Statement by H.E. Mr. R.K. Bhatia, PR of India to UNCHS and Chairman of G-77, Nairobi Chapter, at the 18th session of the Commission on Human Settlements

February 12, 2001

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

I am privileged to deliver a statement, on behalf of the Group of 77 - Nairobi Chapter, at this prestigious Conference - the 18th session of the Commission on Human Settlements. This statement contains the common view of developing countries represented by G-77 and by China on the whole spectrum of issues relating to the field of human settlements in general and UNCHS in particular

2. It is a matter of satisfaction to us that the Nairobi Chapter of G-77 has played consistently a pro-active and constructive role in moving the international community's human settlements agenda forward. In particular, it has contributed significantly to the recent process of reform and revitalisation of UNCHS.

3. Globalisation presents opportunities as well asrisks, perhaps more of the latter than the former as far as the developing countries are concerned. The trend towards globalisation has been marked by asymmetries, imbalances and marginalisation in international relations. It is a matter of concern to us that countries of the South have been unable to share the benefits of globalisation on an equal footing with the North. The challenge for the international community is to ensure that globalisation fully takes into account the right to development of developing countries. Only then their support for globalisation will increase.

4. We need to remind this conference that the highest priority for the world today is to overcome underdevelopment, which implies the eradication of poverty, hunger, illiteracy, disease, and crushing debt burden. Problems of human settlements in the developing world result basically from poverty, underdevelopment and absence of alternatives. Significant problems of human settlements remain deeply embedded in the socio-economic fabric of developing countries, especially in Africa. Today, with over half of the world's population still struggling with deprivation of basic amenities, poverty alleviation remains the central concern of the developing world.

5. In the above context, we strongly believe that the prevailing modes of production and consumption, especially of the industrialised countries, are unsustainable and should be altered for they threaten the very survival of the planet. We now need concrete action which corresponds to their commitments. We renew our call to the developed countries to fulfil their oft-repeated commitment to provide developing countries with financial resources and relevant technologies on a concessional basis.

6. We emphasise that debt burden is seriously hampering national efforts to eradicate poverty and is a major contributory factor to the vicious cycle of continued underdevelopment. In this regard we reiterate that there is an alarming discrepancy between commitments and action, and urge the international community to seize this opportunity to redress, on a priority basis, the problem of debt burden by expanding the scope of HIPC, which is inadequate to include the LDCs right now and gradually to cover all developing countries.

7. G-77 attaches a high degree of importance to UNCHS. The group strongly believes that its activities have a direct bearing on the improvement of human settlements and the quality of human lives and, as such, the organisation deserves greater support and closer support from the international community than before.

8. It is worth recalling that the UNGA resolution of July 1999 had called for the strengthening of Habitat's core activities and for developing it into "a centre for excellence with regard to human settlements". In December 2000, the UNGA has again called for "further strengthening of the Centre". With such a clear political signal given by the highest organ of the UN, the future mission and role of UNCHS could not be spelt out more clearly.

9. For the past three years, Habitat has been undergoing a process of reform and revitalisation. Our group supports this process and notes with appreciation the strategic vision and focused programme of work for the implementation of the Habitat Agenda. However, we also note that much more remains to be done in the realm of implementation.

10. One of the key elements in the strategy of reform and revitalisation was to increase "synergy" among UNCHS, UNEP and UNON in Nairobi so as to improve their effectiveness and reduce administrative costs. G-77 would like to see this synergy advanced further. While taking note of the new organigram, in a positive manner, the group feels that the results of on-going reforms should continue to be examined and monitored closely. The implementation of reform at this stage is far from completion.

11. With progress having been achieved in the process of reform and revitalisation, it was expected that developed countries would fulfil their commitments and come forward with more substantive contributions to support the expanded and more focused work programme. They need to do so speedily. Unless this is realised, Habitat will not be able to carry out its mandate satisfactorily.

12. We have noticed two promising aspects in the above context. Firstly, the appointment of a permanent Executive Director after a gap of eight years is welcome. The group is proud to have played a significant role in this achievement. We are particularly delighted about the selection of Ms Anna K. Tibaijuka to this position as her background and impeccable credentials give us much hope. We also take this opportunity to convey our profound appreciation to Dr.Klaus Toepfer, the former Acting Executive Director, for his valuable contribution to this organisation. Secondly, the review and appraisal process of the Habitat Agenda culminating in the special session of the UNGA in June 2001, provides a rare and valuable opportunity for reinvigorating the Habitat's operations and perhaps for re-engineering the Habitat itself.

13. We wish to reaffirm the importance attached by the international community to the Habitat Agenda and to the Istanbul Declaration. These two key documents embodied a new consensus in order to place the people at the centre of our concern for sustainable human settlement development as well as to eradicate poverty as key elements in the work of Habitat. We, however, recognise that the implementation of the Habitat Agenda is a complex and difficult task. It is a global challenge in the new millennium.

14. G-77 believes that in order to meet the challenge, we need the following: a stronger and revitalised UNCHS; wider and more effective involvement of Habitat partners in the implementation of the Habitat work programmes, especially the private and public sectors; better co-ordination between the Centre and other relevant UN agencies; active strategy for financial resource mobilisation; greater mobility of the Centre to promote more dynamic co-operation, both regional and international; and greater linkages between the normative and operational work of Habitat, leading to pilot projects as necessary.

15. Our group welcomes the efforts to achieve the two most important objectives of the Habitat Agenda, "adequate shelter for all" and "sustainable human settlements development in an urbanising world" through, inter-alia, these two campaigns. It also notes that the work programme is devoted to achieving the goals of these two campaigns. Having noted the norms developed by the Centre in this regard, it is felt that steps for implementation procedures have not been fully defined and disseminated for application in developing countries. The group is of the view that these campaigns need to be consistent with the programmes and priorities of national governments. Therefore, the Centre needs to have continuous dialogue with national governments and Habitat Agenda partners in order to achieve the desired progress.

16. It is the view of the group that in order to operationalise and successfully implement the two campaigns, pilot projects should be carried out in developing countries by Habitat through international co-operation and bilateral arrangements. In this context, the proposed work programme for the next biennium deserves a careful look by this Conference.

17. Budgetary situation of the organisation remains quite precarious. Developed countries need to raise their contributions significantly. Our call for increased funding for UNCHS does indeed include developing countries. We believe that broadening the resource base is a key element in strengthening UNCHS by restoring its financial health. At the same time, the Habitat management should scrupulously adhere to the principle that the bulk of the allocations should be utilised for programmes and project activities leaving the minimum necessary segment for the administrative and establishment overheads. Besides, it is desirable to craft a long-term resource mobilisation strategy which taps into possible support from other UN and Bretton Woods agencies as well as other Habitat Agenda partners.

18. For far too long, the organisation has dithered over the proposal to establish the Committee of Permanent Representatives as a subsidiary body of UNCHS. A strong Habitat is unthinkable without a strong, pro-active and formal institution of CPR as part of the governance structure. The group fully supports the proposed formalisation of the Habitat CPR and reiterates the decision of the CPR that "the formal CPR should remain within the framework of expenditures that had existed for the informal operation of the CPR". Therefore, the group urges all member-states to initially accept the use of English as its working language, as is presently being done successfully in the CPR of UNEP.

19. Our group has been acutely aware of the importance as well as sensitivities involved concerning the decentralisation of governance, the role of local authorities in the implementation of Habitat agenda and the proposed World Charter on Self-Governments. G77 and China believe that, in view of the divergences that remain among member countries, more consultations on all aspects of this subject, including the Executive Director's proposal to set up an open-ended, inter-governmental committee to further study the matter should be conducted before fresh steps are taken in this regard.

20. The group believes that national laws and priorities of countries primarily govern the relations between national governments and local authorities. It is also important to emphasise that the role of local authorities in the work of the Commission on Human Settlements and the Habitat Centre should take into consideration the relevant rules, regulations and procedures of the United Nations.

21. The group welcomes the introduction of the two new themes - "pro-poor shelter and urban development strategies" and "the rural dimension of sustainable urban development" for the 19th session of UNCHS. These need to be developed into practical concepts that can be applied in order to achieve the objectives of the Habitat Agenda. The group is particularly satisfied with the introduction of the "rural dimension", thereby bringing into focus an important area of major concern to the developing countries.

22. Concerning the normative work and operational activities, the group has always advocated the importance of a balance between the two. In this context, it welcomes the launching of the Cities Alliance as a partnership between Habitat and the World Bank. G77 and China believe that Habitat, as the implementing agency, should play a strong role in the setting of the agenda. It is imperative that the Chair of the Commission on Human Settelements should be an ex-officio member of the Consultative Group of the Cities Alliance. The group also feels that there should be adequate representation from developing countries, which should be by invitation, as most of the programmes are targeted for them. The Executive Director is urged to report on developments on the Cities Alliance to the Committee of Permanent Representatives and the 19th session of Commission on Human Settlements.

23. The group strongly favours the prompt and full implementation of General Assembly Resolution 53/242 of July 28, 1999, as the most practical and effective way of attaining the goals set for UNCHS's reform. In particular attention is drawn to the need for strengthening the capability of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements in the areas of information, monitoring and assessment of trends relating to global and regional settlements so as to catalyse and promote international cooperation and action. Further, the group wishes to emphasise that, as called for by the said Resolution, the need to ensure that capacity building and technical assistance, especially in respect of institutional strengthening in developing countries and transfer of adequate financial resources, is given the required attention.

24. Considering the devastating effect of natural and man-made disasters all over the world with considerable loss of life and property including the destablisation of human settlements, G-77 would urge the Habitat to give a concerted thrust on initiatives and a global plan of action for disaster mitigation and risk reduction in human settlements.

25. The group expresses its concern that the report on "illegal Israeli human settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories" was not presented as requested for by CHS 17/9. The group requests the Executive Director to take all necessary measures to implement the above-mentioned resolution, taking into consideration the continued deteriorating housing situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, especially during the last few months.

26. The present conference gives us the opportunity to deliberate on a wide spectrum of issues relating to all aspects of human settlements. Given the importance and magnitude of these subjects, the sizeable presence of Ministers and high level representatives at this conference, is highly encouraging.

27. In the end, the Group of 77 trusts that this conference will generate understanding and support for our considered views and proposals reflected here and to be articulated elsewhere during our deliberations.