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World Habitat Day focuses on cities as drivers of growth

The Korali informal settlement in Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka.
© UN-Habitat/Kirsten Milhahn
The Korali informal settlement in Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka.

World Habitat Day focuses on cities as drivers of growth

Economic Development

Priming cities to become drivers of economic growth and recovery in the aftermath of crises such as conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic is the focus of World Habitat Day, observed on Monday. 

Global economic growth is declining to about 2.5 per cent this year, the UN said. Apart from the initial COVID-19 crisis three years ago, and the global financial crisis in 2009, this represents the weakest level since 2001. 

Given the size of the contribution of cities to national economies, the future of many countries will be determined by their productivity. 

Investment and access 

Urban areas can promote inclusive, green, and sustainable growth, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message for the Day. 

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“Building greater resilience and better protecting vulnerable populations requires far greater investments in sustainable infrastructure, early warning systems, and affordable, adequate housing for all,” he said. 

“At the same time, we must work to improve access to electricity, water, sanitation, transport, and other basic services – while investing in education, skills development, digital innovation, and entrepreneurship.”  

In this regard, “local action is vital, and global cooperation indispensable,” he added.

Planet urbanizing rapidly 

The push for more resilient, safe and inclusive cities is among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which point the way to a fair, just and green future for all people and the planet by 2030. 

Currently, more than half the world lives in cities, which is projected to rise to 70 per cent by 2050.  Over one billion are living in slums, and their numbers will also increase. 

Speaking at the official ceremony for World Habitat Day in Baku, Azerbaijan, the head of the UN’s urban development agency said countries are “far behind” in achieving SDG 11.  The biggest challenge is data reporting and monitoring at the national and local levels. 

Fair financing 

Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat, recalled that at the recent SDG Summit at UN Headquarters in New York, the Secretary-General urged world leaders to strengthen both multi-level governance and cooperation. 

She also drew attention to “the elephant in the room” – financing – noting that the issue was raised by most delegates at the UN General Assembly last month. 

“As the Secretary General said, we need to reform the current unsustainable and unfair financial system,” she told participants. 

“We cannot expect least developed and small island developing states to implement the SDGs as well as climate adaptation measures if 70 per cent of their total revenues are used to service debt.”  

Ms. Sharif said UN-Habitat is working with over 600 cities in all regions of the world and will finalize a position paper on financing sustainable urbanization.

Urban October 

World Habitat Day has been commemorated annually since 1986.

It marks the start of Urban October, which provides an opportunity for people everywhere to join the global conversation around the potentials and perils of a planet that is becoming ever more urban. 

The month concludes with World Cities Day on 31 October.