In Focus

Published: Monday 15 July 1996

After days of haggling, more than 170 countries reached a new global accord on June 15, at the end of the UN Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II). Participating nations adopted the Habitat Agenda, the main conference document, and a shorter summary of political intent, the Istanbul Declaration, aimed at creating healthy and sustainable living in an increasingly urban world.

Ultimately the consensus that emerged was, "To take all steps necessary for the progressive realisation of the right to adequate housing." It means that housing has been recognised as a human right and governments are obligated to provide it. They observed that currently, about 100 million people are homeless and at least 600 million people in developing countries live in houses that are either life- or health-threatening. They recognised that enough resources exist to put a roof over the heads and provide safe water and sanitation for less than US $100 per person, to every man, woman and child on this planet. Notably, for the first time at a UN conference, the views of grass-roots organisations, local authorities, the private sector, parliaments and scientists were incorporated alongwith those of government delegates.

India contributed its own bit by calling for improvement in living conditions in rural areas and mobilisation of financial resources at the national and international levels to meet the housing needs of the people. The participants agreed with India's view that measures should be taken to check the migration of people from rural to urban areas. The declaration also called for promotion and transfer of technologies and access to information on available technologies to fulfill the Habitat agenda. To this end, the participants pledged their support for strengthening the role of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UNHCS).

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