|BASIN - News No. 13 - February 1997 : The Great Habitat Debate (BASIN-GTZ-SKAT, 1997, 31 p.)|
The Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements brought to a close a series of world conferences to define and launch a global agenda to meet the complex challenges created by a century of unparalleled change.
The objectives for Habitat II were:
- in the long term, to arrest the deterioration of global human settlement conditions and ultimately create the conditions for achieving improvements in the living environment of all people on a sustainable basis; and
- to adopt a general statement of principles and commitments and formulate a related Global Plan of Action capable of guiding national and international efforts through the first two decades of the next century.
The issue of shelter and sustainable human settlements is recognised as a problem of crisis proportions that affects all countries. The crisis appears in stark and dramatic statistics: in the year 2025 the Earth is expected to be home to almost 100 megacities with populations exceeding five million
The Habitat Agenda and Istanbul Declaration form the closing chapter of this agenda-sitting phase-one inspired largely by the end of the Cold War and a political opportunity for the UN to become a key player in shifting the traditional security agenda of States toward people-centred sustainable development. It is anticipated that Habitat II and the special five-year review of the implementation of Agenda 21 in 1997 will prepare the ground for a new era focused on implementation of the conference outcomes in a series of partnerships involving States and their new competitors for resources and influence in a rapidly globalising world: cities, transnational corporations, NGOs, and members of an epistemic and scientific community who have become indispensable sources of the risk-laden knowledge that informs contemporary policy in almost every area.
It was both appropriate and perhaps indicative of things to come that two of the major themes of Istanbul were "partnership" and local action. Given the importance of Local Agenda 21s in the dissemination and implementation of sustainable development concepts, Habitat II will complement and reinforce the UN system's desire to create essential alliance at the community level If some delegations demonstrated unease at the prospect of ceding sovereign control of the Habitat Agenda, there was no hesitation by the partners in asserting their expectation that things will never be the same again.
Another significant accomplishment of the Conference was the reaffirmation of the commitment to the "full and progressive realisation of the right to adequate housing." A debate on the future of the UN Centre for Human Settlements identified a continuing role for the Centre, and invited the General Assembly and ECOSOC to review and strengthen the mandate of the Commission on Human Settlements.
A Best Practices Exhibition also paralleled the Conference, and showcased examples of human settlements development from around the world. The Best Practices Initiative is an interactive, computerised tool developed by the Together Foundation. Users can access information on over 500 case studies in the realisation of Habitat's objectives - shelter provision for all and sustainable human settlements development.
Habitat II will fold neatly into the global policy agenda articulated and launched during the cycle of UN conferences dealing with children, the environment, human rights, population and development, social development and women. For example, the Habitat Agenda takes up and integrates environmental (UNCED) and population issues (ICPD) in the specific context of urbanisation. In Under-Secretary-General Nitin Desai's words: "The Habitat Agenda forces us to address issues on an integrated and local basis, something which is a logical development of many ideas which surfaced earlier."
The Agenda, accompanied by a commitment to local implementation, gives a timely momentum to the anticipated new phase in the UN's engagement with its emerging global constituencies (local authorities, women's movements, community based organisations, business and trade unions) as the international community grapples to respond to the ambivalent twins of globalisation and trade liberation. Habitat II represents the latest stage in the UN's project to re-define the traditional security agenda in the knowledge that the emerging insecurities posed by environmental, social and economic problems coincide with the causes of unsustainability.
Earth Negotiations Bulletin