The Director of the UNESCWA Sustainable Development and Productivity Division, Ms. Anhar Hegazi today said, “Despite the achievements of Arab countries in answering the basic needs of their populations, including providing housing, infrastructure, and social and service sectors as well as ensuring the continuity of these efforts, the absence of equal rights and the gap in answering the basic needs of various social segments represents a major threat to development results and to achieving sustainability. It also leads to instability and to social imbalances so costly as to outstrip the budget originally set for them by the governments.”
Hegazi was delivering a statement on behalf of UNESCWA Executive Secretary Mervat Tallawy at the opening of the Arab Regional Conference for the Ten Year Review and Appraisal of the Outcome of HABITAT II “Ten Years after Istanbul: Call for Equity” that is due to continue until 13 April at the UN House, Beirut. Statements were also delivered by Mr. Ali Shabou, head of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) in Amman, Jordan, and Mr. Gamal El-Din Gaballah, head of the Arab League's Department of Environment, Human Settlement and Housing.
Hegazi said UNESCWA affirms the need to formulate an Arab vision on urban issues and sustainable development that can be used in future strategies and policies on housing and urbanization in the countries of the region. For his part, Shabou said, “Cities are a source of attraction for millions of people searching for employment opportunities or for means of improving their living conditions. Cities have always been the major engine for growth and incubator for the hopes of the poor. It is there that innovation can be found in human creativity, culture and art. The cities that achieve increased growth and creativity typically shape and create new modes of behavior that are more conducive to a homogenous society capable of resolving its differences through dialogue.” Gaballah said, “The winds of political, social and economic reform are blowing over the Arab region. There is no justification for retreating on this. Instead, the peoples and states of the region have a national, political determination and consciousness of the need to confront global and regional challenges, with the caveat that this change happens gradually in line with convictions that are independent of outside influence. This is a clear indication that the Arab countries, without exception, have begun to take measures towards change in the Arab social and economic reality. The Arab reform sector is taking steady, objective steps that take into account the internal, regional and global conditions in each country. The degree of change might vary from one country to the other but the overall trend is towards comprehensive and permanent change.”
UNESCWA is exhibiting publications entitled “Ten Years after Istanbul: Call for Equity” that feature the major achievements of Arab countries in implementation of the HABITAT II agenda in the region during the period 1996-2006. The exhibit includes posters, schemes, films, and publications on four prominent themes: the award on the reconstruction of Beirut that was called for by UNESCWA and delivered by UN-HABITAT to former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri; the achievements of the Foundation of HM Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz in memory of his parents towards development housing; best practices in projects to upgrade slums in Egypt, namely in historical areas, and elaborate on the best practices of Ashouka social practitioners; and the 2002 Dubai Prize for Best Practices that went to the Deir el Ahmar Women’s League in North Bekaa, Lebanon.
The conference brings together ministers and officials concerned with the issue of housing, municipalities, and local governance in the Arab region, including: Mr. Sadek bin Amin Abu Rass, Minister of Local Administration in Yemen; Mr. Husni Abou Ghida, Minister of Public Works and Housing in Jordan; Mr. Abdel Baset Spedrat, Minister of Federal Governance in Sudan; Ahmed Toufic Hujeira, Minister-designate for Housing in Morocco; Mr. Khalil Hajal, Director-General of Administrations and Local Council in the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities in Lebanon; Mr. Saif bin Mohammed Al-Shbibi, Deputy Minister of Housing in Oman, and Mr. Toufic Al Bedeiri, Director-General of the Palestinian General Administration for Urban Planning. A number of Governors, Heads of Municipalities, consultants and academics dealing with issues of housing and urban development, intellectuals, and related media will be participating in the conference. They are joined by representatives of local authorities, non-governmental organizations, private businesses, regional organizations, UN bodies, as well as Arab, regional and international donors.