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  UN in Belarus > News > around the world

UNECE ministers tackle pressing urban challenges at meeting in Geneva

Urban areas throughout the UNECE region are under strain. In West European countries, economic changes and unemployment have led to urban segregation and the emergence of deprived neighbourhoods. Residents of such neighbourhoods have limited access to public and private services, and they often feel that their personal security and safety is threatened. Tightening public budgets have resulted in less investment in housing. In a number of countries, social tensions last year led to protest and unrest.

In countries of Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA) and South-Eastern Europe (SEE), the move to a market-based economy has meant that the state no longer oversees housing policy. After mass privatization of the housing stock, today in many countries the bulk of high-rise buildings are located in an administrative no-mans land, with nobody feeling real ownership. Weak institutional, legal and financial frameworks and deficient management of the multi-family housing stock which accounts for 60 to 80 per cent of total housing stock have aggravated the situation. Basic rules of urban planning are often neglected. There is a decline in housing conditions, infrastructure and social services.

Against this background, UNECE ministers of housing, spatial planning and land management met in Geneva last week to discuss the significant challenges confronting urban areas in many countries. The meeting took place under the auspices of the intergovernmental Committee on Housing and Land Management and the chairship of Ms. Maria Antonia Trujillo Rincon, Minister of Housing of Spain (Chairperson), and Mr. Laszlo Borbely, Delegate Minister for Public Works and Territorial Planning of Romania (Vice-Chairperson).

Debates in the two panel discussions focused on questions crucial for future urban development: What can be done to alleviate social and economic exclusion? How can housing policy, urban planning and land administration help in tackling these challenges? Which legal and institutional changes have proved most effective? How can management and maintenance of the multi-family housing stock be improved? Ministers and deputy ministers, representatives from around 40 countries, and international and non-governmental organizations are participating in the debate.

The meeting adopted a Ministerial Declaration on Social and Economic Challenges in Distressed Urban Areas in the UNECE Region. The Declaration reconfirms the goals and challenges of the UNECE Strategy for a Sustainable Quality of Life in Human Settlements in the Twenty-First Century, which was adopted at the Ministerial Meeting in 2000. Ministers commited themselves to contributing to social cohesion, development of social and affordable housing, effective management of multi-family housing estates and the achievement of good practices in land management and spatial planning. It was also stressed that urban development needs to be integrated with other policy areas like education, employment, health and transport. The decisions taken will guide the Committees work in the next five years.

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