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GENERAL ASSEMBLY DEBATE

The Second Committee of the UN General Assembly addressed Habitat II (Agenda Item 95(c)) on Wednesday, 15 November 1995. The Committee had before it a number of documents including the report of the second session of the Habitat II PrepCom (A/50/37) and a note by the Secretary-General (A/50/411) reviewing the activities of the various regional commissions in preparation for Habitat II. Among matters requiring action by the Committee were those relating to the third session of the Preparatory Committee, which will finalize negotiations on the draft Statement of Principles and Commitments and the Global Plan of Action to be submitted to the Conference for adoption. The following is a summary of the debate on Habitat II.

In his introduction, Habitat II Secretary-General Dr. Wally N'Dow reported on the preparatory process for Habitat II. Approximately 134 countries are engaged in national preparatory activities and initiatives with broad-based participation. More than 100 countries have submitted reports on programmes and projects launched in more than 280 cities, towns, and neighborhoods as part of the "Best Practices" Initiative for the Living Environment. Thirty-five countries have organized national competitions and exhibitions on "Best Practices" in sustainable human settlements development and management. These endeavors demonstrate the unprecedented global effort to identify workable solutions. The dissemination of the experiences gained from these initiatives, through a Global Data Bank or Observatory of "Best Practices," would be an excellent means of advancing efforts to improve human settlements worldwide. Dr. N'Dow expressed his hope that the General Assembly will support the recommendation made by the PrepCom to encourage the participation of local authorities at Habitat II. He made a plea for additional financial support for the preparatory activities of the Secretariat.

PHILIPPINES: Cecilia Baltazar Rebong, on behalf of the G-77 and China, said that the foreign affairs ministers of all the member States of the G-77 and China have expressed their full support for Habitat II and its preparatory process. They have recognized that the two themes of the Conference are crucial for the implementation of the Global Strategy for Shelter to the Year 2000. The ministers have expressed hope that the deliberations and decisions of Habitat II will lead to greater attention to the problems of human settlements as well as increased international cooperation.

SPAIN: On behalf of the European Union, Ana María Menéndez emphasized that because the issue of "the right to housing" is very complex, it is important that an expert meeting be organized on the subject. The success of the Habitat II Conference depends on the active involvement of civil society, NGOs, and local authorities. The outcome of Habitat II should be considered in the framework of a coordinated and integrated implementation of the results of all recent major conferences.

TURKEY: Hüseyin E. Çelem reported that a broad-based National Preparatory Committee has been working in Turkey, with 140 representatives from the government, local authorities, the academic and scientific communities, the private sector, trade unions and NGOs. A successful regional preparatory meeting was recently held in Ankara on 26-28 October 1995, covering preparation of National Reports and Plans of Action. The International Facilitating Group (IFG), which was set up by international NGOs at PrepCom II, is working in conjunction with a professional NGO Secretariat and a Host Committee of 20 Turkish NGOs to organize the NGO Forum of Habitat II. A joint workshop, sponsored by the Host Committee and the IFG, was held in Istanbul at the end of September 1995 to discuss details of the NGO Forum.

CHINA: Amb. Wang Xuexian said that to achieve the goals aimed at improving human settlements, which will be re-established at Habitat II, actions must be undertaken on a number of fronts. Efforts to eradicate poverty and promote sustainable economic development, as well as to check excessive population growth, are crucial components in the advancement of the Habitat II agenda. In addition, developed countries should provide new and additional resources, both financial and technological, to assist developing countries in addressing their human settlements problems. China has set up its National Preparatory Committee and is drafting its National Report and Programme of Action. Public information campaigns have been launched through the media, and many seminars have been organized to solicit wide participation in the preparatory process.

EGYPT: Abdel-Gaffar Eldeeb said the issues to be tackled by Habitat II are linked to those of other recent international conferences that focused on the human being as the center of development. The outcomes of recent major conferences are interlinked by a framework for sustainable development and environmental protection. The achievement of these objectives cannot be realized unless there are conducive conditions for economic development, including social justice. This is an important question to be tackled by Habitat II. Healthy housing, safe drinking water and sanitation, and safe transportation systems are needed. Egypt hopes sufficient attention will be given to the people of poor developing countries, particularly those in Africa, and that agreement will be translated into action.

MARSHALL ISLANDS: Espen Rønneberg expressed concern that PrepCom II did not have the widest possible participation, and therefore the results of the meeting are not as representative of the interests of all parties as they should be. Because the Marshall Islands is a small delegation and has no mission in Nairobi, it was not able to participate. He stated that Habitat II should address the effects of nuclear testing on the Pacific Island countries, as this is a major human settlements issue in these countries. In relation to this issue, he hoped that Habitat II would address the following: the need for improved information and monitoring of radiation that is present in the environment; the need for further research to better understand the effects of radiation exposure on human health; and the need to restore irradiated lands to internationally acceptable standards for human habitation.

INDIA: Hashim Abdul Halim said that the overall strategy to improve human settlements must be multi-faceted and must include: promotion of sustainable land-use planning and management; integrated provision of environmental infrastructure (water supply and sanitation, and sustainable energy and mass transport); human resources development and capacity-building; and improvement in the management of human settlements. He reported that the Government of India has contributed US$100,000 to support the preparatory process. India's National Report is currently being finalized and 16 "Best Practices Case Studies" have been submitted to the Habitat II Secretariat. India is firming up its plans to host a meeting on "Access to Land and Security of Tenure" in New Delhi from 17-19 January 1996.

ECUADOR: Marjorie Ulloa, on behalf of the members of the Rio Group, stressed the need to strengthen international cooperation to achieve the primary goals of Habitat II: "Adequate Shelter for All" and "Sustainable Human Settlements Development in an Urbanized World." Increased cooperation should include provision of financial and technological resources to developing countries to assist them in implementing their National Plans of Action. At the regional level, the Rio Group has been active in the process of preparation for Habitat II, by participating in Ministerial Meetings on Housing for Latin America and the Caribbean.

JAPAN: Kinji Shinoda said that the issue of human settlements is closely related to issues dealt with by other UN development-related conferences. Habitat II should avoid repeating the discussions that have already taken place on those subjects. Habitat II should be a launching pad for the international community's journey into the next century, and not the end of its efforts. Its decisions must be followed up with concrete action.

KENYA: Jonathan Ng'Eno stated that Habitat II should include an assessment of the destruction of human settlements caused by natural and man-made disasters and civil strife, as well as programmes to assist in the reconstruction, rehabilitation and reintegration of afflicted communities into peaceful living conditions. In preparation for Habitat II, Kenya has established a broad-based National Steering Committee and has organized workshops for various groups of stakeholders to elicit their contribution to the process. The Committee has also selected and submitted "Best Practices" to the Habitat Secretariat, and organized an exhibition of these Best Practices.

BANGLADESH: Mahbub Kabir described the steps that Bangladesh has taken in its work to improve human settlements. In cooperation with a network of NGOs, a housing-related credit delivery system is being tested and demonstrated. Methods are being explored to improve the supply, delivery and durability of building materials appropriate for the rural poor in flood- and cyclone-prone areas. The financing and construction of 13,500 houses has already been supported by this programme.

PAKISTAN: Amin Dada expressed concern about the reluctance of some countries to cooperate at the international level to address the issue of human settlements. International cooperation on debt relief, technology transfer, removal of trade barriers, and information exchange on water supply, mass transportation and sanitation systems would better enable national governments to adequately address human settlements problems. Pakistan has taken numerous steps to attain the objectives set out in the Global Strategy for Shelter to the Year 2000, including studies to quantify the housing problem; the launching of a National Action Programme; the formulation of national and provincial urbanization policies; and the establishment of a revolving Housing Fund to initiate low-cost housing projects.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION: Oleg Rudenskiy said that the work of the Preparatory Committee so far has not reflected the problems of the countries with economies in transition. He expressed hope that the situation would be corrected in the forthcoming session. Goodwill from Member States is required during this session, particularly in discussing financing, international cooperation and the Global Plan of Action.

POLAND: Anna Raduchowska-Brochwicz noted that economies in transition face particularly complex problems in the realm of housing and, for this reason, they deserve special assistance with capacity building in the areas of policy formulation and implementation. In the ongoing preparatory process, more emphasis should be placed on building social infrastructure in urban and rural settlements. More attention should also be given to rehabilitation of areas recently affected by armed conflict, particularly to housing and settlement reconstruction, and to the provision of shelter for refugees and displaced persons.

CZECH REPUBLIC: Karel Zebrakovskı stated that Habitat II should set modest yet realistic goals, as opposed to far-reaching objectives, if its effectiveness is to be maximized and its implementation feasible. For countries in transition, housing and urban problems are particularly difficult issues. The Czech Republic has been active at the regional level in the Committee on Human Settlements of the UN Economic Commission for Europe. It also recently pledged its first voluntary contribution to support Habitat II activities.

SRI LANKA: H.L. de Silva said that in Sri Lanka action to improve the quality of housing and alleviate homelessness has been underway for nearly two decades. A separate government ministry and departments with the sole mandate of improving human settlements have implemented numerous programmes that have had considerable success in providing shelter for the poorest segments of the population. The participation of NGOs and the private sector has enabled the government to foster individual and community participation through self-help programmes that draw upon indigenous solutions and that minimize dependence on the government for provision of resources.

UNITED STATES: Ralph Bresler emphasized the importance of decision-making at the local level in the realm of human settlements. The Government should play a facilitating and enabling role, by promoting policies that provide market incentives for low-income people to gain access to urban services and shelter. The current draft of the document should put greater emphasis on the central role of individuals, especially women, community groups, neighborhood associations, NGOs and local authorities, and the task of government in empowering these individuals to make decisions, as opposed to making decisions for them. He noted that the Habitat II agenda does not focus enough on the crucial links between urban and rural areas. The US Department of State recently gave a supplementary contribution to support the Secretariat, and USAID is helping developing countries in preparing National Plans of Action.

KAZAKSTAN: Amb. Akmaral Kh. Arystanbekova stressed the importance of development activities carried out at the regional level, which has been confirmed by the Habitat II regional preparatory meetings. A national preparatory committee has been established in Kazakstan and the Government has approved a two-year plan of action that calls for social safety nets and improvements in housing. She appealed for resources for her country and others with economies in transition to enable them to fully implement their preparatory plans for Habitat II.

BENIN: Rogatien Biaou said that the number of homeless has grown considerably in both developed and developing countries. Countries should not be daunted by the complexities of what needs to be achieved at Habitat II; creative measures should be taken. The Conference should not place emphasis on problems of human settlements in urban areas alone. He called for private sector involvement in the preparatory process of the Conference.

INDONESIA: Wyoso Prodjowarsito announced that in preparation for Habitat II, Indonesia has established a broad-based National Committee and has launched the process of formulating its National Report. The government has encouraged all sectors of society to become involved in its preparatory process. He emphasized the need for full participation by all Member States in both PrepCom III and Habitat II, so that the outcomes will be representative of the interests and needs of all parties.

THE GAMBIA: Amb. Momodou Kebba Jallow said that the programme adopted by the first Habitat Conference must be improved upon at Habitat II. Reviewing human settlements problems in Africa, he said technical assistance must be addressed in order to solve issues such as poverty. The Gambian National Committee was established in 1992. While UNCHS has assisted The Gambia, it needs greater financial assistance to complete the preparatory process.

UKRAINE: Sergiy Yampolsky welcomed the fact that the PrepCom was starting to pay more attention to countries in transition. Some cities in Ukraine are highly industrialized; however, they lack sufficiently developed infrastructure, including transportation and sanitation. There are also difficulties created by the Chernobyl disaster. Assistance should be provided for the development of human settlements indicators, which could serve as a common basis for a comparative analysis on housing problems.

SOUTH AFRICA: Dr. K. Z. Mbatha, on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), reported that the Southern African region has been actively involved in the preparatory process for Habitat II. The Ministerial Conference of African Ministers Responsible for Human Settlements was held in Johannesburg from 16-18 October 1995. Among other efforts to address human settlements issues in the Southern African region, housing finance mechanisms are being developed and supported in efforts to eradicate housing backlogs. He emphasized the particular importance of women and youth involvement in the process of improving human settlements. He also stressed the overriding importance of integrating water resources management concerns into the human settlements debate.

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