THE EARTH TIME/MAYORS CONFERENCE
AUGUST 26, 1994
By Ashali Varma
United Nations, New York–With roots in a developing country and the better part of his 51 years in the development field, Wally N’Dow brings a special sensibility to his position as Secretary General of the International Conference on Human Settlements.
Dr. N’Dow, a veterinarian by training, feels the issues of population, migration, unemployment and empowerment of women are all linked to human development. The United Nations conferences scheduled for the next few years address different aspects of these issues. So these global meetings have the potential to create a major re-establishment of the UN’s purpose, he said.
Shelter, the business of the International Conference on Human Settlements, or Habitat II, is central to the entire process, he said. More than a billion people live in poverty and in inadequate housing.
“This is not just matter of living a life that is human. Today, most people do not,” said Dr. N’Dow at the International Colloquium of Mayors on Social Development, held at the UN headquarters on August 18. “This is a matter of leading rewarding and productive lives. Today, most people do not. This is a matter of living with dignity and hope. Today most people do not.”
Dr. N’Dow spoke to mayors from 97 cities of the developing world who had gathered to consider urban challenges. Common problems facing cities worldwide include; urban congestion, inner city crime, drugs, homelessness, unemployment and children growing up in an environment that offers no hope for the future.
The crisis is growing. By the year 2000, about 3 billion people—half of the world’s population—will be living in urban areas affected by these problems.
“What is happening in our cities is nothing less than one of the greatest threats to international peace and security tomorrow,” Dr. N’Dow said, “We desperately need new solutions, new policies, new tools.”
Yet Dr. N’Dow also recognized that rural poverty is linked to urban challenges. Desperate conditions in the countryside drive people to the cities, exacerbating problems there, he said. “In Habitat, we do not see the rural and the urban as two separate worlds. The rural poor become the urban poor,” Dr. N’Dow said. “We talk more in terms of urbanization. The future seems to lie in bigger and more complicated cities.”
In the current environment, Dr. N’Dow feels that people don’t have human security.
Millions are unprotected from the elements. Millions lack the basic right to a decent
existence. This leads to desperation, civil strife, terrorism and an alienation from society, he said.
Dr. N’Dow feels that Habitat II, scheduled for June 3 to 14, 1996, will be the final and culminating UN conference on human development.
Three major UN conferences will precede it: the International Conference on Population and Development, Cairo September 5 to 13; the World Summit for Social Development, Copenhagen March 6 to 12, 1995; and the Fourth Global Conference on Women, Beijing September 4 to 15, 1995.
“Whether it’s the Cairo Conference or the Social Summit or the Beijing Conference or
Habitat II (it is) one continuum, a composite, almost seamless composite of a major re-establishment of the United Nations purpose,” said Dr. N’Dow.
If it is to be a success, Dr. N’Dow said, it must acknowledge the importance of managing how people will live in tomorrow’s crowded world. This question will be equally important in the cities and in the countryside, he said.
N’Dow also is determined to take up the empowerment of women, both at the Beijing
and at the Habitat II meetings .
He is hoping that an important outcome of Habitat II will be that nations of the world
agree that women should have equal access to land, houses and inheritance. “If you look
at the burden of inadequate shelter it is women who are bearing the burden,” Dr. N’Dow said.