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close this bookBASIN - News No. 13 - February 1997 : The Great Habitat Debate (BASIN-GTZ-SKAT, 1997, 31 p.)
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View the documentHabitat II: The Great Debate

Habitat II: The Great Debate

The Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) met in Istanbul, Turkey, from 3-14 June 1996, the 20th anniversary of the first Habitat Conference in Vancouver, Canada. Habitat II, as the culmination of a cycle of UN conferences this decade, may be best remembered for the ground-breaking participation of local authorities, the private sector, parliamentarians, NGOs and other "partners" in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda.

The Istanbul event covered a wide spectrum of topics from human rights, environmental sustainability, economic globalisation and global governance under two main themes: managing urbanisation and improving the living environment.

Habitat II was the climax of a massive global effort that took several years of planning and debate by people concerned with human settlement. BASIN was among them and devotes this issue of BASIN News to examining issues deliberated at the conference and its conclusions. It contains personal reflections of people who attended, summaries of the presentations given at the workshops that BASIN organised in the NGO Forum and some extracts from declarations that were agreed at the conference.

One of the key paragraphs in the NGO declaration to the Conference captures the essence of BASIN's approach and principles. "The purpose of human life is not to make a profit - there is a multiplicity of human values and ideals. The economy should be based on quality of life, human-centred socially and environmentally sound sustainable livelihoods, and exist within the carrying capacity of the ecosystem. Local and sustainable production and consumption, an equitable distribution of resources and economic equality between men and women are central to the economy. Traditional techniques, improvements of traditional techniques and appropriate technology should be encouraged in building, through national and local legislation and policy"

Other sections of the NGO declaration elaborated on this theme; promoting better exchange of information between those concerned with sustainable settlements and encouraging more investment in research about locally appropriate building materials production construction systems.

BASIN made a substantial effort for the conference. Thirteen people from BASIN's partner organisations attended and made their presence felt through a programme of seminars and workshops, an exhibition, distributing literature, formal dialogue with other conference participants and the construction of a demonstration building. This issue of BASIN News analyses the content and the value of each element of these activities.


1. In Istanbul it was most heartening to confirm that the work of BASIN and of its partners is clearly at the cutting edge of sustainable development in both conceptual thinking and project practice. Whilst many of the other NGOs and academics who were in Istanbul focused on all-important but often irreconcilable issues such as human rights, values and ideologies, it was apparent that BASIN has great deal to say about turning concepts of sustainability and equitable development into practical options.

2. The quantity of information about sustainable building technology is not a problem; the big questions relate to the quality and the accessibility of this information. In future one of the primary tasks of BASIN is to act as an agent to facilitate screening and repackaging the information, filtering out the surplus, the biased, the duplications and the plain irrelevant and circulating the rest in media and language that are useful to people who need information.

3. BASIN and its partners learnt a great deal about the context of our work. The context in this environment is getting to understand, or at least listen to the perspectives of other professionals involved in settlement management. With this appreciation it is possible to position ourselves and to explain what we are doing in language that others can comprehend. BASIN has not had a lot of experience at operating at this global level, but it is certainly here that many important decisions are made, or at least are seeded.

4. Very few institutions occupy the niche that BASIN does. Of these, only a handful are grounded so firmly in local realities and have the breadth of coverage, technically, methodologically, geographically and historically. It was a real eye opener and very exciting to discover that BASIN counts among these few that have the innately practical approach to current development debates.

Where next for BASIN?

BASIN marked it's eighth birthday by completing an external evaluation, part of which was done during the Habitat II conference. The many informal discussions and questionnaires which were completed in Istanbul have convinced us that BASIN has immense potential to make an impact in the area of human settlements particularly in the South.

There is a growing need for the sort of information and advisory services provided by BASIN, and there is no other international exchange network which concentrates on environmentally sound, socially appropriate yet commercially viable construction issues. During the coming year the European-based founding partners of BASIN will be working closely with a number of Southern organisation - in India, Latin America, Africa and SE Asia to extend the reach of BASIN's technical and building process information services. And BASIN will also focus more on targeting policy makers and decision makers who can influence local and international decisions about sustainable building

The Habitat II Global Plan of Action covers a wide range of concerns in carefully worded language, but in our view it fails to prioritise the most crucial issues or to detail the mechanisms by which national and local government will turn the rhetoric into policies, strategies and action. It gives governments the scope to do, or not to do, anything they please. BASIN's task is highlight the importance of encouraging the widespread adoption of appropriate technologies and the practicalities of implementing the Habitat Global Plan of Action This is a vast challenge and one that can only be reached by working in partnership with others who are equally concerned about an equitable and sustainable world.

Nick Hall, BASIN

Editor's Note

The next issue of BASlNNews will focus on South/South Co-operation. Readers are encouraged to send contributions, comments and any suggestions, before 30th April 1997, to:

Shelter Forum,
P.O. Box 39493,
Nairobi, Kenya.
Tel: 254-2-442108
Fax: 254-2-445166
Email: [email protected]