NATIONS CENTRE FOR HUMAN SETTLEMENTS
ORIGINS AND BACKGROUND
The United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, UNCHS (Habitat) was established in 1978, two years after the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements in Vancouver (Canada). Based in Nairobi (Kenya), UNCHS (Habitat) is the lead agency within the UN system for coordinating activities in the field of human settlements.
UNCHS, or Habitat, acts as the secretariat to the intergovernmental policy-making body, the Commission on Human Settlements. The commission, which meets every two years, has a membership of 58 countries. Each is elected for a four-year term by ECOSOC. The commission is made up of 16 African states, 13 Asian (including Western Asia and the Pacific), six Eastern European, ten Latin American (including the Caribbean), and 13 West European and other states. At the end of 1998 UNCHS (Habitat) had 238 technical programmes and projects under execution in 86 countries, with an annual budget totalling US$70 million.
The centre was also the secretariat for the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), held in Istanbul (Turkey) in June 1996, which formulated the Habitat Agenda and the Istanbul Declaration. The Habitat Agenda is the Global Plan of Action adopted by the Habitat II Conference. In addition to a programme of action and strategies for implementation it contains important sections on goals and principles, as well as committing governments to the goals of adequate shelter for all and sustainable urban development. In its capacity as focal point for implementation of the Habitat Agenda, Habitat is currently in the process of reorganization, which will enable the centre to effectively spearhead global implementation of the Habitat Agenda.
UN Habitat: The City Agency
In the year 2000, for the first time in human history, one half of the world’s population will be urban. By 2030, urban populations will have grown to twice the size of rural populations. Not only are we living in an urbanizing world, we are also experiencing an unprecedented urbanization of poverty. Most cities, particularly in developing countries, are now characterized by inadequate housing, deteriorating urban environments, poor urban management and lack of resources to deal with a rapidly growing urban population.
As the UN City Agency, Habitat is taking a leading role in promoting the concept of sustainable urban development. To strengthen this role, the centre is in the process of adopting the style and profile of a global advocacy agency.
During the biennium 2000-2001, Habitat will launch two significant global campaigns, one for secure tenure and the other on urban governance. The aim of these campaigns is to reduce urban poverty through policies that emphasize equity, sustainability and social justice. Strategic and operational partnerships with government, local authorities, non-governmental and community-based organizations (CBOs), the private sector and UN agencies are crucial to the success of these campaigns.
Campaign for Secure Tenure
Security of tenure is a fundamental requirement for the progressive integration of the urban poor in the city and is one of the most important components of housing rights. Habitat will launch this rights-based campaign in support of a shelter strategy that is pragmatic, affordable and implementable. The campaign, undertaken with Habitat’s partners, will be backed by a work programme offering assistance in key policy areas including land markets and tenure reform. Access to urban services and infrastructure, particularly water and sanitation, are vital elements of the strategy. Habitat will also provide policy advice and technical support in housing finance, with an emphasis on microcredit and micro-enterprise, as well as urban transport policy and shelter delivery systems.
Campaign on Urban Governance
In many cities poor governance and inappropriate policies have led to severe environmental degradation, increased poverty, low economic growth and social exclusion. Urban governance can be defined as an efficient and effective response to urban issues by democratically-elected and accountable local governments working in partnership with civil society. Good governance is greatly strengthened when it is based on multi-stakeholder strategic planning, participatory urban management and the promotion of civic values. This campaign promotes good urban governance by linking operational and normative activities, focusing on the promotion of inclusiveness. If urban poverty is to be successfully reduced, marginalized groups that have been excluded from the decision-making process of cities must be given a voice. The campaign will support consensus-building governance processes between local governments and civil society to establish priorities for socio-economic development. It will also actively promote the initiation of international legal frameworks such as the World Charter of Local Self-Government and enabling legislations, which are necessary to ensure good urban governance.
A major activity for the biennium is the preparation and servicing of Istanbul+5, the special session of the UN General Assembly planned in June 2001, which will review and appraise the worldwide implementation of the Habitat Agenda.
The Habitat/World Bank initiative was launched in May 1999. It is a multi-donor alliance committed to improving living conditions of the urban poor and the socio-economic and environmental viability of cities. Its two components comprise city development strategies and upgrading of low income settlements.
Sustainable Cities Programme
This joint Habitat/United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) programme builds capacities in urban environmental planning and management using participatory methods. Today the programme works with over 40 cities and 30 partner organizations around the world.
Urban Management Programme
This major technical cooperation programme is designed to strengthen the contribution that some 80 cities in developing countries make toward urban poverty reduction, participatory urban governance, and urban environment. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) provides overall monitoring for this programme, which is supported by several bilateral agencies.
Disaster Management Programme
This programme assists national and local governments, as well as communities, to implement post-disaster reconstruction and rehabilitation programmes particularly in the areas of housing, infrastructure and resettlement. The programme also addresses disaster preparedness.
Global Urban Observatory (GUO)
GUO monitors implementation of the Habitat Agenda through the development and application of policy-oriented urban indicators (Urban Indicators Programme) and the sharing of lessons learnt from best practices at local and national levels (Best Practices Programme).
Localizing Agenda 21 Programme
Habitat is the UN task manager for the human settlements chapter of Agenda 21, adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) in 1992. To reinforce the process of localization, this programme offers a multi-layered support system to selected medium-sized cities.
Local Leadership and Management Training Programme
This programme supports national capacity-building institutions to provide training in leadership and management to elected local government officials and other urban managers. Some of the programme’s main activities include preparing innovative training manuals and management tools, as well as the development of assessment needs methodologies.
Safer Cities Programme
This programme was launched in 1996 at the request of African cities that want to address urban violence by developing a prevention strategy at city level. The objective is to establish a community-wide consultation process to reduce crime and address its causes through the development of crime prevention measures, methods and strategies.
Water in African Cities
The regional programme is a joint Habitat/UNEP initiative within the framework of the UN System-Wide Special Initiative on Africa. The programme supports African countries in effective water management and in protecting water resources from urban pollution.
Women and Habitat Programme
This programme aims to improve women’s participation and decision-making power at all levels within human settlements and urban development. The programme works on capacity building, monitoring and research, particularly in the areas of women in leadership and governance, management and negotiation, construction skills and finance.
World Habitat Day and Public Awareness
Habitat plays a leading role in raising global awareness about shelter and urbanization issues. World Habitat Day is celebrated every year on the first Monday of October and each year embraces a different theme. The theme for 1998 was Safer Cities; the theme for 1999 was Cities for All.
As part of its public awareness activities Habitat produces the following flagship publications.
-- The Global Report on Human Settlements presents a complete review of human settlements conditions. It provides policy makers at all levels with information on which to base innovative policies and programmes of action to make human settlements prosperous, safe and liveable. A global report was published in 1987 and 1996; the next report, to be published in 2001, will include the State of the World’s Cities Report.
-- Habitat Debate is the centre’s quarterly magazine, designed to be a forum for dialogue and debate on urban issues. It is disseminated to over 8,000 readers worldwide. It is also available on the centre’s website (www.unchs.org).
Regional and Information Offices
To improve the efficiency of in-country programme preparation and management, as well as to raise the profile of Habitat’s work worldwide, the centre has three regional offices: in Rio de Janeiro, covering Latin America and the Caribbean; Fukoka (Japan), covering Asia and the Pacific; and in Nairobi, covering Africa and the Arab states. The centre also has information offices in New York, Geneva, Beijing, Budapest (Hungary), Chennai (India), and Moscow.
Role of NGOs at the Habitat II Conference
A major feature of the Habitat II Conference was participation of different groups from civil society in the official conference, as well as in the Istanbul Dialogues for the 21st Century and other parallel activities. Specific forums were organized by NGOs and community-based organizations, local authorities, parliamentarians, labour unions, academics, the private sector, foundations, women, youth and human solidarity groups. They presented the results of their forums and their commitments to the Habitat Agenda to Committee II of the conference.
UNCHS assisted the international NGO community in organization of the NGO Forum at the conference, which was held at the Istanbul Technical University, a short distance from the conference venue. It is important to note that the NGOs formulated their Committee II presentation at the NGO Forum, thus achieving a close and formal link between the NGO Forum and the conference. Another group of NGOs, also coordinated at the NGO Forum, joined with governments and other partners in negotiations on drafting of the Habitat Agenda.
Habitat’s experience in working with different groups in civil society in preparations toward Habitat II now forms the basis of its Partners Programme. This programme will expand cooperation with a whole range of actors in civil society including NGOs and CBOs and their networks; women’s associations; Youth for Habitat groups; local authorities and their national, regional and international associations; the private sector; labour unions; academics of science and technology; professional associations; foundations; parliamentarians; and human solidarity groups. All these groups are becoming active partners in implementation of programmes and projects in the field of human settlements and in the context of the Habitat Agenda.
Seyda Turkmemetogullari, Partners Coordination & NGO Liaison Officer, UNCHS (Habitat), PO Box 30030, Nairobi, Kenya, telephone +254-2/624327 or 623137, fax +254-2/624250 or 623080, e-mail <firstname.lastname@example.org>, website (www.unchs.org).