NEWSMAKER: Equal opportunity key to sustainable urban development – UN official

18 June 2010
UN-HABITAT Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka

Providing city dwellers with equal opportunities for social services, including livelihoods and shelter is key to ensuring sustainable development in urban areas, the head of the United Nations settlements programme says, adding that exclusion could be a recipe for upheaval in cities.

“Inclusion is about empowering the marginalized, inclusion is looking at the disadvantaged groups, normally women, the youth,” said Anna Tibaijuka, the Executive Director of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), in an interview with the UN News Centre.

“In many of the developing countries 60 per cent of the people are below 30 years old. If you do not really have clear socio-economic policies to include them, to provide them with livelihoods, to provide them with education and vocational training, how will they improve their lot?” Ms. Tibaijuka asked.

She spoke of the need to “bridge the urban divide,” deploring the fact that 1 billion people across the world still lived in slums and squatter settlements without access to basic services such as safe drinking water and sanitation facilities and durable housing.

Slum dwellers lacked security of tenure for the land where they had settled and often had no means of legal redress when their dwellings were razed by municipal authorities.

Urban planning must also take into account environmental factors, especially challenges posed by the effects of climate change, Ms. Tibaijuka said, stressing the need to have in place measures to mitigate the consequences of natural disasters.

“There is a lot of vulnerability… in many cities. Coastal cities are under tremendous stress should there be sea level rise, so the whole question of urban planning, the whole question of reducing vulnerability, disaster mitigation becomes central,” she said.

She identified other major pillars of sustainable human settlement as job creation and international and regional trade. “Urban economies have to be lively,” she added.

Ms. Tibaijuka welcomed the fact that UN-HABITAT had since 2000 helped make it possible for an estimated 100 million slum dwellers to improve their living conditions and have better shelter as required under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target on shelter.

But she lamented that 60 million more people had moved into slums during the same period.

“The target should be to halve the proportion of people living in slums and squatter settlements, which is really more in line with the ideal of cities without slums that was endorsed in the Millennium Declaration,” said Ms. Tibaijuka.


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