.
A quickly compromise was reached on the "right to housing" which had been considered a main focus of conflict upstream to the Habitat conference. At the instigation of the USA in particular the conference came to the conclusion that while there was no legal claim to housing, governments should undertake all steps necessary for the progressive realisation of the right to adequate housing.
No compromise could be found in some other conflicting areas in North-South relations, including foreign debt and issues of international trade, where developing countries in the Group 77 aspired for solutions which industrial nations considered to be incompatible with a market economy. Nor were the G 77 able to put through their demand for a time-scale for increasing development aid.
Habitat II asserted that sufficient funds are available to solve the world-wide housing problem. The world's 100 million homeless and some 600 million Third World people living in shelter which is hazardous for health could be provided with adequate housing, clean water and sanitation for just US $ 100 per head.
Express mention is made of
Improving the position of women, particularly in laws on heritage and the awarding of credits. The demand made at the World Women's Conference in 1995 in Peking for greater control and regulation of the business activities of transnational companies was also confirmed.
Nevertheless, several Islamic countries and the Vatican tried to abort the inclusion of the wording on reproductive health adopted at the World Women's Conference. Reference to human rights agreed at earlier UN conferences, was first thwarted by China who wanted to add weakening phrases.
The World Conference on Human Settlements did decide to strengthen the Habitat center in Nairobi, which developing countries had feared would be gradually dismantled. In contrast to the 1976 conference in Vancouver (Canada) which limited its declaration to calls to improve housing policy, the Habitat II congress resolved to implement follow-up measures. A special General Assembly of the United Nations in the year 2001 is to review whether the resolutions passed in Istanbul have been applied.
The Habitat conference tread on new ground by involving local authorities, citizen's initiatives, Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and parliamentarians, who, for the first time were able to take part in Committee 2, the so-called partner committee, in drawing up the "Habitat Agenda" ( the Global Plan of Action). NGOs stressed that the people affected arc the best experts to solve their problems and this approach was very fruitful for the committee's work. The Committee Chair, Finland's Housing Minister Martti Lujanen, recommended similar large-scale participation of citizen's groups in future UN conferences. Bella Abzug from the international NGO "Women's Environment and Development" (WEDO) went further, demanding that non-governmental groups should be represented at the United Nations General Assembly.
Klaus TÃ¶pfer, the German Construction Minister heading the German delegation particularly welcomed the conference resolutions on decentralisation and strengthening of local self management. Direct participation of neighbourhood groups and other societal organisations give appropriate weight to the local factor when implementing a socially and ecologically sound settlement policy.
Women took the lead in discussions at the NGO Forum.
Indeed, their shoulders have to bear the main brunt of the spreading poverty in the mega cities of emerging nations. In many urban areas, women are the sole family bread-winners nowadays.
However women are increasingly being viewed not just as neglected groups but also as major economic actors. The "International Coalition on Women and Credit" represented in Istanbul now has 200 member institutions in several countries which grant small credits to women's groups, based on the tradition of savings clubs. Impressed by the high repayment rates of the usually poor women, who cannot escape the burdens of loan repayments by just leaving the area as men do, but are tied to the locality through their families, World Bank Vice President Ibrahim Serageldin emphasised that the World Bank is also planning to apply this financing instrument. Karl Otterbein
Habitat 11 and German Development Cooperation
Eschborn - Ingrid Schwoerer, member of the supra-sectoral urban and rural development division at the GTZ, has a generally favourable assessment of the results of Habitat II and their impact on development cooperation:
"The Global Agenda has been adopted, and although different ratings are given to the key areas, they largely agree with the sector policies of Germany's Development Aid Ministry, BMZ. The Global Plan of Action points to the many actors who should participate and the role they have to play in regional development processes. The problems of adequate housing supply and sustainable developmÃ©nt of settlements can only be tackled if non governmental organizations, the private sector and decentralized administrations interact.
Such "deregulation" of development efforts is continued in Habitat II. By applying the principle of subsidiarity, towns and local communities are to have far greater independence in planning, decision-making management, administration and action. For this, they need the resources, competence and instruments necessary to mobilize existing potentials. At the same time, coordination mechanisms with the population, with other communes, regional and or centralized agencies are becoming more significant if mistakes are not to be repeated at the local level.
Conference discussions focused on empowerment strategies and capacity building.
Remarkable examples were presented in Istanbul, both in the best practices exhibition at the NGO Forum and in the expert dialogues.
BMZ supported 12 developing countries presently Implementing communal and urban development projects in their upstream preparation of the national participation at Habitat II. It will be interesting to see whether and how the national action plans can be translated into corresponding reform approaches in these countries.
Advisory approaches range from popular participation in urban area development, through planning of coordination processes between administrations and the public, to further developing instruments to tap local development potentials. Perhaps Habitat II will have made it easier for non-governmental organizations, communes, community associations, donors and UN organizations to coordinate their concepts and all pull in the same direction. Based on lessons learnt in the past, technical cooperation projects have a role to play in these efforts, which will raise the significance of the work at hand.
In the next issue of Basin News (No 13) a report will be published on the results of Habitat II as seen by the partners of the Building Advisory Service and Information Network BASIN (see "gate" 1/96).
"Let the rural women have a say"
Bobo-Dioulasso/Burkina Faso - Some 150 women from rural regions of ten West African countries met in Bobo-Dioulasso in March this year to exchange experience and ideas. The "Centre d'Etudes Economique et Sociales de l'Afrique de l'Ouest" (CESAO) had invited members of rural women's groups, supporters of women's projects and advisors to inform on the findings of the World Womens' Conference and to call upon rural women's representatives to give these "nameless women" a say.
In a programme of cultural events, exhibitions and discussions in working groups and plenaries rural women's groups from Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Chad, Togo and Senegal displayed their handicrafts, presented cookery books, literacy materials and videos on their activities.
Women's lack of participation in rural development projects and the tendency to give responsible posts to men were the target of criticism, especially in today's world where women have to feed their families in a context of growing poverty following "structural adjustment" and devaluation (see gate 4/94, page 17 ff).
Women want to raise their income by improving the quality of their products and diversifying them. The chief measures needed to achieve this goal are:
. literacy programmes, training in improved technologies to process raw materials from the farm and the forest, better packaging techniques and access to information on product presentation (marketing),
• exchange of experience at local and regional levels, organising young women,
• savings and credit system to strengthen the financial self help potential of women e.g. by setting up women's banks.
But general political demands were also voiced for example access to real estate, greater involvement of women in Political decision making processes, better information on their rights and obligations and women's participation m development projects at all stages, from the concept right through to implementation.
Further information: Centre d'Etudes Economique et Sociales de l'Afrique de I'Ouest (CESAO) 01 BP305 Bobo-Dioulasso 01
Burkina Faso Tel.: ++226/971017 or 972306 Fax: ++226/970802