Marking World Habitat Day, UN focuses on improving lives of millions of slum dwellers

Marking World Habitat Day, UN focuses on improving lives of millions of slum dwellers

The rise of the city as the new human habitat, and ways to improve the lives of the millions who live in urban slums, was the focus as the United Nations observed World Habitat Day today.

"The city is becoming the new habitat for humanity. But it is a habitat where many of our old ideas, attitudes, customs and institutions leave us stranded, unable to foster our own collective well-being," UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a message to mark the Day.

The evidence, he said, was "most tellingly in slums, where many of the problems illuminated by the [UN] Millennium Declaration cluster in defiance of common decency."

The Secretary-General stressed that if cities were the collective future of humankind, then "it is time for us to take collective responsibility for their future development." He urged everyone, "local authorities and urban residents - rich and poor - to seek out and share ways to achieve a sustainable habitat for all of humanity."

This year's theme, "City-to-City Cooperation," was an attempt to encourage new forms of partnership to deliver on those Millennium Development Goals, said Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT).

In addition, the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, made sustainable urbanization a priority by endorsing the UN's specific target of making a "significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020," she said in her message.

The international community also showed its seriousness in tackling the problems of urbanization by upgrading of the former UN Centre for Human Settlements to a full programme, Ms. Tibaijuka said. UN-HABITAT was now "poised for action."

For his part, the President of the UN General Assembly, Jan Kavan of the Czech Republic, drew attention to "the importance of different links and networks between cities in this globalizing world." Recognizing the value of cooperation, he said that the theme was formulated, "to advance the expansion of new partnerships between cities for the benefit of all the inhabitants of cities throughout the world."

The Day's celebrations included a ceremony in Brussels to award the prestigious UN-HABITAT Scroll of Honour to individuals and organizations for their contribution towards improving the lot of city-dwellers and dealing with other urban issues.