Global perspective Human stories

UN proposes raising number escaping slums annually to 30 million

UN proposes raising number escaping slums annually to 30 million

Anna Tibaijuka
To reverse the growth of slums in developing countries by the 2020 target date, the world needs to improve the lives of 30 million people per year, not the 5 million originally proposed, the chief of the United Nations agency dealing with urban housing said today.

Opening the 20th Governing Council of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) meeting this week in Nairobi, Kenya, Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka said the figure put forward at the 19th Council meeting two years ago had turned out to be too modest.

Referring to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agreed in 2000, she said the seventh goal on environment sustainability had included the 5 million slum dwellers' target for which UN-HABITAT was responsible.

"Yes, it would be possible to improve the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020, but while that is happening, more than one-half billion – that is, 500 million – more people will have been drawn into the misery of slum life," Ms. Tibaijuka said.

"We would need to improve the lives of not just 5 million slum dwellers per year until 2020, but more than 30 million per year if we are to reverse the developing world's headlong plunge into urban poverty."

She proposed alerting Governments to the scope of the problem, changing the worldwide target to give national benchmarks and having it read: "Halve, between 1990 and 2020, the proportion of slum dwellers in the urban populations."

Ms. Tibaijuka noted that many lives depended on another MDG7 target, halving the number of persons without access to water and sanitation, for which UN-HABITAT is also the responsible UN agency.

Its most recent initiative was to collaborate with Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya to clean up polluted Lake Victoria, the headwaters of the River Nile, she said.

Ms. Tibaijuka read a message from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in which he said cities were potentially great engines of growth and social development, but were also bastions of inequality with regard to health, living conditions and employment opportunities, as well as crime and insecurity.

"As you set the work programme and budget for the 2006-2007 biennium, I urge you to do your part to strengthen the capacity of local authorities and to involve civil society in policy-making and implementation. I hope you will also see the wisdom in strengthening the UN Habitat and Human Settlements Foundation, which can contribute to our struggle against urban poverty," he added.

UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Klaus Toepfer, noting the huge impact of cities on their surrounding environments, said conservation had to be at the core of decision-making on rapid urbanization, which he called the biggest threat to the environment.

"The natural habitat depends on cities. Cities do not exist in a vacuum," he said, calling on the Council to support UN-HABITAT and its many joint projects with UNEP around the world.

About 1,000 high-level delegates from the Governing Council's 58 Member States are attending the meeting, which ends on Friday.