Myanmar has joined the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development with a large delegation headed by HE U Win Khaing, Minister of Construction, in Quito, Ecuador from 17 to 20 October. The conference – known as Habitat 3 – is a platform for the United Nation’s member states to affirm their commitment to the New Urban Agenda, one which realizes the Sustainable Development Goal of inclusive, resilient, and sustainable cities. Habitat III offered a unique opportunity to discuss the important challenge of how cities, towns, and villages are planned and managed in order to fulfill their role as drivers of sustainable development, and hence shape the implementation of new global development and climate change goals.
On its opening day, the Habitat III Conference welcomed 30,000 people, of which 25,000 attended the different events at the Casa de la Cultura. The representatives from Member States and relevant stakeholders, including parliamentarians, civil society organizations, regional, local government and municipality representatives, professionals and researchers, academia, foundations, women and youth groups, trade unions, and private sector, as well as organizations of the United Nations system and inter-governmental organizations attended.
H.E. U Win Khaing affirmed Myanmar’s commitment to the New Urban Agenda through a number of priority programs addressing urban development in Myanmar, including “…the launch of the Million Houses Programme, the development of the National Urban Policy with ‘housing for all’ at its center, a pro-poor National Housing Policy, the development of a new National Urban and Regional Development Law and a National Housing Law.” Besides these programs, efforts are being put forth to planned city extensions in order to accommodate future growth. However H.E. U Win Khaing emphasized the importance of balanced urban growth, commenting that “Myanmar is a deeply agricultural country, with strong ties to the land. We will nurture these ties, and increase rural standards of living, rather than encourage mass migration to the cities.”
Making the New Urban Agenda a cornerstone of participatory, integrated and sustainable urban development is the core message from the opening of Habitat III. “Cities and towns have an immense role to play in ending poverty and building inclusive societies that promote participation by all,” said Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary-General. “It is clear that transforming our world for the better means transforming our towns and cities. That means better urban governance, planning and design. It also means more investment in adequate and affordable housing, quality infrastructure and basic services. And it means engaging women and girls in making towns and cities safer and more productive for all.”
Minister U Win Khaing joined this vision when he stated that “… the future shape of cities will be a key to many other sustainable development agendas, including the environment, the climate change, education, sanitation and health.” The approach of the UN-Habitat in Myanmar also aligns this statement, by the implementation of the ‘People’s Process’ in a lot of programmes, the inclusion of training sessions throughout a wide variety of projects and the focus on building local capacity.
“The New Urban Agenda is a vision for a better and greener urban future where everybody has access to the benefits of urbanization – A vision where all persons are able to enjoy equal rights and fundamental freedoms, including gender equality, guided by the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and grounded in the Universal Human Rights” said Dr. Joan Clos, Habitat III Secretary General, and Executive Director of UN-Habitat. “Leaving no one behind” is a priority shared by the Member States, with a strong commitment towards the creation of basic services and the promotion of better urban planning in order to reduce, over the medium and long term, the number of urban dwellers still living in slums or informal settlements. This concern was also shared by Minister U Win Khaing, who concluded his speech with stating that “The New Urban Agenda should become a milestone in ensuring a sustainable, inclusive and prosperous future, leaving no one behind.”
UN Habitat is supporting the Government of Myanmar in implementing the New Urban Agenda. In the wake of cyclone Nargis, one of this century’s greatest disasters, UN-Habitat was one of the first agencies to enter Myanmar, and had a central and enduring role in providing housing and shelter for years afterwards. Its work today extends to critical land administration and management, ensuring that our cities are resilient and disaster-resistant, helping address the mounting issues of slums and housing, affordability and providing extensive support of the establishment of a national urban planning system, through training, guidelines and policy support. In addition to a wide variety of community-driven, resilience-oriented and housing programmes, UN-Habitat has been assisting is the development of the National Urban Policy.