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On World Habitat Day, governments urged to keep building at centre of urban agenda

By Chinedum Uwaegbulam   |   03 October 2016   |   1:51 am

Ban Ki-Moon

Ban Ki-Moon

With an increasing number of poor and vulnerable people living in precarious conditions, urgent action is needed to refocus urban planning and to provide safe, affordable housing that is appropriate for the citizens’ growing needs, senior United Nations officials said ahead of World Habitat Day (WHD). The WHD is observed annually on the first Monday of October.
This year’s theme is “Housing at the Centre” – aims to shift the focus from simply building houses to a holistic framework for housing development, orchestrated with urban planning practice and placing people and human rights at the forefront of urban sustainable development. 
The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, urged national and local governments, city planners and communities everywhere to keep Housing at the Centre . “Guaranteeing dignity and opportunity for all depends on people having access to affordable and adequate housing. I look forward to a successful Habitat III Conference that will help us advance our sustainable development agenda for the benefit of all humankind.”
WHD was established in 1985 by the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution 40/202, and was first celebrated in 1986. Each year, the day takes on a new theme chosen by the United Nations based on current issues relevant to the Habitat Agenda. The themes are selected to bring attention to UN-Habitat’s mandate to promote sustainable development policies that ensure adequate shelter for all.
The purpose of World Habitat Day is to reflect on the state of our towns and cities, and on the basic right of all to adequate shelter. It is also intended to remind the world that we all have the power and the responsibility to shape the future of our cities and towns.
WHD World 2016 will be celebrated under the theme Housing at the Centre. It will also mark the official beginning of Urban October month of celebrations, events and activities.Ki-Moon who is looking forward to a successful Habitat III Conference that will help advance our sustainable development agenda for the benefit of all humankind, said, “the shift towards a predominantly urban world makes the process of urbanization one of the most significant global trends of the 21st century. The significant transformation that has occurred in recent decades has given greater understanding and recognition to the role of urbanization in development.”
Later this month, governments and their partners will meet in Quito, Ecuador, for the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III). Held every 20 years, the Habitat conference is designed to reflect on the state of human settlements and on what we want the towns and cities of the future to look like.
With the world embarking this year on implementing the historic 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Habitat III has particular resonance.   The 2030 Agenda is a comprehensive, integrated and inclusive blueprint for peace, prosperity, dignity and opportunity for all people on a healthy planet. Achieving its 17 Sustainable Development Goals will depend, in large part, on whether we can make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
He said:”Achieving that objective is the aim of the New Urban Agenda, which Governments will adopt in Quito. The New Urban Agenda is an action-oriented document that will set global standards for sustainable urban development, and help us to rethink how we plan, manage and live in cities. Its drafting has been the result of an inclusive and participatory process among Governments and all urban actors.
“More than half the global population already lives in urban areas. Approximately a quarter of these urban dwellers live in slums or informal settlements. The unplanned rapid expansion of towns and cities means an increasing number of poor and vulnerable people are living in precarious conditions, without adequate living space or access to basic services, such as water, sanitation, electricity and health care.”
The UN Secretary General noted that the slum dwellers are often isolated from opportunities for decent work and vulnerable to forced evictions and homelessness. “Providing access to adequate housing for all is high among the priorities of the New Urban Agenda,” Ki-Moon added.
The UN-Habitat Executive Director,  Joan Clos revealed that this year’s theme highlights the relevance of decent housing for the urban quality of life. “Our cities and homes define who we are, in many ways. They determine whether we will have access to education and job opportunities. They define our ability to lead a healthy life and the level of our engagement in the collective life of the community.”
Currently, over a billion people in the world — mainly slum-dwellers — are unable to enjoy this basic right to adequate housing. Over the last 20 years, despite increasing demand, housing policies have not been prioritized in national and international development agendas.
As a result, adequate housing is widely unaffordable for a relevant part of the world population. According to a recent study by the UN-Habitat’s Global Urban Observatory in collaboration with New York University and the Lincoln Institute, Public housing represents less than 15 per cent of housing types both in developing and developed world.
He said: “The tendency in the last two decades has been a rising cost of housing, forcing people to move far away to the outskirts of the city to find affordable housing. The approach to the housing market has clearly failed to provide affordable housing for the low-income households and urban poor.
Clos who doubles as the Secretary-General of Habitat III, stated that “where housing is affordable, we always find a common characteristic: there is a strong and comprehensive housing policy addressed to the objective of housing affordability. Success stories can be seen both in rich and poor countries and also where the price of land is cheap or expensive. Those are not the elements that generate affordability.”
He asserted, “what makes the difference is the coherence and continuity of a public policy pursuing housing affordability regardless of the level of development of the country or the price of its land.
“This is the reason why “Housing should be at the centre” of the urban policy. Affordable housing policy if well conducted can become not only the solution to a social and humanitarian problem but also a very powerful instrument of local development and prosperity.”It can and it should be a win/win solution.”

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