Habitats: United Nations General Assembly takes on Worldwide Urbanization

Farah Mustafa

Following the establishment of the UN (United Nations) Habitat and Human Settlements Foundation (UNHHSF) in 1975 by the UN General Assembly (UNGA), the UN made it a point to prioritize the establishment of strategies to address the rapid urbanization and development being faced by Member States worldwide.

At that time, two-thirds of humanity was not urbanized. Much of humanity remained in rural settings. Urbanization, however, was a new phenomenon requiring action and management and likely to change the face of the globe.

Habitat I, the first UN Conference on Human Settlements occurred in 1976 in Vancouver, Canada and resulted in The Vancouver Declaration on Human Settlements. This Declaration focused specifically on developing nations, and addressed strategies to control urban growth through “political, spatial, social, cultural, economic, and environmental concerns.”

Twenty years later, Habitat II was held in Istanbul, Turkey, and produced the Habitat Agenda including 100 commitments and 600 recommendations which was adopted by 171 countries. These commitments, summarized in the Istanbul Declaration on Human Settlements, sought to address the issue of unsustainable communities facing deterioration, and to tackle the consumption by industrialized countries which had large impacts on developing countries. Supporting countries also committed themselves to improving social and public services in rural communities. Finally, the countries included commitments on making housing more affordable and accessible, and taking measures to address gender equality. These commitments sought to eradicate poverty and address rapid urbanisation in city centres.

Following Habitat II, the UN issued the UN Millennium Declaration of 2000 which resulted in the UNGA making the Human Settlements program an official component in the UN system. Thus, the UN-Habitat title was given to the series of bi-decennial initiatives.

With the Declaration, the UN established targets covering two major themes: adequate shelter for all, and the development of sustainable human settlements in an urbanizing world. Of the goals set, the UN sought to improve the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.

Over 30 000 people and 167 countries reconvened this October for Habitat III in Quito, Ecuador to revisit the goals established by Habitat II, track progress, and address any new challenges. Out of this meeting came the adoption of the New Urban Agenda, a follow up to the Istanbul Habitat Agenda. The New Urban Agenda places a high importance on the need for national governments to establish strategies for handling issues of urbanization and to create people-, not profit-centred communities. This agenda, like previous agendas, is non-binding and contains 175 commitments. Headlining the New Urban Agenda is the Quito Declaration on Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements for all. While the agenda is non-binding, it addresses major concerns brought forth by Member States, mayors and other participants at Quito, including air pollution, as countries gear towards sustainable, environmentally-friendly urbanisation and development. The Quito Declaration seek The Quito Declaration seeks implementation over the next twenty years.


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