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Urbanization Must Not Come At Environments Expense

Urbanization Must Not Come At Expense Of Environment, Say UN Officials

New York, Oct 6 2008 9:10AM

Top United Nations officials have marked World Habitat Day with a call to ensure that the rapid urbanization of towns and cities – which the majority of people today call home – is accompanied by decent living conditions and efforts to preserve the environment.

The theme of this year’s Day is “harmonious cities,” in an effort to raise awareness of the problems of rapid urbanization, its impact on the environment and the challenges of rising urban poverty. “Our rapidly urbanizing world cannot claim to be harmonious if slum dwellers do not enjoy opportunities to find jobs and improve their living conditions,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message for the Day, which is observed on the first Monday in October each year.

“Nor will it be harmonious if the growth and expansion of urban areas comes at the expense of the natural environment,” he added.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the set of anti-poverty targets world leaders committed to in 2000, call for a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.

“Cities have tremendous potential to be places where balanced development prevails, where diverse people live in harmony, and where healthy living conditions coexist with low levels of energy consumption, resource-use and waste,” said Mr. Ban.

“I call on all partners and stakeholders to do our utmost to realize this potential, and to build decent living conditions for all women, men and children in a way that also preserves our natural heritage and promotes greener and smarter growth.”

Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of the agency which promotes socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities and adequate shelter for all (known as UN-HABITAT), said that with the number of urban slum dwellers worldwide moving above the 1 billion mark, rising urban poverty is one of today’s biggest development challenges.

“We have both a moral and ethical responsibility to make our cities more harmonious by making them more inclusive. It is a societal imperative that we fight urban poverty and squalor if we are to secure urban safety and security,” she said in her message for the Day.

Ms. Tibaijuka added that it is no coincidence that climate change is emerging at the forefront of international debate at the same time as the world becomes more urbanized.

“Cities consume upwards of 75 per cent of all energy and contribute to an equally substantial amount of green house gas emissions. Cities must therefore be an integral part of any mitigation efforts,” she stated.

“Reducing the contribution of cities to climate change and the vulnerability of cities to the effects of climate change must be viewed as a historical opportunity to improve the living conditions of all women and men, including the most vulnerable segments of our urban populations,” she added. “I can think of no better initiative than to combine these efforts to make our cities and towns greener and safer and more equitable."

The UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing noted that the growth of slums in the last 15 years has been “unprecedented” with one out of every three city dwellers today – approximately 998 million people – living in a slum.

“Living in slums means being deprived of access to adequate sanitation, education and health care or to other services and opportunities. It also means being excluded from full participation in civic life and the exercise of citizen’s rights, as slums are considered illegal, informal or transitory and in any case a non-permanent part of a city's political and economic fabric, Raquel Rolnik said in a statement.

Numerous events are taking place around the globe to mark this year’s World Habitat Day, including the launch in Bangkok of a free online “Quick Guides” to help policymakers deal with the key issues of housing urban poor in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Quick Guides, developed jointly by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and UN-HABITAT, are in response to the unprecedented growth of slums and squatter settlements that over 500 million people in the region call home.

This year’s Day comes ahead of the fourth session of the World Urban Forum, set to take place in Nanjing, China, from 3 to 6 November. The Forum, the premier global event on managing urbanization, will also witness the launch of the State of the World’s Cities, UN-HABITAT’s flagship biennial publication. Nanjing is also the recipient of this year’s Habitat Scroll of Honour Special Citation, which is conferred upon cities, governmental and non-governmental organizations, local authorities, public, private and research bodies, or individuals for outstanding achievements in the cause of sustainable human settlements.

In addition, the Chinese cities of Shaoxing and Zhangjiagang were given the Habitat Scroll of Honour Award, along with the Rwandan capital, Kigali, the Russian city of Bugulma, and Ciudad Juarez, a major Mexican city on the United States border.

ENDS

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