World Must Come to Aid of Urban Poor, UN Official Says
VANCOUVER, British Columbia With the growth of the world's cities inevitable, governments must show they have the political will to help the urban poor, the head of U.N. Human Settlements Program said Monday.
"The problem is not the funds. The problem is the political will to provide for everyone," Anna Tibaijuka told a news conference at the start of the third World Urban Forum in Vancouver.
The meeting of more than 8,000 urban planners, politicians and academics comes in the wake of a United Nations' report that warns that the growing number of poor slum dwellers is a ticking time bomb that cannot be ignored.
The report, released last week, said the world will reach a key point next year when the majority of the globe's population will be urbanized, although many who moved to cities to escape rural poverty are now worse off.
Tibaijuka said that since it is people's expectations that are driving them to move to larger cities, there is nothing that can stop them, but aid programs that are now targeting mostly rural poverty may have to be overhauled.
And unless politicians see the urban poor as an asset whose improved well-being will help fuel national economic growth, "we will not solve the problem," she said.
The week-long Vancouver conference will address issues ranging from how to promote environmentally sustainable development to improving safety and security.
Canada is often cited as having some of the world's most livable cities, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that did not mean they have avoided problems such as drugs and crime.
"Like any natural resource (cities) must be tended for future generations," Harper said.
U.S. Housing and Urban Development chief Alphonso Jackson used his opening remarks to promote private home ownership as the key to improving economic conditions for the world's urban poor.
"Home ownership will make our cities stronger, safer and more prosperous," Jackson said.