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Finland on Housing Agenda 8 Feb 1996

THE EARTH TIMES

FEBRUARY 9, 1996

A CONVERSATION WITH OUTI BERGHALL OF FINLAND

Implementing Habitat’s objectives

By Ashali Varma

United Nations New York—Finland has a population of 5 million but a land area that is larger than Great Britain, so one would think that the Finns need not have to worry about housing or crowded cities or energy pollution. “But not only are we concerned with human settlements, our emphasis is on environmental responsibility and how it is important for cities to develop, keeping in mind the health of its inhabitants,” said Outi Berghall.

Berghall is with the Ministry of Environment in Finland, where she is a Senior Planner in the Housing and Building Department. Berghall has been involved in the preparation work for the Earth Summit, the Cairo Conference and the Social Summit and has been very much a part of the informal group involved with drawing up the Habitat Agenda.

“We also see human settlements as part of consumption and production patterns as related to the environment,” Berghall said. “And then we come to the global aspects much of the greenhouse gases come from human settlements.” The idea is, she said, “to develop human settlements in a more sustainable manner.”

She said, “Here we are continuing the work of Rio and making it more practical. We deal

with crucial instruments that can have an impact on the goals of the Convention of Climate Change.”

Berghall said she believes in the basic principles that are being adopted at the meeting and that though it would be unrealistic to think that the world will change soon after the Conference, such endeavors do provide a yardstick for countries. The follow-up is a matter of will.

As an example of political will, Berghall described a rehabilitation project in Finland, “When I was a young girl, over 10 percent of our population consisted of refugees.  And these people got settled within a few years with limited financial and technical resources.” She said the key element in the solution was land reform. In rural areas people with extra land had to give up a certain amount for which they were compensated.

The refugees were provided with standard drawings, technical advice and loans to buy  materials  to build a  house. “They have been upgrading their homes and are well settled now,” Berghall said.

“One of the priorities we have in mind is to show that there is no conflict of interest between urban and rural development. Both are interdependent,” said Berghall.   Prosperity in rural areas will naturally affect the cities, she said, “But we also want to say that urbanization is a fact, and cities will grow and we cannot solve the problems by focusing only on rural areas.” Berghall points out that people are going to migrate for jobs since there is not enough agricultural land.

On the question of implementation, she said, “The follow-up mechanism must be studied in a comprehensive  way and the main body to do this is ECOSOC and the GA.  We also have to define the role of the various UN agencies in this process, taking into account the specific mandate of Habitat.”