In 1985, the United Nations designated the first Monday of October of every year as World Habitat Day to reflect on the state of our habitats, and on the basic right of all to adequate shelter. The Day is also intended to remind the world that we all have the power and the responsibility to shape the future of our cities and towns.
Last year, the theme of the World Habitat Day (WHD 2022) was “Mind the Gap. Leave No One and Place Behind” which looked at the problem of growing inequality and challenges in cities and human settlements. It sought to draw attention to the growing inequalities and vulnerabilities exacerbated by the triple ‘C’ crises — ‘Covid-19, Climate and Conflict’. The 2022 theme was a clarion call to anchor and usher this year’s theme: “Resilient urban economies; cities as drivers of growth and recovery”. This theme resonates well with the hopes, aspirations and expectations of global citizens after the threatening challenges and vulnerabilities exacerbated by Covid-19, Climate and Conflicts between nations, regions and communities.
The 2023 theme confirms that despite the past development shortfalls, cities and towns have the capacity to withstand multiple challenges which make them the undisputed drivers of the growth and recovery of urban economy. For urban economy to spur, several factors come into play: The cities and towns boundaries are alienated, satellite cities emerge, new systems models and financing mechanisms are developed which all make the cities attractive destinations for new opportunities.
Social workers across the world are often involved in the mitigation of social problems and in the development of new mechanisms to support the demographic challenges associated with this growth. Their roles at times involve agitating for enactment of new land laws, land tenure systems, conflict management, addressing homelessness and overcrowded informal settlements and fragile eco-systems along parks, riverbanks and under the bridges.
Often the expanded informal settlements are a strain to the existing amenities such as schools, hospitals, water supply, sanitation, food supply and availability of employment and other income generating options. The spiral effect of this is increased urban poverty, upsurge in urban crime and deterioration in mental health for many.
IFSW strongly affirms that the benefits accruing from the growth and recovery of cities and towns must benefit all social classes and this therefore calls for a review of system models and financing mechanisms that are flexible and inclusive. In addition, we all need to build trust and collaboration between development actors, governments, civil society, private sectors and urban communities.
IFSW strongly believes that sustainable development is a journey that must be walked together, actions taken in unison and systems put in place which allows management and use of urban space, access to housing food, water and energy.
IFSW advocates communities be encouraged and supported to preserve their cultures and indigenous knowledge as a climate change mechanism.
IFSW determination and resolve in support of the need to shape new social contracts through processes, strategies and harvesting of the emerging knowledge for climate change mitigations which consider inclusivity, ethics and human rights concerns as the guiding principles.
This way, world cities which are now a home to 4.5 billion people and projected to grow by 50% by 2050 will be safe, inclusive, prosperous and a happy place to live in.
Charles Mbugua, IFSW UN Representative, UN Habitat, Nairobi