Press Releases

    SG/SM/8261
    6 June 2002

    ‘FUTURE OF HUMANITY LIES IN CITIES’, SECRETARY-GENERAL TELLS MOSCOW CONFERENCE ON URBAN DEVELOPMENT

    NEW YORK, 5 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the address of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Conference on Sustainable Urban Development in Russia, Moscow, 5 June:

    It gives me great pleasure to join you at this important conference. I would like to thank the Government of the Russian Federation, and everyone involved in making this event possible, for their commitment to an issue that lies at the heart of the world’s search for peace, progress and human dignity.

    You gather at a crucial time. The world has entered the urban millennium. A majority of the world’s people are now city dwellers. Rapid urbanization shows little sign of stopping or even slowing.

    And you gather in an appropriate place. Three of four Russians live in cities -- a level of urbanization matched by few other countries: Canada, France, Spain and the United States. What you do here at home to make those cities safer and more liveable will have lessons for all of us.

    At their best, cities are engines of growth and incubators of civilization. They are crossroads of ideas, places of great intellectual ferment and innovation. They can also be models of democracy and coexistence. Today, they are the major driving forces of development and globalization.

    But with the shift to cities, many of society’s inequities and ills are also becoming more and more urban. We see stark contrasts: contrasts in wealth and opportunity; contrasts in urbanization patterns; and contrasts between housing costs and the salaries offered by labour markets. The same cities that offer so many riches are also places of extreme poverty, exploitation and disease, drug abuse and crime.

    The "City Summit" six years ago in Istanbul was an attempt to show that urbanization can be a positive force for the reduction of poverty and the achievement of sustainable development. Last year, United Nations Member States met to review progress since then, and reaffirmed their commitment to the Habitat Agenda, the blueprint for sustainable urban development adopted in Istanbul.

    Our challenge now is to match aspiration with action, and promises with positive changes in people’s lives. As you continue your efforts to implement the Habitat Agenda in Russia’s cities, I see five areas of particular concern:

    One is security. Whether petty or organized into syndicates, crime and corruption tear apart the urban fabric. They sow fear, sap faith in government, breed contempt for the rule of law, and pit community against community, individual against individual. They can erase, in a matter of days or even minutes, the labours of a lifetime. And in an era of globalization, crime, too, has gone global, with criminals, terrorists, and drug traffickers using the same technologies and open borders to facilitate a wide range of illegal activities. We must fight back, with better policing and other steps to ensure the basic security of person that is every person’s right. And that fight must also go global, to create effective networks of technical, legal and judicial cooperation.

    A second concern is the urban environment. This is a global problem, but its origins can often be found at the local level, in daily activities -– such as the handling of sanitation and transportation -- that can degrade the environment. Many of the key issues to be discussed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development -– water, energy, and the intersection of health and the environment -- are of central concern to cities. That conference opens in Johannesburg less than three months from now. I urge you not only to voice your concerns, but to publicize the best practices you have come up with.

    A third concern is poverty, especially in the developing world, where most of the expected growth in cities will occur. The number of urban households living below the poverty line is growing rapidly. Cities in rich and poor countries alike are finding it hard to meet old challenges such as providing jobs and municipal services, and new ones such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic. One source of hope may well be the poor themselves. Women in particular are the unsung heroes of poor urban areas. If countries succeed in tapping their dynamism and entrepreneurial energy, the dividends would be felt not just among the poor but throughout society as a whole.

    Efforts to fight crime, protect the environment and fight poverty will not succeed without good urban governance. And governance, in turn, is a matter of both efficiency and empowerment.

    Efficiency, in the sense that cities need competent public administration, strong and accountable institutions, and the legal and regulatory frameworks that protect people and reward individual initiative.

    And empowerment, because a healthy society is one that gives all its members a chance to participate in decisions that affect their lives. Improved urban governance, therefore, implies greater democracy and more creative partnerships with private firms and community-based organizations. It also requires strengthened local authorities. Cities must no longer be run as administrative extensions of central government, or starved of responsibility and resources. A State that treats local authorities as partners, and allows public tasks to be carried out by those closest to the citizens, will be stronger, not weaker.

    The future of humanity lies in cities. Global and local issues are more intertwined than ever before. Cities often find themselves managing problems and seizing opportunities that were once the sole domain of national governments. And many cities now have populations and economies larger than many countries. Weak cities will almost certainly act as a brake on national development. Strong cities can be a key factor enabling a country to thrive in the global economy.

    As ministers, mayors and local authorities responsible for urban policy and performance, you are the point where the global, national and local intersect. It is to you that citizens look for safety and services, and to serve as their voice. I hope you will do your utmost to ensure that urban development works for people, not against them.

    The United Nations will continue be your partner in that effort. In that spirit, I wish you great success in your deliberations, and I look forward to working closely with you in the future.

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