Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today described appalling living conditions in slums as a violation of human rights, saying that helping the urban poor reclaim their rights strengthened societies and stemmed environmental degradation.
“Conditions in slums are a violation of human rights,” Mr. Ban said in a message to the fifth session of the World Urban Forum, which got under way in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro today.
“The children who have no clean water, the women who fear for their safety, the young people who have no chance to receive a decent education have a right to better, and we have a responsibility to do better [to help them],” said Mr. Ban.
The Forum was established by the United Nations to examine the effects of rapid urbanization on communities, cities, economies and the climate. It held its first meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2002.
The Secretary-General noted that an estimated 22 million people in developing countries had managed to move out of slums each year during the past decade, but that achievement was not enough to have the impact required to reduce urban poverty.
According to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), the number of people living in slums rose from 777 million in 2000 to almost 830 million in 2010.
“All people have the right to safe drinking water, sanitation, shelter and basic services. All people have the right to live with a sense of security. All people should have the opportunity to work for a better future,” the Secretary-General said.
“Your plan to launch the World Urban Campaign will advance our work to reach these life-saving goals,” Mr. Ban told delegates.
The World Urban Campaign is a platform for public, private and civil society actors to discuss policies and share practical tools for sustainable urbanization.
In a related development, a new report backed by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) launched today lays out a new vision for urban planning to transform the way cities across the developing world grow.
That vision incorporates a flexible building design to allow families to expand their homes upwards by up to three stories.
In many of the world’s cities, governments seek to force poor communities into high-rise apartments so that the large informal settlements they occupy can be transformed into condominiums and other buildings to draw foreign investment.
“Most members of poor communities are used to living and working centrally and close to the streets,” said Arif Hasan, an architect and lead author of the new study. “When they are relocated to high-rise apartments, they are immediately beset by social and practical problems. They rarely want to move but don’t have a say in the matter.”
His research shows that when left to their own devices, dwellings in poor urban communities tend to grow incrementally, according to their needs and their ability to pay.
But without proper planning and support, this growth is not as efficient as it could be, potentially leading to congestion.
Studying four communities in Karachi, Pakistan, Mr. Hasan found that better managed incremental growth – not an ad hoc process – would lead to better social and physical environments.
This, he said, requires increasing the initial building costs by 15 per cent to erect decent foundations that can withstand building additional floors in the future, as well as support, including design advice and financial resources.