Habitat III: The buzz word is “implementation” – but will anything really change?


Quito, Ecuador, Quito | October 17th, 2016

Quito Habitat IIIThis week in Quito, the UN Secretary General and delegations from around the world are gathering for the Habitat III conference, and to sign up to the “New Urban Agenda”. This is the first all-UN meeting since the SDGs were agreed and the Paris Climate Agreement was signed. It is a once-in-twenty years opportunity for all member states to agree to a more sustainable, equitable, resilient future for the world’s cities and urban spaces.

Practical Action is here, speaking at events, and as a member of the General Assembly of Partners, and the World Urban Campaign. We are talking about a greater voice for slum dwellers and the informal sector based on our urban water, sanitation and waste management work. A team from our Latin America office are here talking about the great work we do on disaster risk reduction in urban contexts in general, and as part of the Zurich flood resilience alliance.

Unlike many UN negotiations, the debate here is less about agreeing the fine details of the text, and more about what will follow. The buzz word everywhere is about ‘implementation’. We need to move from discussion to putting this new agreement into practice on the ground. And the need for that is enormous. The world’s urban populations continue to grow, and with it urban inequalities and the number people living in dire poverty is also growing. People continue to settle on lands which are at risk of natural disasters. And at the same time, evictions of slum dwellers continue, sometimes in the name of development.

facilitators-raju_origThis stunning set of photographs taken by women slum dwellers as part of a PhD project we are jointly supporting with the Bartlett Centre, UCL, shows some of the daily struggles of accessing water in Kathmandu.

The Habitat III process is calling for ‘implementation’ and Practical Action among many others is already implementing work in the spirit of the New Urban Agenda: making space for the voices of slum dwellers and informal workers, ensuring they can live with dignity and without fear in safer, cleaner environments. We were already doing this, and will continue to do this.

Home in a slum in Faridpur, proud of their community

Home in a slum in Faridpur, proud of their community

So what added value with having a global agreement bring? Past agreements of this sort provided some added leverage for a few years, and then were largely forgotten, having very little influence. First, it is only if this agreement can be tied both to the SDGs and to global accountability mechanisms that it will really have some traction. Second, it needs to be localised and made real not at the level of national governments, but for local authorities and city leaders.

The agreement requires a report on progress to the UN General Assembly every four years, feeding into the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development as a way of ensuring coherence with the Sustainable Development Goals. But will this really be enough to ensure progress? So for all the excitement of a global agreement being signed this week, this is surely just the start. Much work remains to be done to lock-in the good words and turn them into something meaningful.

Practical Action at Habitat III

Tuesday 18th: 8-10am, National Library CSO Stakeholder Roundtable

Tuesday 18th: 8-9am R7 Building Inclusive and Resilient Cities for the urban poor to withstand natural disasters. Practical Action Peru DRR lead Pedro Ferradas talking about our experiences of DRR and reducing vulnerabilities.

Wednesday 19th: 9:30-10:30 R12 Practical Action side event: Slum Dwellers, youth, city-wide planning and accelerating urban service delivery together with DPU and World Vision International.

Video of Lucy speaking about the issues that matter to Practical Action as part of the World Urban Campaign.

 

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