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Neilson from Australia on Habitat Agenda 15Feb 1996

THE EARTH TIMES

FEBRUARY 15, 1996

A CONVERSATION WITH LYNDSAY NEILSON OF AUSTRALIA

(Habitat II Prepcom)

‘Going beyond rhetoric to action’

By Ashali Varma

United Nations New York: One of Australia’s priorities at PrepCom3 is to look at ways to generate practical steps for the Conference. “We want to go beyond rhetoric to action,” said Lyndsay Neilson, who heads the Australian delegation along with Ambassador Richard Butler, Australia’s Permanent Representative to the UN.  “At Istanbul, nations should be able to put on the table a statement of their commitments,” Neilson told The Earth Times.

In this context, Australia has put forward a resolution for consideration at PrepCom3. The

three main points of the resolution are:

• Participating states should be invited to make specific statements of national priorities and commitments at or in conjunction with the Habitat II Conference in Istanbul.

• States should be invited to include in these statements a list of specific actions which, in

pursuance of the Habitat Agenda, they will take in their own countries by the year 2000.

• United Nations and other intergovernmental institutions should also be invited to make their own statements of priorities and commitments, including specific action to be taken by them by the year 2000.

“We are also suggesting,” Neilson said, “that there be regional meetings to monitor progress every two or three years.” The need for tangible results after UN Conferences has been one of Australia’s main concerns since the Rio Conference, according to Neilson.

For the Habitat II process, Australia has started a National Consultative Committee chaired by Julian Disney, which consists of NGOs, representatives from local governments, state governments and other relevant organizations. “We have had meetings across Australia and have received input from a number of organizations,” Neilson said.

Regarding the document, Neilson said he was very “positive” about it.  “Habitat II cannot duplicate Habitat I and concentrate only on shelter.” He pointed out that the world is witnessing one of the biggest changes in history –the urbanization of Asia.  “In China alone, in this decade, 300 million people will be moving from rural to urban areas,” Neilson said, “This is happening all over Asia.  There is a massive social transformation taking place and this Conference has to be aware of this and of the implications.” Neilson thinks one has to be careful not to lose sight of the urbanization problem. “It is a great challenge for nations that are experiencing this,” he said.

Regarding  Australian development assistance,  Neilson said that though in the past aid to developing countries has been in the fields of agriculture and rural developments, Australia is realizing the need to address urban processes as part of their aid program.

Another area where the Australian experience can be useful for urban development is in the field of strategic planning for metropolitan areas which includes traffic control, sewage, water supply and water conservation.  “Because we are such a dry continent, we have had to become experts at water management,” Neilson said, “But the real issue is whether the kinds of technologies we are developing are relevant to other countries.  And how we can tailor them.”

Neilson said, “This search to provide shelter, sanitation, water, education, health, and jobs is the most fundamental thing to be pursued and I think, this Conference understands that and is working toward a positive outcome.”