Working with UN-HABITAT to further the MDGs -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Working with UN-HABITAT to further the MDGs

By Jane Katz

Habitat for Humanity and UN-HABITAT (United Nations Human Settlements Programme) entered into a formal Agreement of Cooperation on Sept. 15, 2004, at the World Urban Forum II in Barcelona to work together to address urban poverty and post-conflict and disaster-related reconstruction issues around the world.

In her remarks at the signing event, Anna Tibaijuka, undersecretary of the United Nations and executive director of UN-HABITAT, said, “This collaboration is an important step towards meeting the World Millennium Development Goals of halving the number of poor by 2015 and in improving living conditions among slum dwellers.” She went on to say, “From policy-level decisions to the implementation of strategies, the combined experience of UN-HABITAT and Habitat for Humanity International will be a powerful force to meet the challenges of slum upgrading and providing decent housing in cities all over the world.”

Since then, Habitat for Humanity and UN-HABITAT have explored ways to enhance this collaboration and build upon the strengths each brings to the partnership.


Why UN-HABITAT? As a strategic partner, our missions are closely aligned as international organizations fighting poverty and bringing people out of slum living conditions. We have often been confused with each other in that we have similar names and founding dates, and a global presence. Rather than continuing to explain the differences, we joined forces to work together on mutual goals. UN-HABITAT is the United Nation’s coordination agency for human settlements. It is mandated by the U.N. General Assembly to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all. Established in December 1977, UN-HABITAT is headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, and is the focal point for monitoring, evaluating and assisting member states in implementing Goal 7, Target 11, of the Millennium Development Goals to improve the conditions of 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020, and Target 10 which calls for the reduction by half of the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water.

Collaborating with UN-HABITAT

The Agreement of Cooperation provides a framework for collaborative efforts where the interests and priorities of both organizations coincide. National offices are encouraged to meet with and identify joint opportunities, which are then implemented through local agreements. Some of these activities may include, but are not limited to:

  • Raise the visibility of housing issues in the international policy arena;
  • Address housing construction, site selection, housing finance, etc., and provide basic human and sanitary conditions in slum and post-conflict areas;
  • Make needed infrastructure enhancements in slum and war-torn areas;
  • Help build the capacity of local organizations to address poverty and housing needs in developing countries;
  • Collaborate on research efforts and data collection regarding the prevalence of slums and related poverty housing issues; and
  • Increase global awareness of poverty living conditions through international training sessions, conferences and workshops.

Across the globe, we are finding ways to carry out the intentions of this collaboration and to further the MDGs. Both organizations are encouraging field offices to meet with their counterparts wherever possible and to support each others’ local efforts. Some of these joint activities follow:

Advocacy and outreach

World Habitat Day:
HFH held a World Habitat Day event in New York City on Oct. 3, 2005, working closely with UN-HABITAT, the Center for Sustainable Urban Development, part of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and the Rockefeller Foundation. World Habitat Day seeks to raise awareness of the state of human settlements and the basic right to adequate shelter for all. The event brought together U.N. diplomats and representatives from civil society and the faith community to volunteer alongside Habitat homeowner families at a build site in Harlem. This was followed by a discussion with Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute and the U.N. Millennium Project and special adviser to the U.N. secretary-general on the MDGs, and Jonathan Reckford on the global theme “The Millennium Development Goals and the City,” where attendees learned how urban partnerships are advancing the MDGs around the world.

In 2006, the U.N. and Habitat’s global observance of World Habitat Day was held in Naples, Italy, on Oct. 4 with the theme of “Cities, Magnets of Hope.” Habitat for Humanity encouraged HFH affiliates and partners to participate in their cities to bring awareness of the issues surrounding migration of populations into towns and cities.

Hearings on housing and urbanization issues in Africa:
As part of the efforts to raise the visibility of housing issues and advocate for the urban poor, HFHI and UN-HABITAT were invited to brief members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee African Affairs Subcommittee on housing and urbanization issues in Africa on May 4, 2006, along with the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Working closely on coordinating messages and vision, Tibaijuka and Reckford gave pressing testimony on the implications of slum conditions of the urban poor and, through photos and examples, the need to address the challenges of urbanization, secure tenure and more funding to support the critical housing needs in Africa.

World Urban Forum III, 30th Anniversary:
HFHI played a major role in UN-HABITAT’s World Urban Forum III held in Vancouver in June of this year. To commemorate the opening of the forum, leaders from HFHI and its national office in Canada joined Anna Tibaijuka at a Habitat build site. The theme of the forum, hosted by the government of Canada, was “Our Future: Sustainable Cities — Turning Ideas into Action.” The Burnaby build site, where a 27-townhome complex is under construction near Vancouver, illustrates HFH’s contribution to sustainable cities. In celebration of its 30th anniversary, HFH compiled examples of 30 initiatives that highlighted the organization’s efforts to provide housing solutions toward eradicating poverty housing worldwide. Jonathan Reckford welcomed Anna Tibaijuka and UN-HABITAT staff to the build site. In her remarks, she noted the continuing collaboration of both organizations, “I applaud our partnership with Habitat for Humanity,” said Tibaijuka at the Burnaby build site. “Housing problems exist in both rich and poor countries. This project illustrates a best practice of Habitat for Humanity; they deliver. I have the pleasure of visiting Habitat for Humanity houses around the world — in Indonesia, Africa, Europe and Latin America. Habitat for Humanity is an agency that has reached the world with housing.”

Working with the International Housing Coalition, HFHI and its partners worked to get housing as a primary theme at the forum and secured the agreement of UN-HABITAT and World Urban Forum III staff for the IHC to sponsor 12 workshops on various housing issues and topics. HFH had a display prominently positioned in the exhibit hall and, with HFH Vancouver, held a public event to assist Katrina hurricane victims.

Disaster response and reconstruction

Pakistan earthquake:
HFH and UN-HABITAT are working together in Pakistan to respond to the earthquake disaster. HFH was one of only a handful of NGOs invited to attend a dinner/meeting with the secretary-general of the U.N., Kofi Annan, and Anna Tibaijuka when they visited the disaster area. When introduced to HFH, Tibaijuka replied, “Don’t tell me what HFH does because we have had many projects around the world with them and they are doing a wonderful job.” The two organizations have also met in Japan to further explore Pakistan earthquake reconstruction.

Tsunami reconstruction:
In Banda Aceh, HFH and UN-HABITAT have collaborated on activities on the ground, including hosting volunteers and staff. The organizations are working together on special committees created by BRR (central agency in implementing Aceh reconstruction), in coming up with policies — such as with house renters. UN-HABITAT has provided contacts with the U.N. Envoy’s Office and its working groups on the tsunami anniversary.

Hurricane Katrina:
HFH provided linkages for local contacts in Louisiana. The Governor’s Office in Louisiana requested that UN-HABITAT support rebuilding of houses and the development of temporary housing communities as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

Slum upgrading

Both organizations continue to meet and collaborate on slum upgrading projects in Egypt, Mozambique, Lesotho, Madagascar, Kenya and Tanzania.

Research and data collection

In July 2005, HFH Latin America and the Caribbean met with UN-HABITAT in Brazil to work on implementing their agreement locally. HFH is working on helping UN-HABITAT develop a tool that measures the social production of Habitat.

HFH and UN-HABITAT are still learning from these collaborations as the organizations build upon their current efforts and explore future areas of work, such as HFH’s participation in UN-HABITAT’s secure tenure campaign and efforts in post-conflict reconstruction in Lebanon. But the value of the relationship will be most helpful as HFH and UN-HABITAT support each other’s plans to meet the MDGs and to address the challenges of mitigating disasters, addressing slums and improving the conditions of the poor around the globe.

Jane Katz is the director of international programs at HFH’s Washington D.C. office.