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General Assembly opens session to review progress since landmark Habitat forum

General Assembly opens session to review progress since landmark Habitat forum

The United Nations General Assembly today opened a special session to evaluate the progress made since a 1996 UN conference in Istanbul pledged to ensure adequate shelter for all and to develop safe, healthy, equitable, and productive human settlements.

Known as "Istanbul + 5," the session will also seek to formulate new initiatives to help implement the Habitat Agenda, the plan of action adopted at the 1996 Second UN Conference on Human Settlements.

Opening the meeting this morning, Assembly President Harri Holkeri of Finland said "we live in an urbanizing world - we may say that we are at the beginning of an urban millennium." He also called attention to the innovative structure of the special session, particularly its first ever Thematic Committee, established to share experiences from different corners of the world.

"In the programme of this Committee," he said, "we will have the opportunity to listen to examples of implementation of many important issues and aspects pertaining to shelter, social development and eradication of poverty, environmental management, governance, effective city development strategies and financing for urban development."

In his address, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said rich and poor nations would have to work together to overcome the problems facing cities. "The world is in the midst of a historic and radical transformation, not only in how people live, but in where they live," he said, noting that most people were now city-dwellers. Since the Istanbul conference, the international community has learned that public-private partnerships are important in tackling urban problems, and that urban governance was a precondition for economic efficiency and effective administration, he said. "A healthy society is one that gives all its members a chance to participate in decisions that affect their lives."

Secure tenure is another important issue facing tens of millions of urban families, the Secretary-General said. "In some cases, people have houses but lack titles. Others are engaged in business activities but lack licenses to operate them. We must reduce this insecurity."

The Assembly then opened its general debate, with representatives from over 50 countries taking part in the discussion.

Meanwhile in the Thematic Committee, this morning's case study dealt with the right to adequate housing in South Africa, as well as sustainable urban development and good governance. In five meetings, the Committee will examine 16 case studies on a wide range of themes, including shelter, social development and the eradication of poverty, environmental management, financing of urban government and international cooperation.

The three-day session will be accompanied by a number of parallel events, among them seminars on participatory urban governance, volunteerism, the role of women in city administration, and the contribution of the private sector.

In a related development, the UN Volunteers programme (UNV) today released a publication drawing attention to the importance of volunteer work in developing cities. Titled "Caring Cities: Volunteerism in Urban Development and the Role of the UNV Programme," the publication also outlines UNV's approach to urban development.