Advocacy, Human Rights, and Urban Poverty Reduction
Preliminary Reflections on Habitat's Global Campaigns and the Cities Alliance
by Szilard Fricska, Raf Tuts, and Chris Williams
As described elsewhere in this edition of Habitat Debate, international development cooperation agencies confront several problems in their efforts to reduce urban poverty. They address the technical and managerial elements, but with less focus directed to the politics that underlie these. Thus they view development interventions more as projects to be executed than as long-term processes requiring lengthier, more innovative investments. Similarly, development agencies confine their support to governments without also engaging women's groups, the organized poor and their respective alliances with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local governments. External interventions are based on the priorities of development agencies, rather than also on the existing, demonstrated efforts of local actors. Further, development agencies compete rather than collaborate with one another. They lack mechanisms to consolidate disparate interventions and to link these effectively to the initiatives of the urban poor.
UNCHS (Habitat) is no exception to the rule and like other multilateral agencies, struggles to contend with obstacles that impede its efforts to reduce urban poverty. The Centre has recently attempted to address such limitations by introducing Global Campaigns and by establishing a partnership with the World Bank and other development agencies, known as the Cities Alliance. The Global Campaigns and the Cities Alliance are in their infancy. However, a preliminary review of these emerging initiatives indicates possibilities for fostering inter-agency coordination.
Towards a Normative, Rights-Based Approach to Urban Poverty Reduction
At its Seventeenth Session in 1999, the Commission on Human Settlements adopted a New Vision Statement for UNCHS (Habitat). Crafted to orient a wider process of re-vitalization, it charts a new course for the Centre by articulating a normative, rights-based approach to urban poverty reduction. Member States reinforced their commitment to the Vision Statement by endorsing three new initiatives linked by their common goal to reduce urban poverty: the Global Campaign for Secure Tenure, the Global Campaign for Urban Governance and the Cities Alliance (launched in partnership with the World Bank).
The Global Campaign for Secure Tenure promotes the security of tenure of the urban poor. The absence of the threat of eviction stimulates incentives for investment -- of slum dwellers, public authorities, and private individuals and corporations. Security of tenure improves access of slum dwellers to urban basic services and credit. It can as well formalize government's recognition of slum dwellers including their right to organize and make claims on and negotiate the use of public resources. The Global Campaign recognizes that, in many cases, the urban poor are not passively waiting for solutions from the Government, the private sector or non-governmental organizations (NGOs). They are finding their own solutions ¾ solutions that the Global Campaign seeks to learn from and support.
The Global Campaign for Urban Governance promotes inclusive decision-making as a strategic entry point to urban poverty reduction. Firmly grounded in human rights, the Global Campaign promotes the right to development and the civil and political right of participation. In practical terms, inclusive processes of decision-making are recognized as the best means for the effective use of scarce development resources, for the equitable distribution of the benefits of development, and for ensuring the sustainability of hard-won benefits. The Global Campaign is committed to working with local governments and their associations to explore mechanisms for involving the urban poor, particularly women, in the decisions that affect their lives and their city.
The Cities Alliance aims to improve the impact of international development cooperation efforts to reduce urban poverty. It is recognized that there is not enough to show for the money invested to date in urban development, and that correcting the past is about engaging and learning from the urban poor and from their partnerships with government at all levels. The Cities Alliance regards such engagement as necessary for improving the quality of living and working conditions of the urban poor. The Cities Alliance is focusing its operational efforts on two vehicles: slum upgrading and city development strategies, which are linked to the Global Campaigns and to the twin mandates of UNCHS (Habitat) -- "Shelter for All" and "Sustainable Urban Development."
New Actors, New Political Forums
On 16 July 2000, in Mumbai, India, 3,000 members of the National Slum Dweller Federation (NSDF), and a support NGO, SPARC, organized together with UNCHS (Habitat) the Inaugural Launch of the Global Campaign for Secure Tenure. Three months later, on 1 October, 7,000 members of the South African Homeless People’s Federation (SAHPF) and a support NGO, The People’s Dialogue, organized with UNCHS (Habitat) a similar launch in Durban, South Africa. Participating in the events of the slum dwellers in Mumbai and Durban were the respective central government ministers, provincial officials, mayors, dignitaries of Member States, and representatives from the World Bank and other multilateral and bilateral agencies. The events culminated in the signing of memoranda of understanding between UNCHS and the respective slum-dweller federations in terms of which the latter will promote the Global Campaign in partnership with all levels of government.
As political forums, the two launches of the Global Campaign provided important opportunities for addressing urban poverty. Because the events were organized under the auspices of the United Nations by the slum dwellers (most of whom are members of women's saving associations), the role of the government and the external support organizations was re-oriented. The policy-maker and professional practitioner were participating in a process that was organized by the urban poor with United Nations blessing. Debate about how best to improve basic services, generate income, secure tenure, etc. took place on a level playing field. Women in particular, and slum dwellers generally, were recognized political players.
The presence of large numbers of slum dwellers created the conditions for a different kind of discussion among external support agencies. As participants in a process organized by slum dwellers, representatives of different external support agencies found themselves responding, rather than controlling. Importantly, their attempts to respond engendered cooperation, and a level of solidarity necessary to speak in one voice about how they intended to contribute, financially, politically, and substantively.
Linking Norms and Practices
Under the auspices of the Global Campaign for Urban Governance, UNCHS (Habitat) and its partners are developing universal norms of good urban governance, including sustainability, decentralization, equity, efficiency, transparency and accountability, civic engagement and security. Each norm is responsive to the issues of the urban poor and the element of inclusiveness permeates them all. To begin to translate the norms from concept to reality, the municipal authority of Hangzhou, China, hosted an international meeting in October 2000. Cities from wide-ranging socio-economic and cultural contexts demonstrated how they apply governance norms to improve the quality of urban life. Successful outcomes of innovations in areas such as participatory budgeting (Porto Alegre), legal empowerment for effective citizen participation (Naga City) and inclusive approaches towards preventing urban violence (Dar es Salaam) were showcased. The meeting also initiated the establishment of a network of illustrative cities that are committed to advance urban governance and share their experience with others facing similar challenges.
Several countries are now determining in which normative areas the campaign can add most value to their efforts to develop their cities. A tool kit is being produced to support these local commitments and to facilitate the integration of technical cooperation activities in the Global Campaign. This tool kit is linked intimately to the governance norms and will bring together a wealth of practical methods to realize sustainable urban development.
Consolidating Political Commitment and Practical Innovation
On 13 June 2000, in Montreal, Canada, the Consultative Steering Group of the Cities Alliance adopted a new "Vision Statement." Representatives from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the UK and the USA agreed to commit the members of the Cities Alliance to support new forms of partnership between governments, cities and organizations of the urban poor. Examples of such partnerships in Johannesburg, Colombo, San Salvador, Mumbai and Phnom Penh were presented on 12 June 2000, at the first ever Cities Alliance Public Policy Forum. The examples highlighted the importance of the political dimension of city development strategies and settlement upgrading.
At the recent Millennium Summit, Heads of State and representatives of Government endorsed the goal of achieving "a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020." High-level support of this kind demonstrates the political will that exists to prioritize slum upgrading and to mobilize resources for urban poverty reduction.
Financial support of donor countries to the Cities Alliance provides an opportunity for innovative programming for slum upgrading and city development. While the Cities Alliance is only approving its second set of proposals, the criteria used to evaluate the proposals are encouraging. The criteria include among others: involvement of the organized poor and local government in project design, implementation and evaluation; prioritization of women, women's issues, and women leadership; and demonstrated inter-agency cooperation.
Opportunities and Challenges Ahead
The Global Campaigns and the Cities Alliance mark the beginnings of a new chapter in the efforts of UNCHS (Habitat) to reduce urban poverty. As instruments of advocacy and human rights, the Global Campaigns address directly the politics of urban poverty and exclusion, particularly evictions, relocations, political patronage, and the rights of the poor to the city. The Global Campaigns are led by the United Nations, but are not run by it. The organized poor, support NGOs, and local governments and their associations organize launches and follow-up actions "in the name of the Global Campaigns." Devolution of this kind, de-centres multilateral and bilateral agencies, forcing them institutionally to respond to the priorities of local actions, rather than to control the terms of development.
Despite signs of optimism, however, these initiatives have much further to go. The Global Campaigns have created norms, political spaces and political will, but there is uncertainty as to how the rhetoric of human rights will meet the financial reality of basic needs. The political umbrella of the Global Campaigns has been effective in drawing a wide range of partners. Indeed, a pattern of widespread endorsement is emerging, coupled with practical implementation measures with distinct regional and national flavour.
However, there is need to understand better the ultimate impact of secure tenure and urban governance on urban poverty reduction, and to identify practical tools for settlements and cities to measure progress, preferably tools designed through a consensus among slum dwellers and urban managers. There is need to institutionalize mechanisms for sharing innovative slum upgrading and governance practices, building upon existing peer-learning networks of federations of slum dwellers and associations of local governments. Strategic choices need to be made to strengthen the capacity of key change agents, including development agencies, the organized poor, and associations of local governments.
In summary, the Global Campaigns and the Cities Alliance suggest the emergence of a powerful, two-step vehicle for coordinating multilateral and bilateral development agencies and directing their support to the urban poor. Potential support for slum upgrading and city development strategies based on partnerships between the organized urban poor and government at all levels signals a possible departure from "business as usual."
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