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Habitat II Conference                      [ Back to Habitat II ]

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IV Global Plan of Action

C. Sustainable human settlements development in an urbanizing world

1. Introduction

99. Rapid urbanization, the concentration of the urban population in large cities, the sprawl of cities into wider geographical areas and the rapid growth of mega-cities are among the most significant transformations of human settlements. By the year 2005 the majority of the world's population will live in urban areas, and approximately 40 per cent of them will be children. Urban areas will strongly influence the world of the twenty-first century, and urban and rural populations will be increasingly interdependent for their economic, environmental and social well-being. Among the economic and social factors influencing this process are population growth and voluntary and involuntary migration, real and perceived employment opportunities, cultural expectations, changing consumption and production patterns and serious imbalances and disparities among regions.

100. Given the magnitude of the challenges that human settlements pose, society must value and take advantage of the wisdom, knowledge and skills of every person. Sustainable human settlements development requires cooperative and complementary actions among interested parties. The mix of interested parties appropriate for participation may be different in each instance, depending on who has responsibility for or is affected by the topic being addressed. As a general matter, interested parties include women and men of all ages, Governments at the appropriate level, non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations, business, labour and environmental organizations.

101. The sustainability of the global environment and human life will not be achieved unless, among other things, human settlements in both urban and rural areas are made economically buoyant, socially vibrant and environmentally sound, with full respect for cultural, religious and natural heritage and diversity. Urban settlements hold a promise for human development and for protection of the world's natural resources through their ability to support large numbers of people while limiting their impact on the natural environment. Yet many cities are witnessing harmful patterns of growth, of production and consumption, of land use, of mobility and of degradation of their physical structure. Such problems are often synonymous with soil, air and water pollution, waste of resources and destruction of natural resources. Some human settlements are also subject to limited water supply, sanitation and drainage and to dependency upon toxic and non-renewable energy fuel sources and irreversible loss of biodiversity. Many of these trends are aggravated or accelerated by high population growth and the magnitude of rural-to-urban migration. Demographic factors, combined with poverty and lack of access to resources and unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, particularly in industrialized countries, can cause or exacerbate problems of environmental degradation and resource depletion and thus inhibit sustainable development. Therefore, a largely urbanized world implies that sustainable development will depend very largely on the capacity of urban and metropolitan areas to manage the production and consumption patterns and the transport and waste disposal systems needed to preserve the environment.

102. The municipal level of government can be an effective partner in making human settlements viable, equitable and sustainable, since its level of administration is closest to the people. Governments must recognize the essential role of local authorities in providing services and empowering people to secure economic development, social welfare and environmental protection for their communities, and the role of international cooperation among local authorities. Local authorities can construct, operate and maintain economic, social and environmental infrastructure, oversee planning processes, establish local environmental policies and assist in implementing national and subnational environmental policies. They play a vital role in educating and mobilizing people and in responding to public demands to promote sustainable development.

103. At the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, the international community agreed on a set of objectives and actions aimed at promoting sustainable human settlements development. In chapter 7 of Agenda 21, the concept of an "enabling approach" in the human settlements sector was developed, whereby a partnership among the public, private and community sectors sought to improve the social, economic and environmental quality of human settlements and the living and working environments of all people, in particular people living in poverty in urban and rural areas. Particular emphasis was given to participation in the decision-making process by community groups, women, indigenous people, the elderly and people with disabilities. The local Agenda 21 framework emphasizes the need for local authorities to work in cooperation with all interested parties, including individuals, social groups and the private sector, to promote and implement effective strategies for sustainable development.

104. In the process of urbanization, policies and programmes for the sustainable development of human settlements in both rural and urban areas require strong subnational governmental institutions working in partnership with all interested parties. Such institutions are still weak in many countries, and their effectiveness is threatened by increasing problems of political regionalism and ethnic strife. All these concerns and demands require a regional and cross-sectoral approach to human settlements planning, which places emphasis on rural/urban linkages and treats villages and cities as two ends of a human settlements continuum in a common ecosystem.

105. Increasingly, cities have a network of linkages that extends far beyond their boundaries. Sustainable urban development requires consideration of the carrying capacity of the entire ecosystem supporting such development, including the prevention and mitigation of adverse environmental impacts occurring outside urban areas. The unsafe disposal of waste leads to the degradation of the natural environment: aquifers, coastal zones, ocean resources, wetlands, natural habitats, forests and other fragile ecosystems are affected, as are the homelands of indigenous people. All transboundary movements of hazardous waste and substances should be carried out in accordance with relevant international agreements by parties to those agreements. Rapid urbanization in coastal areas is causing the rapid deterioration of coastal and marine ecosystems.

106. The diversity of types of human settlements is a key component to creating just and sustainable societies. The living and working conditions in all human settlements, including regional urban centres, rural service centres, rural hamlets, rural communities, market towns and villages, must be improved, with particular emphasis on shelter, social and physical infrastructure, and services. The maintenance and the development of rural settlements require sustainable agriculture and forestry activities and improved agricultural technologies, economic diversification, and expanded employment opportunities created by encouraging appropriate and environmentally sustainable investment in industry and related economic production and service activities.

107. In order to mitigate the unbalanced geographical development of human settlements, and to effectively reinforce the creation of a dynamic economy, Governments at the appropriate levels should create partnerships with relevant interested parties to encourage the sustainable development and management of cities of all sizes and should create conditions that ensure that these different cities provide employment opportunities and services in the process of securing economic development, social welfare and environmental protection. They should devise strategies and support measures that address the issues relating to the movement of population which leads to extreme population concentration in some areas, pressure on fragile ecosystems such as coastal areas, and loss of population in other areas.

108. International cooperation, including city-to-city cooperation, is both necessary and mutually beneficial in promoting sustainable human settlements development. Depending on the context and the needs of the cities, towns and villages in each country and region, special attention should be paid to the most critical issues, such as changing production and consumption patterns; energy efficiency; sustainable resource and land-use management; poverty eradication; population and health; water supply, sanitation and waste management; disaster prevention, mitigation, preparedness and management; cultural, natural and historical heritage; environmental protection; industry; infrastructure; and basic services such as health and education facilities and services. Habitat II provides an opportunity to focus on the effect that current patterns of human settlements development will have on the ability to achieve the objectives established at recent United Nations conferences. Close attention to trends in urban development is essential to the viability of sustainable human settlements development in rural and urban areas alike.

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