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UN holds first habitat assembly to address global urbanization challenges

NAIROBI, May 27 (Xinhua) -- The first session of the UN-Habitat Assembly opened Monday in the Kenyan capital Nairobi as participants gather to discuss ways of improving quality of life in cities and communities amid the rapid global urbanization.

The assembly, the world's highest-level decision-making body on sustainable human settlements and urbanization, has "innovation for a better quality of life in cities and communities" as its theme for its first session. It runs through May 31 and is expected to be attended by over 3,000 delegates, including four heads of state, over 40 ministers and high-level representatives from 116 countries.

Speaking at the opening ceremony on Monday, UN-Habitat Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif, said that 70 percent of the world's population is projected to live in urban areas by 2050, and this may pose challenges for some nations in providing basic services such as housing, transport, energy, employment, education, and health care.

She warned that the increasing urbanization may also give rise to new development problems, including extreme poverty, social inequality, slum, gender-based discrimination, humanitarian crisis, climate change, high unemployment, among others.

"For this reason, I appeal strongly to position sustainable urbanization at the center of development priorities, implement new urban agenda, strengthen the urban governance structure and institutions and adopt integrated sustainable urban development policies," she told her audience.

"We need sustainable urbanization to ensure successful and long-term development. Therefore, understanding the trend in urbanization and how it will likely unfold is crucial for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development," she added.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a video message delivered to the assembly that the first session of the UN-Habitat Assembly seeks to discuss ways of improving quality of life in cities and communities.

He said that well-planned and managed cities will lead to inclusive growth, sustainable and low-emission development, while rapid and unplanned urbanization generates severe problems, including pollution, crime, inequality, disease, vulnerability, disaster, lack of affordable housing, among others.

He, however, said that the urbanization also presented "great opportunities" in that globally, 60 percent of the urban infrastructure needed by 2030 is yet to be built.

At Monday's opening ceremony, Martha Delgado Peralta, the Mexico government's undersecretary for multilateral affairs and human rights, was elected to be president of the first session of the UN-Habitat Assembly.

She said that she would do her best with the assistance and cooperation of stakeholders to work toward the objectives of the assembly and the sustainable development goals of the United Nations 2030 development agenda.

In his opening remarks, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta urged all stakeholders to support the work of the UN-Habitat, noting that the implementation of the New Urban Agenda has been slow partly because of financial and institutional constraints at the global body as well as member states' insufficient capacity to interpret, implement and report on the progress of the urban agenda.

Kenyatta said societies are ill-prepared to plan effectively for the rapid urbanization that is taking place.
"Addressing these challenges calls for collective international action informed by scientific research, technological and innovations," Kenyatta said when he officially opened the inaugural session of the UN-Habitat.

During the first session, the assembly is expected to establish the Executive Board of UN-Habitat and elect its members, to review and approve the UN-Habitat Strategic Plan 2020-2025 and also review the progress in implementation of New Urban Agenda.

The assembly is also attended by United Nations agencies, local authorities and non-state actors including civil society, youth and women group representatives, the private sector and the academia.