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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 documentNational reports and national plans of action: a regional perspective

National reports and national plans of action: a regional perspective

National Reports and National Plans of Action constituted the main contribution of the Habitat II process at the national level. The response at the national level was overwhelmingly positive. Most of the 124 reports received by the Habitat II Secretariat were prepared involving a large spectrum of actors, grouped together in national preparatory committees or coordinating bodies.

As part of the consultative process, many workshops, seminars and meetings took place worldwide at the local, provincial, national, sub-regional and regional levels, Many of the national reports reflect the diversity and richness of these consultations. At the national level, the main follow-up activity to Habitat II will be Plans of Action.


In addition to a high national demographic growth rate often exceeding 3 per cent per year, African cities and towns face urban growth rates varying from 4 per cent to 10 per cent. Nevertheless, in the last decade, many cities have experienced a decrease in their population growth rate. This is particularly visible in large metropolitan areas where economic and population crises have worsened living conditions and resulted in urban growth shifting to secondary towns.

Urbanisation rates in the region vary from less than 10 per cent to 60 per cent. During the 1980s, the deterioration of the urban environment could be explained by poor economic growth, poor local revenue collection, rural bias in government priorities, and a poor system of urban governance which ignored the action and potential participation of civil society.

Most countries propose to reduce the gap between the formal sector which provides expensive credit, conventional employment and serviced land to high income groups, and the so-called informal sector which incorporates more than 50 per cent of urban populations in terms of employment and provides low-standard services to the majority. Reviews of legal frameworks, as well as specific support programmes to improve access to land titles, credit, training, and business sites, are recommended to ensure that the informal sector is recognised and legalised and has security of tenure.

For the development of urban areas, many countries propose to finance primary infrastructure and then let the market organise itself within guidelines provided by land-use planning schemes. Other services will be completed later and the cost will be recovered through taxation. Labour-intensive projects will be developed.

The development of a balanced urban network is pointed out as an essential factor for rural development and in terms of providing services to rural communities. Formal housing-finance institutions have often failed to address the needs of the majority, and housing is mainly financed through individual and informal strategies. Financial proposals include the improvement of tax recovery for infrastructure and services and for housing, creation of secondary mortgage markets, development of savings and loans through the commercial banking system or through a housing bank, and developing and supporting housing cooperatives.

Local partnerships with the private sector (formal and informal) and with communities are considered essential to the improvement of access to basic services. Most reports consider the effective management of human settlements as dependent upon the efficiency of local authorities. Several governments propose to increase the autonomy of local authorities and to reinforce their financial and human resource base. Many proposals deal with reducing mismanagement by local authorities to improve transparency and accountability both to central governments and to the public. More attention will be given to social and economic processes than to spatial and physical issues which have traditionally been given priority in development planning.

Some reports point out civic participation, democracy and good governance as factors that need to be developed to prevent social conflicts, ethnic and civil wars and the resulting destruction. Countries recently affected by civil wars emphasise programmes on reconstruction and resettlement of returnees, mainly in towns, and highlight the need for international financial assistance

Though women are not legally discriminated against in access to land, credit, and employment, they are often penalised by customary laws, especially in relation to inheritance. Women, who are reported to represent between 10 and 25 per cent of heads of households in capital cities, are very often identified as key economic actors in poverty reduction and in the informal sector. Many countries propose specific action to increase income-generation for women. NGOs dealing with street children are also being supported.

Countries recognise that domestic financial resources are essential for the development of human settlements and that international resources must be allocated to support national processes. International financial assistance is requested to rehabilitate and improve basic infrastructure and services, to restructure unplanned urban areas and to develop support programmes for micro-enterprises.

Asia and the Pacific

Asia is a vast and diversified continent with population varying from 700 people per (the most densely populated country in the world) to as low as 6.5 people per Annual population growth rates tend to be between 2 and 4 per cent, with urban population growth rates often slightly higher than the national average.

Urbanisation trends are also quite varied in the region. The Middle East is the most urbanised, with some countries having over 70 per cent of their populations living in urban areas. In the South-East, levels of urbanisation are between 20 and 50 per cent, while in South Asia, they are between 20 and 30 per cent.

Over the past two decades, there has been a major change in housing policies with the role of Governments in the provision of housing shifting from that of developer to that of facilitator, ie. from public to private provision. Most Governments still report they are directly involved only in the provision of low-income housing. The low-income groups needs are reported to be met by public housing and the informal sector.

Reduction of poverty has been, and continues to be, a key priority in the less developed countries. There is a growing consensus in most countries on the significant role of urbanisation in national economic development, for example, in creating jobs in the non-agricultural sector, in promoting rural-urban linkages and in harnessing the economic opportunities available in the sub-region.

Housing conditions in the poorest countries are often characterised by sub-standard housing with poor infrastructure and services. Slums and squatter settlements have proliferated in many of the large cities. The emphasis in most reports is on the provision of shelter, access to land and basic infrastructure and services for low-income groups. Urban productivity is linked to the productivity of the urban poor. Urban renewal policies should focus not only on physical aspects of neighbourhoods but also on the social aspects, including employment, education and health However, in more industrialised countries, the focus is on decreasing housing shortages for both low-and middle-income groups and on improving housing standards, particularly the per capita floor area, to meet higher standards.

The importance of mobilising sources of finance is emphasised with proposals such as privatisation of housing-finance institutions, encouraging commercial banks and private developers to invest in the low-cost housing sector with bank quotas, subsidised loans and tax exemptions, promoting housing mortgages and a secondary mortgage market and encouraging community-based finance systems and housing cooperatives.

The need for sustainable land-use is acknowledged by all countries. Those with large urban populations and megacities propose to regulate the population distribution and ensure regional development by developing small and medium-sized towns and strengthening regional and inter-regional development.

The more developed countries propose to improve the management of transportation systems through the development of a more diversified transport infrastructure which takes into account environmental impacts, affordability, and energy efficiency. These countries also highlight the need to strengthen environmental awareness and management and to ensure a more stringent enforcement of regulations. Most countries in the region acknowledge their lack of institutional capacity to deal with human settlements and urbanisation problems and propose as a starting point the review of existing institutional and legal frameworks related to human settlements They also recommend the promotion of participatory approaches by raising public awareness and participation in development issues, by strengthening the capacity of local authorities and by supporting partnerships between communities, NGOs, CBOs, and the private sector.

There is a consensus that regional cooperation is an important dimension of international cooperation. International assistance should be timely, appropriate and responsive to the needs of the recipient country. And it should be unconditional.

Central and Eastern Europe

The level of urbanisation in this region is generally about 60 per cent and the population is relatively stable. The centralised system that operated previously in most countries was characterised by low productivity and efficiency, overemployment, and a distorted pricing system. Environmental considerations were disregarded, and polluting technologies and high-en orgy consumption patterns were common. The transition period is characterised by restructuring, privatisation foreign investments, trade liberalisation, introduction of private land-ownership, mass privatisation of housing and a rise in the property market, with the appropriate legislation already adopted or under preparation. In most countries, more than 50 per cent of housing stock is privately-owned, although private land ownership is still not possible in some places. In some instances, the lack of individual resources has hampered housing privatisation and has also caused a decline in the maintenance and rehabilitation of existing housing.

Implementation of economic reforms has raised the cost of living, increased unemployment and led to a drop in construction activities. However, the GDP of most countries is now gradually improving. Many countries seek to reduce poverty through the implementation of social reforms, the promotion of sustainable economic growth, the development of long-term and medium-term credit, the improvement of legal frameworks for the advancement of foreign capital, and the use of modern technologies.

Many countries have new housing policies in place, with the key objectives being the allocation of land for private housing construction, the provision of urban infrastructure, and the development of adequate financial instruments. Additionally, there are proposals to review the legal framework for rental housing, joint housing ownership, land tenure and expropriations. Governments plan to reduce their participation in housing finance to a minimum, while maintaining their influence on the market through appropriate regulations. Other proposals for supporting the development of housing markets include ensuring the availability of materials, technology and credit, and encouraging household savings for mortgages etc.

Many countries propose to rehabilitate urban infrastructure through the involvement of the private sector by ensuring that there is adequate cost-recovery. Some countries propose to give responsibilities for the provision of infrastructure and basic services to local authorities. The use of sustainable energy and modern energy-saving technologies will be promoted and the efficiency of heat supply systems will be improved. Most countries indicate the maintenance and improvement of existing public transportation systems is a priority, many plan to improve the ecological situation in industrial areas and in the largest cities. Many countries also acknowledge that their legal frameworks for disaster mitigation need to be improved.

Apart from new construction, emphasis is also placed on the rehabilitation of the old housing stock Restoration of historical buildings and promotion of traditional architecture are often mentioned.

Urban planning used to be centrally conducted, but is now the responsibility of the local authorities, and a new legal framework for urban planning and has teen established or is under preparation. Urban policies will be implemented through consultative processes involving key actors, and monitoring systems will ensure follow-up.

Some countries lack a comprehensive strategy for regional planning and propose to address unbalanced regional development through the establishment of a network of medium and large towns and the strengthening of selected villages as rural centres. Safeguarding the rural environment is also highlighted.

The responsibility and autonomy of regional and local authorities will be increased to deal with land, finance, investment planning, urban management and housing. Some countries also intend to enhance financial resources through improved tax collection. Staff training and capacity-building programmes will improve the cost-efficiency of administration of human settlements.

Latin America and the Caribbean

Despite the heterogeneity of human settlements, urban populations stand at 50 to 60 per cent and even reach 75 per cent in most developed countries. The population growth rate is higher in cities than in rural areas (where is can even be negative), but it has greatly decreased in the last decade, particularly in the largest metropolitan areas.

Social crises, limited investment resources, demographic trends and rapid urbanisation have resulted in a large deficit in housing, serviced land and infrastructure, which has led to the deterioration and overcrowding of existing housing stock, and development of squatter and unplanned settlements, which may house up to 60 per cent of the urban population in some cases. Inadequate rental housing policies have hampered private investment in developing and maintaining the existing housing stock Conservation and rehabilitation of existing stock is a priority in some countries.

Access to potable water and adequate sanitation is still considered a key problem in many countries. Countries indicate that a more efficient cost-recovery system for infrastructure and services could be achieved through improved tax collection combined with progressive user charges. Upgrading and regularisation of squatter settlements and uncontrolled urban areas remains a priority, including legalisation of land tenure, upgrading housing through community-based housing institutions and the provision of loans.

New financing mechanisms were set up in answer to the gradual withdrawal of central governments from the direct provision of housing. In financing public housing, many proposals deal with the encouragement of participation of the private sector in the provision of loans and mortgages, taking into account the low demand for mortgages at market rates and the need to assist the very low income groups through new subsidy schemes and specific financial funds. For the poor, the promotion of non-conventional financial systems such as community loan systems and cooperatives is encouraged. International organisations are often identified as providers of credit for urban programmes.

The deficit in basic social infrastructure has resulted in environmental deterioration affecting major urban centres. Programmes to address contamination of water resources, soil erosion and aquifer rehabilitation are considered priorities in some countries. Progressive introduction of standards and measures is proposed to prevent and reduce the negative impacts of urban and industrial development on the environment.

Most countries propose to rehabilitate, revitalise and/or increase the density in urban historical centres, taking into account preservation of architectural heritage. Recovery of urban land in central and low-density peri-central areas is pointed out as one way of preventing costly urban sprawl which damages the environment and agriculture.

In most countries, accelerated urbanisation has concentrated the population in major urban centres and resulted in an unbalanced national and regional human-settlemeat network. Regional economic planning and strengthening of secondary towns are key factors identified to address this issue. Informal economic activities in some countries represent more than 50 per cent of overall employment. Income disparities and social inequity have been on the increase in the last 20 years. Many countries, notwithstanding, have recently benefitted from improvement in social-development conditions. Most address urban poverty through national, regional and local economic programmes and they strongly link urban problems with economic development. Overcoming poverty is the most important goal in many countries, and housing is pointed out as a first step towards economic and social sustainability. Specific social programmes to address the needs of women, indigenous groups, children and youth will be developed. Support to informal-sector activities, small-scale businesses and industries through training programmes, access to cooperative credit and to business sites are also proposed. Urban violence due to social and geographic exclusion, and the growth in drug-dealing, increasingly affect big cities, breeding forms of violent repression and resulting in a large growth in private security services. The need for security is felt more by the poor and some countries will develop alternative methods managed by local authorities and based on partnerships (systems of justice based on mediation and forms of community policing)

Democratisation has increased the responsibilities and autonomy of local authorities and facilitated the participation of the civil society in urban management. Some countries propose to strengthen the autonomy of regional and local authorities but technical and financial assistance from central institutions is seen as necessary, particularly in less-developed regions. The goal of many urban policies is the encouragement of citizen participation, and there are many proposals to establish community consultation mechanisms. NGOs and CBOs are identified as key actors to decentralise housing policies to the regional and/or municipal level and, in large metropolitan areas, to create a basic urban administration subsystem (micro-urban regions) to bring administration closer to the population.

Western Europe, North America and others

In many countries, a fairly high percentage of the population is elderly but the population is still slowly increasing. The level of urbanisation varies between 55 per cent to 85 per cent. GNPs in the region are fairly high. In the context of budgetary restrictions, most countries have a developed social welfare system but they are now experiencing financial difficulties in maintaining it. The recent recession has left most economies constrained by high rates of unemployment (averaging 10 to 13 per cent)

Housing policies are based on the combined principles of the market economy and public-sector intervention which plays the major role in the provision of social housing. Although there are no housing shortages and there is a widespread recognition of the right to housing, affordable housing for low-income groups and the homeless is still a problem. Inadequate policies for the integration of immigrants and other disadvantaged groups have led to social tensions in several countries. The problem of homelessness needs to be addressed by reactivating the whole housing chain by supporting access to home ownership for middle-income groups so as to free public rental housing for very low-income households.

Integrated social-development programmes will be extended in marginalised urban areas to reduce the risks of social fracture and to counteract economic, ethnic and social segregation, with positive discrimination mechanisms, extended partnerships, reinforcement of services, education, social links, public participation and security, promoting socially diverse neighbourhoods, attracting and developing economic activities, housing and urban rehabilitation. Forms of new local justice and police coordinated by municipalities have been established to address the need for new forms of social regulation. Networking between experts and the local authorities is important for the exchange of experiences. Employment creation is a major priority. Unemployment reduction plans aim at improving economic competitiveness, supporting enterprises and job creation, and addressing poverty traps that keep people out or work. Some countries intend to expand their subsidised jobs and community-management programmes which can be a means of employment creation for vulnerable groups. In some countries locally-crafted solutions and the private sector are seen as the key to the economic success of cities. The role of central governments is to support these efforts.

In the less-developed countries, emphasis is placed on the improvement of city planning mechanisms, provision of water, and the rehabilitation of infrastructure and services. Easy access to transportation infrastructure is a key factor in urban transformation; settlements will be limited to areas where this infrastructure is already in place so as to reduce urban sprawl. Less-developed countries focus on improving their control on unauthorised land development. Several reports address the curb of decreasing populations in rural areas.

Several countries have implemented strict environmental legislation affecting urban planning, but global policies which simultaneously address economic development, social solidarity and environment at the metropolitan level are not fully developed. Most countries propose to reduce their emissions into the soil, water and air, and to improve their monitoring system.

The historical and cultural heritage will be protected in major urban projects through the promotion of partnerships and the use of regulatory measures, interventions and financial incentives

In many countries, large metropolitan areas do not benefit from adequate administration. In most countries, local authorities are responsible for the implementation of housing and urban policies. The trend is to increase their responsibility through continuous decentralisation, and coordination and partnerships with central government. However, local initiatives need to respond to national priorities and the central government's involvement is essential to promote national unity and innovation and to arbitrate between contradictory local interests and contradictory values, many countries intend to promote the participation of women in elected and professional bodies.

Some Governments indicate that they will pay increased attention to urban development in their bilateral cooperation Priority issues in international cooperation are poverty reduction, the feminisation of poverty, capacity-building and decentralization, environmental protection, encouraging democratic governance, enabling housing strategies and the empowerment of women. There is some concern, however, about the coordination between bilateral agencies, international agencies and NGOs.

This analysis is a summary of a Habitat II Conference document entitled "National Reports and National Plan of Action: Report of the Secretary-General" by the UNCHS {Habitat}