• English

Meeting of Ministers responsible for Human Settlements development in the ECE region

(19 September 2000)




the ECE Committee on Human Settlements

Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, Distinguished Participants, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I welcome you to this meeting. I am convinced that having you, such a high level and broad spectrum of participants, here and having such an agenda will result in bringing a wide range of perspectives on both, the implementation of human settlements policies agreed at the Habitat II Conference, and on the new challenges ahead, as well as new ideas on strategies and policies to address them.

In the world of today, no country, rich or poor, is exempt from challenges to urban development. We are all concerned about the negative consequences of unemployment, inadequate housing, homelessness, air pollution, crime, drugs – the list of troubles is long and it grows every day as the urban environment continues to deteriorate. They are felt by people, in cities and towns, in urban, and rural areas alike. These problems, if not timely and properly addressed, endanger social cohesion and have a further potential negative impact on economic productivity; even political stability and the sustainability of our environment can be threatened. We all know that these urban problems, in the region and in the rest of the world, cannot be solved just by acknowledgement of them, and by an assessment of their magnitude, although these are vital steps for policy formulation. What we need is new ideas, new national and regional strategies, new policies and new ways of implementing them.

There is undoubtedly a regional dimension of human settlements problems, which is characterized by similar economic and social conditions, and by mostly the same human settlements "model" in its historical patterns, administration, economic and urban development and urban culture. However, we all know how diversified Europe is, so there are also significant differences, within the ECE region, as regards economic development, the quality of the environment and the degree of decentralization of government responsibilities to the local level. There are also particular conditions related to geographical factors or to lifestyles, consumption patterns and expectations and aspirations of people. Despite these differences, similar goals and objectives can be pursued, although with different approaches and tools.

The role of the state and public sector institutions concerning settlements development and management has been redefined. More emphasis is now given to deregulation, privatization and competition in the delivery of urban services, with a consequent risk that low-income urban inhabitants no longer have access to some urban services. On the other hand, new partnership arrangements have emerged – between the public and the private sector as well as among various authorities within the public sector – often combined with an active role for the state in financing major infrastructure projects.

Globalization-related shifts in the geographical distribution of activities as well as in social and economic priorities, with consequences for other settlements, raise new challenges in policy terms. Moreover, political and institutional factors also affect the content and scope of sustainable national development policies.

The most intractable problem is the provision of financial resources for new housing, as well as for modernization and for the maintenance of existing stock. This is particularly true for transition economies as the state has largely withdrawn from financing housing. Newly introduced home-ownership or credit support programmes do not compensate for the loss of budget finance. The private financial institutions are, moreover, in many countries still at an initial stage in assuming their role.

Yet another challenge is the one of land administration. Land administration is widely recognized as one of the most critical issues in urban development. It is also well recognized that economic efficiency and the quality of life in cities depend to a large extent on a well functioning land market. Thus the rigorous application of sound urban land policies is crucial for the implementation of the Habitat Agenda.

Past experience shows the usefulness of ECE country profile programs. I know that due to lack of resources we can only make one country profile per year. But I want to assure you that we would be ready to increase the pace of this program by reviewing two countries per year. This would call, however, for additional funding and also for more experts available to support these reviews.

A major outcome of your high-level session will be the adoption of two documents: The Draft Ministerial Declaration "Toward Sustainable Improvement in Living Conditions in the ECE Region in the XXI Century" and the "ECE Strategy for Sustainable Quality of Life in Human Settlements in the XXI Century". The first one addresses your constituencies and the other is to serve the work of the Committee on Human Settlements. By identifying the main challenges for sustainable human development in the region and the policy directions in response to them, these documents will constitute the most useful guide for the activities of the Committee during the five forthcoming years. We will spare no efforts to support the implementation of this strategy.

Thank you.