UN Conference for human settlements

Aug 31 - Sep 06, 1996

According to the paper read by a member of Pakistan delegation on the status of the negotiations on the UN Conference for Human Settlements (Habitat II) in New York last November, there exists an accumulated housing backlog of 6.25 million units in addition to an annual housing deficit of 150,000 units.

While Pakistan stood committed to attain the objective of the Global Strategy for Shelter aimed at providing adequate shelter for all by the year 2000, it has taken a number of steps to enable different sectors to play a role to achieve that objective such as:

* Studies to mark the parameters of the housing problem.

* Launching of a National Action Programme based on these studies to make up for the annual housing shortfall as well as to clear the backlog setting a definite time-frame of ten years to achieve the objective.

* To assist low-income segments of the society to obtain housing for which a revolving fund is set up to initiate inexpensive housing projects.

* Formulation of national as well as provincial urbanisation policies to provide a coherent, long-term framework for the development of new towns.

Pakistan stressed that since national efforts alone are insufficient to accomplish the tasks of such magnitude, the developed countries could help by providing supportive measures at the micro level by helping specific national and local initiatives.

For instance, the efficient management of mega-cities which have emerged in many a developing nation would greatly benefit from the sharing of international experiences and expertise in running of large metropolises.

In addition, exchange of know-how would be most useful in areas such as inexpensive building materials, mass transport systems, economic sanitation and water supply schemes.

Pakistan rejected the three main arguments advanced for the refusal to include meaningful provisions for cooperation in the Global Plan of Action on the issue of human settlements; human settlements is not a crucial issue meriting strong and concerted international action; that it is the duty of the national governments to provide adequate shelter for all; and last but not the least that the international community cannot offer much in support of national efforts.

Refuting the arguments one by one, a member of Pakistan delegation, Amin Dada said that the first argument could hardly be entertained by a person who has had even the slightest exposure to settlement problems in developing countries. The problems of the shelterless, the slum dwellers, and the inhabitants of urban areas with deficient civic amenities are so severe, and cause such acute human misery that they need to be addressed with the utmost urgency.

Also, these problems are so clearly a cause of social ills and political unrest that their resolution becomes a pre-requisite for ensuring the progress of developing countries.

Refuting argument number two, while accepting that the primary responsibility of national governments in this area is undeniable the same does not preclude the need for international cooperation. If the primary responsibility of actors within states in this field were to be accepted as justification for inaction at the global level, the same argument would equally be applicable in other areas of human rights, environment, and gender equality, it was added.

Refuting the last argument, the Pakistan delegate said it should be realized that in any developing country the essential pre-requisites for achieving the objective of shelter for all are land and finance at affordable prices and to a lesser extent the provision of appropriate technology. To fulfil these pre-requisites, he added, international cooperation is needed at the macro and the micro levels. At the former level, if steps are taken to improve the global economic situation, the developing countries would be able to devote greater resources to the issue. Hence, international cooperation on the removal of trade barriers, resolving the debt problem, and transfer of technology would help strengthen the ability of national governments to address the issue.

Though the Pakistan delegate expressed concern that the negotiations on the substantive documents to be issued by the forthcoming conference on Human Settlements were in trouble, nevertheless it was encouraging that the conference did take place in Istanbul a few months ago.

The dissatisfaction expressed by the Pakistan delegate seemed to have stemmed from what he described as the disconcerting unwillingness of certain key countries to address the issue of international cooperation in the discussions of the informal drafting group on the Global Action Plan.