By: Shivani Chaudhry
Date: September 6th 2016
Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation
In order to ensure that ‘no one is left behind,’ the Habitat III outcome document must be grounded in a human rights approach.
The Third Session of the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom 3) for Habitat III took place in Surabaya, Indonesia from 25–27 July 2016. Held with much fanfare and the gracious hospitality of the city government, this was a meeting of United Nations (UN) member states to finalize the outcome document of the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III), which will be held in October 2016 in Quito, Ecuador.
The third in a series of bidecennial conferences on human settlements, Habitat III has been criticized for the marked dilution of its scope, with a predominant focus on urban areas. This is reflected in the change of its title from the ‘UN Conference on Human Settlements’ (which took place in Vancouver in 1976 and Istanbul in 1996) to the ‘UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development’ and the dilution of the Habitat Agenda (1996) to the proposed ‘New Urban Agenda.’ The Habitat III process has thereby chosen to ignore half of humanity that still lives in rural areas, while backtracking on non-negotiable commitments made at Habitat I and II. Further, it relies on the erroneous belief that urbanization is inevitable and beyond the purview of human or policy intervention.
Despite three days of intense negotiations lasting until the early hours of the morning, PrepCom 3 concluded without consensus on the draft ‘new agenda,’ with a plan to convene again in New York City in early September.
The political process in Surabaya was largely focused on negotiations between the European Union, African Union, the Arab League, USA, Canada, Turkey, and the G-77 and China. India’s absence at the negotiating table was conspicuous; it was justified by its inclusion in the G-77 group. India chose to intervene only through a statement in the plenary, which mainly showcased its multiple urban schemes: Smart Cities Mission, Housing for All, AMRUT, HRIDAY, and Swachh Bharat Mission. Though India has the world’s largest rural population (over 830 million), it did not raise the neglect of rural issues in the draft agenda. Instead, it echoed the urban bias of Habitat III and UN-Habitat. It also remained noncommittal toward its international obligations, while challenging the human right to adequate housing.