Issues Home About Contact Us Issue 14 - May 2016 ΪΡΘμ
Regional Developments

Arab States’ Regional Habitat III Report

HIC-HLRN was represented at the 11–12 January 2016 Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on the draft Habitat III report for the Arab region, organized by UN-Habitat Regional Office for Arab States (Cairo), New York-based Habitat III Secretariat, and UN ESCWA (Beirut).HLRN Legal Researcher Ahmed Mansour reported on his experience as “one of the most productive events that I ever have participated in, sharing knowledge with the professionals and experts on habitat issues from our region and other countries.”

The program of the meeting involved a review and evaluation of each section of the draft regional report. The report was organized according to the six-point outline that Habitat III Secretariat provided to UN-Habitat Regional Offices and UN Regional Commissions. However, the drafting team also added subthemes that address regional specificity and priorities as they perceived them. Within each section, the regional report addressed the sub regions as:

•   Mashraq (Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syrian Arab Republic)

•   Maghrib (Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Mauritania)

•   Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates)

•   Southern countries (Comoros, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen).

Forthcoming on the final draft will be an Executive Summary and a final section 7. Conclusion and Recommendations, including policy recommendations, on the three drivers and scenarios for the urban future of the region: A. Urban planning, B. Urban economy/prosperity and C. Urban legislation/institutions.

The organizers had invited HIC-HLRN to make a presentation on the sections addressing land. Participant feedback indicated that the presentation was useful and effective at reminding all present of the basics of the Habitat Agenda and its land administration-related commitments to be considered among the issues involved and values at stake in Habitat III. Although the allotted time of five minutes was not sufficient to cover all of the issues, Mr. Mansour summarized comments on both the draft regional report, in general, as well as the observations concerning land use and administration.

At the EGM, the participants repeatedly criticized the draft regional report for its failures to develop the essential issues, including those set out in the terms of reference, in particular:

  • Human right based-approach;
  • Woman and gender “equality,” specifically the right of property;
  • Refugees/migrants rights to housing, work;
  • Local governance and participation;
  • Land management.

The head of the drafting team, Dr. Mona Serageldin, an expert in urban development issues, was primarily responsible for drafting and finalizing the regional report. She addressed observations from the EGM participants about the report’s lack of consideration to either the relevant human rights principles or the commitments and objectives of Habitat II Agenda, both of which were central to the stated objectives of the report. Dr. Serag eldin’s presentation and report also left open the discussion of strategies or policies needed to remedy the structural challenges cited in the report. During the debate on the report themes, she explained that the guidelines of the report accompanied instructions from the organizers “to give an overview about the regional situation and try to show a positive evaluation as much as you can.” Therefore, most of the participants agreed that the draft report covered the symptoms and statistics, but still needs to consider the root causes of the habitat challenges in order to be relevant to the policy-level deliberations of Habitat III.

Despite the holistic concept of “habitat,”as affirmed in previous Habitat Agendas (1976 and 1996), it is becoming clear that UN-Habitat leadership and the Habitat III Secretariat are suppressing the integrated planning approach of the past in pursuit of an exclusive “urban” agenda at Habitat III. In the debate, Dyfed Aubrey, Director of the Regional Office for Arab States (ROAS), also supported a more holistic vision. As the habitual term “habitat” upholds that inclusive approach and is not exclusive to urban areas, Mr Mansour promoted the inclusion the urban-rural linkages as one of the six key messages (see below) that the regional report was supposed to present.

HIC-HLRN was the only participant presenting observations on local finance systems and the commitments of Habitat I and Habitat II to enhance resources and revenue distributionthrough land-value capture. “This especially deserves evaluation before going to Habitat III for the many lessons to be derived from the practice of those states that actually pursued such policies of value sharing,” Ahmed Mansour argued.

The reviewers gathered at Cairo found the environment section of the regional report especially useful and informative. HIC-HLRN pointed out the need to provide analysis of the process of river diversions and mega-dam construction in the region for their effects on the water systems and resources in urban and rural areas, in particular drought in several parts of the region. However, Dr. Serag eldin dismissed the issue as “another context, subject to international agreements and conventions between the countries in the region.”

Previous Habitat Agendas took relevant international treaties into account. The Habitat Agenda also invoked seven binding international treaties, including human rights covenants and conventions, and the relevant other commitments of states related to the continuous improvement of living conditions.

The other voice from civil society, Ziad Abdul-Samad, coordinator of the Arab NGO Network for Development, presented general comments on the report, focusing on women issues and democratization on the local level, as well as the need to restore human rights language and content in the report. Ziad also identified the need to address and evaluate the situation of social protection.

[See ANND’s recent publication: “Monitoring Economic and Social Rights in the Arab Countries and Social Protection: The Other Face of the Crisis of the State” (Arabic) and the chapter by HIC-HLRN’s Joseph Schechla on “Social Protection in North Africa” (Arabic and Englishversionsavailable).]

Dr. Mona Burisli, advisor to the Secretary-General of Arab Towns Organization, provided very important inputs related to the report sections on Urbanization and Economy. She focused on the priorities of legislation reform, the human right to information, youth employment, and the need for an evaluation of women’s rights, not only women’s rights in land and property, which also is missing in the report.

Finally, the expert meeting concluded by proposing six key messages to the global process and regional policy recommendations to be highlighted in the final report, which the Habitat III Secretariat is expected to issue soon.

I.   Conflict and migration

a.  occupation, settlement issues

b.  conflict, forced displacement and migration

c.  …

II.  Urban governance

a.  decentralization

b.  participation and civic engagement, democratization and rights based approach

c.  provision of basic services and social protection (health, education); PPP

d.  awareness and capacity building

e.  ICT (e-governance, smart cities)

f.   …

III. Environment and climate change

a.  urban resilience and resource management

b.  green agenda (air pollution, water supply, sanitation, climate change)

c.  brown agenda – human environment (land use management, energy, green buildings/ communities, mobility/ transportation)

d.  green economy

e.  disaster risk management

f.   …

IV.        Urban economy and employment

a.  Employment and informal sector

b.  decentralization and municipal finance

c.  …

V. Housing and informal settlements

a.  demand and supply

b.  …

VI.Urban planning (national, regional, local)

a.  Planning for future growth (coping with informal growth, policy development, …)

b.  Metropolitan planning and governance

c.  Rural-urban linkages

d.  Public spaces

e.  …

The EGM recommended also that the report include a “chapeau,” addressing cross-cutting issues, including equity and inclusive cities, human rights based approach, gender equality and women empowerment, persons with disabilities (equal opportunities), youth development.

At the last UN-Habitat Governing Council session (17–23 April 2015), Iraq submitted a resolution on Habitat III, subsequently adopted, encouraging member states to incorporate several concepts into national preparations for the conference: “the role of sustainable urbanization as a driver of sustainable development, rural-urban linkages and the inter-linkages among the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable urbanization and human settlements in the formulation of policies, plans and programmes at the local, national and international levels...”(para 1).

That Habitat III resolution also urged member states “to expedite and finalize their national reports for the Habitat III Conference, using as required assistance and support from UN-Habitat, and encourages the participation of at all levels of government and other stakeholders, including throughNational Habitat Committees as appropriate” (para. 3).

The UN-Habitat regional offices and UN Regional Economic and Social Commissions assumed the responsibility for drafting the regional reports to Habitat III, which will form the basis for a global Habitat III report for the October 2016 Habitat III Summit. Theoretically, the national Habitat III reports were to form the basis for the regional and global composite reports. In the region, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Sudan have presented formal drafts or final national reports. However, it seems that no state in the region has yet formed a National Habitat Committee and if formed, as in the case of Egypt, the civil society was not included, for this purpose, applying the participatory guidelines proffered by UN Habitat.


Download the following related documents:

Habitat III Regional Report for the Arab Region (2nd draft)

HIC-HLRN’s Notes on Draft 2 of Habitat III Regional Report for the Arab Region

HIC-HLRN’s observations specific to Land in the Habitat III Regional Reporting for Arab Region

UN-Habitat: Critical Debate @ Governing Council


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