Air Date: July 2, 1996||
Wally N’Dow, Secretary General, Habitat II
Katherine Hagan, International Labor Organization
Ismail Serageldin, The World Bank
Bella Mitchell, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
Other participants at Habitat II
MARY GRAY DAVIDSON: This is Common Ground. The future of the world is in the
cities; but as their populations grow, will our cities be ready to meet that challenge? Currently
the world cities are in distress, and that’s our topic in the first of a series of Common
Ground programs from the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements.
Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced
by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Mary Gray Davidson.
In the beginning were small rural settlements, but as world population has mushroomed (especially
in the past couple of centuries) so have the world cities. People have always been attracted to
cities. They have often been the center of historic and cultural development. They’re the symbol
of the good life and tend to draw people from rural areas during economic downtimes. But what
awaits those newcomers in the city is not always what they expected. Right now 2.4 of the 5.8
billion people in the world live in cities. By the year 2025 the United Nations estimates that at
least half of the world’s projected population of nearly 10 billion people will live in the
cities. This June, 171 countries met in Istanbul, Turkey, for the second ever international
meeting on human settlements. Habitat II it was called.
Government delegates met for two weeks hashing out a global plan of action to meet the challenge
of growing urbanization in the world. Wally N’Dow of Gambia was Secretary General of the Istanbul
meeting. He says the problems of homelessness, inadequate shelter, and poverty threaten new
divisions between rich and poor with dangerous consequences.
WALLY N’DOW: The challenge for the next few decades is going to be how to remedy the
decaying human settlements the world over. How does that impact on human welfare? How does that
contribute to human development? How does that contribute to peace in a functioning society? If
the cities and the towns don’t work, economies don’t work.
DAVIDSON: Is it necessary to address those issues on an international level as is being
done here or could it possibly be done country by country? Can a country do it alone?
N’DOW: It is very difficult for one country to do it alone, because the issues in many
ways are internationalized. They are global issues. Witness drugs and the crisis in our society
of global drug trade. Witness global disease, new diseases that know no frontier, no national
boundary. Witness terrorism and crime. Basically we are dealing with a common neighborhood. And
the challenges facing people in what we consider far away areas, they have a tendency to rise
like a wave and just invade our shores.
DAVIDSON: The phenomenal growth of cities is a fact. Is that necessarily a positive or
negative thing in the history of human beings, or is it just a matter of dealing with it that
will make it a positive or negative phenomenon?
N’DOW: It seems to be the direction history is taking. One has to also bear in mind the
necessity of fighting on two fronts—keep fighting at the countryside level so that livelihoods
are created in the villages—because part of the reason people move is that they seek better
futures. Some of them seek these places as sanctuaries when they flee wars, conflict, and civil
wars. Some of them move because they are basically economic migrants. They can’t farm any longer,
because there is no water because there are deserts creeping into their farmland. They are
victims of other calamities. So there is a whole range of reasons why people do this transition,
but the extent to which this migration is taking place is unprecedented. The migration is not
only internal to these countries; now it’s across oceans and territorial boundaries. We are
witnessing the biggest migration in human history today.
DAVIDSON: Habitat II is among the last of the world summits this century. The cycle of
summits began in 1990 with the World Summit for Children and included the United Nations
Conference on Environment and Development in Rio, the Cairo Population Conference, and the
Beijing women’s meeting which attracted nearly 50,000 people last year. While a much smaller
meeting, Habitat II drew around 20,000 participants. In many ways this meeting on human
settlements sums up the issues of all the prior conferences. Paula DiPerna and Ashali Varma both
work for the Earth Times newspaper, which has become the newspaper of the UN
PAULA DI PERNA: The fact is that Habitat does have things to add to Agenda 21—poverty,
the social summit, unemployment. It has the subject matter of all the other conferences.
Unfortunately, those subject matters have already gone into documents and have already been
signed on by countries. So there’s no reason to rehash them out here.
DAVIDSON: But is there a danger of the gains made in those conferences being set back?
ASHALI VARMA: The basic consensuses that were reached in Rio are constantly being
rediscussed, and this is a problem. You find the fragility of the consensus about economic growth
and sustainable development, about women’s rights, about things that have been sort of signed and
sealed before; and you come to a conference like Habitat and a few countries and a few
extremists’ views can roll back a consensus that is very, very critical.
DAVIDSON: Everyone at the conference was talking about the need to decentralize, to put
the solutions to cities’ problems more in the hands of local governments. Whether local
governments will have the capacity to meet the challenges is yet to be seen. But at Habitat II,
mayors of the world came together for the first time to share solutions that have worked in their
cities. One mayor I talked with has to deal with the increasing worldwide problem of refugees.
Inez Toma Elias (sp?) is mayor of the City of Bo, the second largest city in Sierra Leone.
ELIAS: I come from a war-torn area. At this time we have lots of displaced, lots of
problems for housing, water supply, overcrowding. This is what I have come about. We have been
overridden by rebels. Perhaps you have heard about our war in Sierra Leone. My own city is a city
of refuge for displaced people. We have the largest displaced camp, which has about 7,000
displaced persons all living in very, very inhumane conditions.
DAVIDSON: At one time, was it a well functioning city that has now deteriorated?
ELIAS: Yes. It used to be a well functioning city. In fact, it was nicknamed Sweet Bo,
because of all the actions. It was a mining area and agricultural area. Life was booming. People
owned their own houses at that time, and lots of people were not on top of each other at that
time before the war.
DAVIDSON: But Habitat II wasn’t just a conference of government officials. The majority
of people who traveled to Istanbul looking for solutions were from nongovernmental organizations
like Bella Mitchell, lead organizer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
BELLA MITCHELL: The homeless population in Chicago is 80,000. That happened probably over
the last two years. The count that we had before that was 60,000. As I mentioned in my statement
here, when I went to the Social Summit in Copenhagen, we were talking about eradicating poverty
and full employment. At that time it was 60,000. Now it’s 80,000, which means nothing positive
has happened since they were over there talking about eradicating poverty under the disguise of
welfare reform or the larger umbrella, Contract With America, that women felt was a contract on
women—when we talk about welfare reform the way they were talking about it without job creation.
DAVIDSON: Do you have a sense of what has caused this increase in homelessness? Do you
see that as the main problem?
MITCHELL: I see that as one of the problems, the lack of affordable housing and jobs as
the major cause of homelessness. Yes, there are some other problems along the way—drugs and some
other things—but they are not the major causes. But I personally believe that we could end
homelessness if the political will was there. We could take a lot of that money that’s going into
the military budget and put it into housing. We could take a lot of the money that’s going to
corporate welfare. Since they are so against welfare, they ought to stop giving so much to the
corporate and start putting it into housing.
DAVIDSON: In talking with people from around the world here, do you find a lot of
parallels in the issues facing those cities of the world?
MITCHELL: Yes. It’s a shame to say. When I talk to other countries (Brazil for instance)
about homelessness or unemployment, the United States is running side by side with them. We are
the richest country in the world, yet our problems are the same.
DAVIDSON: We’ll take a break for just a moment. When we return, we’ll talk to some of the
experts to hear about the scope of the problems related to global urbanization.
DAVIDSON: Printed transcripts and audiocassettes of this Common Ground program
from the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements are available. At the end of the
broadcast I’ll give you details on how you can order. Common Ground is a service of the
Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs
meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.
This homeless shelter in El Paso, Texas, hopefully is only a temporary solution for its visitors.
The UN Center on Human Settlements based in Nairobi prepared a report for the Habitat II
conference on just how widespread the problem of homelessness is in the world. Mathias Hundshalz
of Germany coordinated the work on the document which estimates that nearly 500 million people
worldwide are homeless.
MATHIAS HUNDSHALZ: The figure of 500 million can be disputed very well. Nobody is really
able to count it, but I think it is fair to say that about one billion people are living in
absolutely inadequate housing conditions.
DAVIDSON: What are the reasons behind this growth of inadequate housing? Is it simply
growth in population or are there other factors?
HUNDSHALZ: There are other factors as well. It is not only a measurement or result of
poverty or an immediate result of poverty, the matter has also to do with the security of tenure.
This is particularly a problem in many developing countries where the growing number of people
who are going to the urban areas do not find a plot of their own. They see themselves obliged to
squat on land which is not their own.
DAVIDSON: So in essence they’re living someplace illegally.
HUNDSHALZ: That’s correct. Although they may have a few funds of their own, they are
unwilling to invest them in the improvement of their housing conditions because of this
insecurity of tenure situation.
DAVIDSON: I see. So it’s possible that they could get enough money together to make an
adequate house, a livable house. But because they don’t know if tomorrow it’s going to disappear,
it’s not worth doing anything.
HUNDSHALZ: Absolutely. This is why the best measurement or strategy of many countries to
deal with the growing number of inadequately housed has not that much to do with having
sufficient funds available but addressing them in a way of giving them security of tenure. That
is seeing to it that they get a plot of land they can call their own and giving them a correct
title to it.
DAVIDSON: Now what are the incentives for the people whom you could call the “haves” to
do something about the situation?
HUNDSHALZ: Enlightenment would help at times. If you consider that this number is really
growing and growing in a way that is not really under control by the authorities. That should
make the authorities understand they are actually sitting on a time bomb, which can cause
enormous problems to them in terms of social unrest and social instability with all the negative
consequences that it can have.
DAVIDSON: From what you’ve been able to tell, why is there this increasing concentration
in cities? Why are people leaving rural areas? Is that also a land tenure issue?
HUNDSHALZ: This is a matter that has been happening throughout history. Definitely the
problem of landlessness—of people having no piece of land to call their own, which they could
use for farm production or subsistence farming at least—is an increasing factor in this.
DAVIDSON: The rhythms of modern life are usually tied to the workplace. No matter if that
work is in a factory or an office, work is a key factor in obtaining shelter says a new report by
the International Labor Organization. Katherine Hagan is Deputy Director General of the ILO.
KATHERINE HAGAN: In 1990 there was an estimate of about 400 million people in urban areas
living in poverty, meaning about one-third of the population of urban areas. Now by the turn of
the century that’s going to be one billion people. You have a very substantial increase in urban
poverty, which we believe at the ILO is something that requires looking at employment and
creating opportunities for employment.
DAVIDSON: Does it require looking at work differently?
HAGAN: Definitely. It requires looking at work differently. For one thing, there is
happening both in the developing world and in the industrial world a shift to increasing needs of
the service sector, and jobs being created in the service sector. In the service sector you have
real problems in terms of the unevenness of job creation with some of the jobs requiring high
skills and a very large number of the jobs being unskilled. So there is a greater gap in income
distribution between high-skilled and low-skilled jobs in the service sector than you find in the
industrial sector. Another factor is that in a lot of the big urban areas of the developing world
you just can’t create enough formal sector jobs. So you have to create a better system of
addressing the needs of the informal sector and creating safer working conditions and better
opportunities for income production in the informal sector.
DAVIDSON: Now the informal sector jobs are jobs that are not counted in such statistics
as Gross Domestic Product? Is that what you mean when you say informal sector?
HAGAN: Informal sector is either individuals who are working on their own as street
vendors or as other kinds of self-employed people or they’re going door to door seeking
employment or short-term jobs here and there. These are not necessarily people who aren’t counted
in the GDP, but they are generally in the unregulated economy.
DAVIDSON: Does the ILO have any figure on how large the informal sector is in the global
economy? I would assume that would vary widely from country to country or region of the world.
HAGAN: Yes. In sub-Saharan Africa there’s an estimate that 60 percent of the urban
working sector is informal. In Latin America the percentages that are produced showed a much
smaller percentage, but an increase from somewhere around 13 percent to 18 percent in the past
five, six, or seven years. Also, in terms of the creation of new jobs, there is a figure for
Latin America that shows that some 70-80 percent of the new jobs created are in the informal
sector. In some of the Asian countries like India, what you find is that in the manufacturing
arena about 75 percent of the workers are in the informal sector.
DAVIDSON: How can work be made more labor intensive?
HAGAN: The action plan that we’ve developed for this conference shows some strategies
that you can pursue to create more labor-intensive work. This is different from promoting
opportunities in the informal sector, but it’s parallel in terms of taking advantage of the wide
availability of labor in urban areas. You can show that if you approach housing construction, for
example, in a labor-intensive way and you have fairly simple housing construction, you can employ
people to build six times more houses than if you operate with more capital-intensive activities.
So there is a benefit even to the employer for labor-intensive work. Also, in terms of public
works, infrastructure development, there’s $200 billion of public investment going into
infrastructure work in the developing world. In those areas there is certainly a capacity for the
city to hire people on a labor-intensive basis to get the same amount of work done as it would
cost for them to purchase sophisticated tractors and other equipment.
DAVIDSON: Another issue is on the housing of the world’s poor and how this relates to
employment. How does the report talk about housing?
HAGAN: Housing is the way in which we got into the issue of human settlement. What we
recognize now is that housing is an important element of securing people’s livelihoods. First of
all, you need decent housing for employment; because you can’t work unless you have a decent
place to live. And you can’t work well. It works both ways. Oftentimes you can’t get a good job
if you don’t have a decent house, because they won’t hire you if you don’t have a residence.
DAVIDSON: Right. If you don’t have an address, you are not going to get a job.
HAGAN: So it works either way. The job is connected to having a house. Having a house is
connected to having a job, because you can’t pay for it without a job. So the two are
intertwined. Also, by focusing on housing as a means to secure livelihood itself the whole idea
of promoting the construction of housing creates jobs too.
[sound of water dripping]
DAVIDSON: Water, a commodity essential for human survival. Our bodies are 65 percent
water. We can’t live without it, yet we use it like there’s no end to is says Ismail Serageldin.
Serageldin is Vice President for Environmentally Sustainable Development at the World Bank.
ISMAIL SERAGELDIN: The amount of fresh water available for human use is very, very small.
It’s less than three percent of the world’s total water. The utilization of that water has not
been very wise. We have been wasting a tremendous amount of it. We’ve been addressing it in a
fragmented way. As a result, we see, immediately, over one generation or two generations huge
drops in the availability of water per capita. Already around the planet we would say that 40
percent of the population of the world lives in a situation where there is some form of water
scarcity. I’ve been quoted many times in saying that there is a real risk that in the next
century the wars are going to be fought over water as opposed to the wars being fought over oil
in this century. Unless we change our ways, we are facing very severe crises in many parts of the
world. By far the biggest user of water in the developing countries is irrigation, using about 80
percent of the water. And a very large amount of that, maybe as much as 45 percent, never reaches
the plants. So there’s evaporation, transpiration, and seepage. Likewise in the cities.
DAVIDSON: It’s not just availability; there’s an infrastructure problem there as well.
SERAGELDIN: There is an infrastructure problem. Likewise, in the cities themselves,
there’s a huge amount of water that is lost between the time it comes out of the treatment to the
time it reaches consumers and is metered. These losses run anywhere between 40-60 percent in most
developing countries’ cities. This is, therefore, the first thing we have to do is to learn how
to use our water more wisely and that would require probably pricing of water so that people stop
treating it like a free good. Because there is this basic human need. It is treated as a free
good, and being treated as a free good there is no incentive for people to economize and use the
right kind of incentives.
Let me give you two immediate examples. In irrigation when it is given as a free good there is no
interest in people investing in the kinds of irrigation systems such as drip irrigation, for
example, that would bring exactly the amount of water to the plants themselves, because it’s an
out-of-pocket cost. But if the cost of utilization of water was there, then that technology would
be seen not as a cost but, in fact, as a cost-saving device.
DAVIDSON: I wanted to talk a little bit about the issue of pricing water and who pays the
most for water. I was shocked a couple of years ago when I went to the US border and talked to
people who are living in squatter settlements in El Paso who didn’t have running water and would
have 50 gallon barrels trucked into the area. They were paying five times what I pay in the
Midwest of the United States to have water run out of my tap.
SERAGELDIN: In fact one of the most cruel myths that needs to be exploded is when people
say that water prices must be kept low in order for poor people to afford them. What ends up is
that utilities cannot have full coverage of the population. As a result of not being able to
reach the population, guess who gets left out? It’s not the rich. It’s the poor who get left out.
They end up having to buy their water from water vendors, which means that per unit of water they
pay 10 to 20 times as much as the subsidized rates that the middle class and the upper class get
through the piped water systems that are provided by the cities. And this is a cruel hoax,
because really it is one of the most regressive aspects of dealing with the situation. Those who
can’t afford to buy from water vendors, of course, end up paying through disease, illnesses, and
even the death of their children for the impurities they get from polluted water.
DAVIDSON: In one of the reports I read from the World Bank, the bank is actually favoring
overall privatizing of water supplies? Do I understand that correctly?
SERAGELDIN: There has been too much reliance on government in a bureaucratic sense of
dealing with many of these problems. Private water utilities have shown that they are much more
adept at collecting for payments and in being much more responsive to the needs of their clients.
The key, of course, is not to transform a public monopoly into a private monopoly. Just a very
simple example, what would the shareholders of an oil company feel like if they were told that
anywhere between 40-60 percent of the oil that was taken out was lost and unaccounted for? Would
they remain quiet about that? Yet that is the situation we have with water. Water treatment’s
unaccounted for losses are just treated as a way of doing business. Clearly that has to be
DAVIDSON: Ismail Serageldin is the vice president at the World Bank. In our next program
from the UN Conference on Human Settlements, we’ll look at the unique problems women face related
to shelter and cities.
DIANA LEE SMITH: Despite women being in charge of the home and managing it, they have no
equal rights to inherit land and property as men do. And in the Third World countries where
custom prevails, land and property are only inherited by the boys from their parents.
DAVIDSON: Join us again when we continue our coverage of Habitat II in Istanbul, Turkey.
For Common Ground, I’m Mary Gray Davidson.
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