[Dateline: Nairobi | Author: UN-HABITAT/iSeek]
Last week, UN-HABITAT launched its flagship report, State of the World's Cities 2008/2009, urging governments to provide cheaper homes for those on lower incomes. Unveiling the biennial report at a news conference in London, the Executive Director of the Nairobi-based UN agency, Ms. Anna Tibaijuka, said the supply of affordable housing could not be left entirely to the market.
The global financial crisis, the Executive Director told journalists, should be viewed as a "housing finance crisis" in which the poorest of poor were left to fend for themselves.
"Clearly you cannot have a harmonious society if people are not secure in their homes," she told reporters, referring to the situation as a recipe for riots and social upheaval.
"The financial crisis we are facing today cannot be seen as an event -- it is a process that has been building up over time and this process now has bust," noted Ms. Tibaijuka.
The report finds that half of humanity now lives in cities, and within two decades, nearly 60 per cent of the world’s people will be urban dwellers. Urban growth is most rapid in the developing world, where cities gain an average of 5 million residents every month.
As cities grow in size and population, the issues of equity and sustainability become of concern to city authorities.
According to UN-HABITAT, income distribution varies considerably among less-developed regions with the divide most noticeable in African and Latin American cities. In both regions, the gulf is often extreme compared to Europe and Asia, where urban inequality levels are relatively low.
South African cities top the list of the world’s most unequal cities, followed by Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala and Mexico. Urban inequalities in this highly unequal region are not only increasing, but are becoming more entrenched, suggesting that failures in wealth distribution are largely the result of structural or systemic flaws.
Ms. Tibaijuka said the proportion of people living in slum conditions in wealthy countries could rise because of the credit crunch. With 1 billion people already living in slums at the dawn of the new urban era, the report warned of unrest should governments fail to tackle the urban poverty crisis more seriously.
"I would not be surprised that if we did another global survey on people living in slum conditions without security of tenure, this number will have increased in developed countries as a result of this crisis."
The Executive Director said she was "not surprised that world leaders are now seizing on the matter because without leadership, without governance, it is a clear test of social tensions."