THE EARTH TIMES
FEBRUARY 6, 1996
A SESSION WITH PETER GURTNER
Habitat II Prepcom
The Swiss view of sustainability
By Ashali Varma
United Nations, New York—Switzerland’s priorities for PrepCom3 are linked to the situation in industrialized countries, according to Peter Gurtner, director of the Swiss Federal Housing Office and head of the Swiss delegation to the Habitat preparatory meeting that opened here Monday.
He said that the issue of sustainability is a priority and in the case of human settlements it means the economic use of capital resources. This would include ways to keep ecology in mind in planning infrastructure and buildings.
Another concern is the issue of disadvantaged people. “We have a growing number of such people in industrialized countries, due to unemployment, declining salaries and an aging population,” Gurtner said. However, since the private sector is responsible for 90 percent of housing in Switzerland, the role of the government is to encourage the private sector to take
initiatives in this field and to help in whatever areas they can.
“Institution building is also important and we have a tradition in Switzerland of close cooperation between the government, NGOs and the private sector,” Gurtner said. He believes the Swiss emphasis on “creating effective partnerships and encouraging cooperatives which specialize in housing” can be further strengthened and could be a valuable model for housing in developing countries. “In Switzerland we have created housing finance schemes with cooperatives, which enables them to get money from capital markets,” he said.
On the issue of “the right to housing,” Gurtner said that his country considered it a social right not a human right. The government should and does provide shelter according to need.
The Swiss Constitution encourages the production of housing for the socially disadvantaged, Gurtner said, and also promotes home ownership and has measures against abuses in the rental sector and protection against evictions.
Gurtner said he believed that the Habitat document relies too heavily on government participation in housing and though developing countries do need help from the state, the document should have more of a regional outlook and not one solution for all countries because they maybe at different levels of development. On the question of financial assistance for developing countries, Gurtner said that Switzerland’s annual Official Development Assistance (ODA) of more than $1 billion already had programs for funding urban development which included clean water and providing expertise on planning of settlements.