Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban-ki-Moon once stated “Our struggle for global sustainability will be won or lost in cities.” Yet, while the UN has made rhetorical progress on addressing housing, slums and urbanization through the adoption of Goal 11 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the recently adopted New Urban Agenda at Habitat III, the UN system has not made any significant advances to change their direction and focus on these issues.

Last week, over the course of two days the UN hosted a high-level meeting of governments and other stakeholders to assess UN-Habitat and begin working towards a new way the UN system addresses these issues, focusing on the recently released independent assessment report on the subject. You can read the report and a brief analysis of the report by Habitat for Humanity.

Having engaged extensively in the SDG and Habitat III processes, Habitat for Humanity participated as a stakeholder in the New York meeting. Here are a few highlights:

  • Generally, there was significant discussion related to broader reform efforts to better align with the SDGs and the lack of clarity on how UN-Habitat reforms should or could be impacted by this broader effort.
  • There is an open debate about how much UN-Habitat should focus on helping countries adopt policies or helping countries implement programs.
  • While there seems to be recognition that the UN-Habitat governance model is flawed and stakeholder engagement must be part of that model, no clear updated governance structures emerged.
  • While everyone agreed better coordination among UN agencies working in urban areas should be a priority, there is no clear path to operationalize better coordination.

Stakeholders who care about housing, slums and urbanization issues should follow this process closely and engage their own national leaders about these UN-Habitat reform discussions. 

After two days of heavy debate, the one opinion that proved to be universal was that increased attention, focus and ideas will be needed to help the UN and member states “save, stabilize and then rapidly strengthen UN-Habitat to equip it for a renewed role based on the 2030 Agenda and the New Urban Agenda.” 

If you have ideas regarding the future of UN-Habitat we encourage you to reach out to us at SolidGround@habitat.org.