NEW YORK, New York - By the end of this
year, more than half of the world's population will live in urban areas
for the first time in human history, and it is no coincidence that
climate change is now at the forefront of international debate, the top
United Nations habitat official said to mark World Habitat Day.
Anna Tibaijuka serves as executive director of UN-HABITAT,
the agency which promotes socially and environmentally sustainable
towns and cities and adequate shelter for all. "Cities consume upwards
of 75 percent of all energy and contribute to an equally substantial
amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Cities must therefore be an
integral part of any mitigation efforts," she said on World Habitat
Day, which is observed on the first Monday in October each year.
The theme of this year's World Habitat Day is "harmonious
cities," and the global observance this year is being led from the
Angolan capital, Luanda.The celebrations in Angola are intended to show the world how, after
nearly three decades years of conflict, the country is progressing in
the establishment of harmonious cities through improvements in urban
infrastructure and services, and a new urban development strategy.
"We have both a moral and ethical responsibility to make our cities
more harmonious by making them more inclusive. It is a societal
imperative that we fight urban poverty and squalor if we are to secure
urban safety and security," said Tibaijuka.
Attending the the event, taking place for the first time on the
African continent, were African housing ministers, particularly those
from the Southern Africa Development Community. The celebration
featured cultural activities, award ceremonies, and speeches by
Of the world's 6.7 billion people, there are now more than one
billion urban slum dwellers Tibaijuka said, emphasizing the need to
ensure that rapid urbanization is accompanied by decent living
conditions and efforts to preserve the environment.
"Reducing the contribution of cities to climate change and the
vulnerability of cities to the effects of climate change must be viewed
as a historical opportunity to improve the living conditions of all
women and men, including the most vulnerable segments of our urban
populations," she said. "I can think of no better initiative than to
combine these efforts to make our cities and towns greener and safer
and more equitable."
"Our rapidly urbanizing world cannot claim to be harmonious if
slum dwellers do not enjoy opportunities to find jobs and improve their
living conditions," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. "Nor will it
be harmonious if the growth and expansion of urban areas comes at the
expense of the natural environment."
The Millennium Development Goals, the set of anti-poverty
targets world leaders committed to in 2000, call for a significant
improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.
"Cities have tremendous potential to be places where balanced
development prevails, where diverse people live in harmony, and where
healthy living conditions coexist with low levels of energy
consumption, resource-use and waste," said Ban.
"I call on all partners and stakeholders to do our utmost to
realize this potential, and to build decent living conditions for all
women, men and children in a way that also preserves our natural
heritage and promotes greener and smarter growth."
Raquel Rolnik, the UN special rapporteur on adequate housing,
says that the growth of slums in the last 15 years has been
"unprecedented" with one out of every three city dwellers today living
in a slum.
"Living in slums means being deprived of access to adequate
sanitation, education and health care or to other services and
opportunities. It also means being excluded from full participation in
civic life and the exercise of citizen's rights, as slums are
considered illegal, informal or transitory and in any case a
non-permanent part of a city's political and economic fabric," Rolnik
said in a statement.
This year's World Habitat Day comes ahead of the fourth session of
the World Urban Forum, set to take place in Nanjing, China, from
November 3 to 6. There, UN-HABITAT will release its latest biennial
publication "State of the World's Cities."
Nanjing is the recipient of this year's Habitat Scroll of
Honour Special Citation, recognizing outstanding achievements in the
cause of sustainable human settlements.
In addition, the Chinese cities of Shaoxing and Zhangjiagang
were given the Habitat Scroll of Honour Award, along with the Rwandan
capital, Kigali, the Russian city of Bugulma, and Juarez, a Mexican
city on the Mexico-U.S. border.
In Bangkok, Thailand, seven free online Quick Guides
were launched today for World Habitat Day. They are intended to help
policymakers deal with the key issues of housing urban poor in the
The Quick Guides, developed jointly by the UN Economic and Social
Commission for Asia and the Pacific and UN-HABITAT, are in response to
the unprecedented growth of slums and squatter settlements in the
region that now house over 500 million people.