There was a powerful energy on day one (June 19) of World Urban Forum III. Joining with literally thousands of people from around the world is exciting, but the energy gets kicked up several notches when lots of delegates are on the front lines in some critical housing struggles.
Our world is rapidly urbanizing. In every part of the planet, people are moving (in many cases, being forced) into fast-growing urban areas. Slum populations in the developing world are booming, while the affordable housing crisis is generating growing homelessness in Canada and other developed countries.
WUFIII has the theme turning ideas into action. There is a strong push by corporations, and many governments, to create an even stronger role for private corporations in housing and urban issues. As governments in Canada and many other parts of the world cut funding and programs, corporations are willing to take up the slack ” for a hefty fee from the public purse.
WUFIII is sponsored by UN Habitat, the United Nations’ specialized agency for housing and human settlements. It is being held in Vancouver 30 years after the first UN housing conference, which was also held in Vancouver.
In the past three decades, there has been a steady expansion in the recognition of the international human right to housing. Treaties, covenants, declarations and other international instruments have been proclaimed by the United Nations and ratified by many countries (including Canada). But even as the global right to housing gains powerful recognition, housing funding and programs are being eroded throughout the world.
As the Wellesley Institute’s housing and urban health policy expert, I’m excited to be a delegate to WUFIII. I was honoured to be asked to co-chair the global NGO roundtable, along with Evaniza Rodrigues from Brazil. There were almost 30 NGO leaders from every continent.
Canada has proud history of successful housing initiatives (which were cancelled by successive federal governments over the past two decades). We also have a lot to learn from the work of housing groups around the world.
On day one, global NGO leaders were active both inside and outside the forum. We staged a noon-hour rally with speakers from Canada, Zimbabwe, Philippines, United States, Germany, Dominican Republic, Egypt and Nigeria. Survivors of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, who remain homeless a year after the natural disaster, led a spirited jazz funeral (with a lively band) with hundreds of WUFIII delegates. A jazz funeral doesn’t mourn the dead, but celebrates re-birth.
It was a lively call to governments in Canada and around the world to honour the housing commitments that have been made in numerous international treaties, covenants and declarations.
I’ll be posting regular updates from the World Urban Forum in Vancouver.