The Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcena, stated that cities and housing provide an opportunity to transform the region’s development model while also strengthening democracy, safeguarding human rights and maintaining peace, in accordance with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, during today’s inauguration of the IV Latin American and Caribbean Housing and Habitat Forum, which is taking place virtually through Friday, May 21.
The senior United Nations official was one of the main speakers at the event’s opening session, along with Carlos Alvarado, President of Costa Rica; Jonathan Reckford, Chief Executive Officer of Habitat for Humanity International; and Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat.
During her presentation, delivered by video message, Alicia Bárcena emphasized that Latin America is one of the planet’s most urbanized regions, with 82% of its population living in cities and 17% of its urban population concentrated in 6 megacities that have more than 10 million inhabitants apiece.
She affirmed that COVID-19, a predominantly urban pandemic, has revealed the inequalities that plague the region’s cities more clearly than ever.
She noted that it is estimated that 1 in 5 inhabitants of Latin America and the Caribbean resides today in informal settlements – a figure that, according to ECLAC’s projections, will rise in the coming years amid greater difficulties to access formal housing, widening the already historic housing deficit that afflicts the region and increasing the vulnerability of its urban residents vis-à-vis possible future crises.
“Our cities have become a clear reflection of the economic, social and environmental gaps in development; cities are where the culture of privilege is in plain view,” she stressed.
ECLAC’s Executive Secretary stated that overcrowding affects more than 55% of poor urban households and – as indicated in the Social Panorama of Latin America 2020, which was released last March – in more than a third of those households, the situation is critical. This lack of adequate housing has exacerbated the pandemic’s effects because it hampers compliance with needed quarantines, social distancing and access to health-related measures, she added.
She said that even though urban areas have been particularly affected by the impacts of the pandemic, it is still expected that cities – as drivers of growth – will play a leading role in the recovery from the crisis.
The high-level United Nations official added that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be impossible to achieve if, in a predominantly urban region like Latin America and the Caribbean, local action is not contemplated.
“The New Urban Agenda and the Regional Action Plan for the implementation of the New Urban Agenda in Latin America and the Caribbean must be the guides for taking action in our cities, fostering a multidimensional and multi-stakeholder dialogue,” she indicated.
In her remarks, ECLAC’s highest authority affirmed that when the region speaks in unison, it rallies the international community. In 2021, the new Technical Secretariat of the Forum of Ministers and High-Level Authorities on Housing and Urban Development in Latin America and the Caribbean (MINURVI) – held jointly by ECLAC and UN-Habitat – will play a bigger role in offering strategic support to Member States in the post-COVID-19 recovery, she declared.
In that vein, she praised the creation of the Urban and Cities Platform of Latin America and the Caribbean, a tool for monitoring the implementation of the urban dimension of the 2030 Agenda, the New Urban Agenda and the Regional Action Plan, which seeks to facilitate the exchange of experiences and ideas in order to strengthen regional, national and subnational capacities for sustainable urban development and promote South-South cooperation as a horizontal learning mechanism in the region.
She also stressed the need for cities to finance their own development, through instruments that capture the increase in land value resulting from public investment and regulation.
Finally, Alicia Bárcena recalled that ECLAC proposes the Big Push for Sustainability as a path towards a better world, combining and articulating technological and industrial policies with fiscal, financial, environmental, social and regulatory policies, with the aim of increasing investment rates in key sectors in order to reduce social gaps, generate employment and boost productivity while also reducing the environmental footprint.
Based on that approach, she emphasized, the potential of such a significant urban demand as that of housing, structured and organized, both in terms of building new units as well as refurbishing and expanding housing, offers possibilities for creating or strengthening local value chains that would generate employment and significantly foster economic activity.
“It is necessary to make a resolute call to change the development model and redouble efforts aimed at a post-COVID-19 recovery guided by the principles of inclusive development, equality and sustainability,” she concluded.