Improving Living Conditions for Poor through Partnerships

October 6, 2009

Dr. Anna Tibaijuka, the Executive Director of UN Habitat, on Friday appeared at BCLC’s 2009 Global Corporate Citizenship Conference, beginning her speech by highlighting the UN World Habitat Day yesterday. Celebrations took place at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

For the 1.1 billion people who live in slum communities, as quoted by Ms. Tibaijuka, World Habitat Day is the day that their voices are heard. She spoke passionately and described the squalid conditions where the poorest of the poor live, including the vulnerabilities they face due to the global climate change and rapid urbanization.

Dr. Tibaijuka has been instrumental in keeping urban poverty high on the agenda and advocating for water, sanitation, and slum upgrades globally.  Her convictions are that we cannot develop sustainably if there are people living in chaotic slum-like environments. She stressed the importance of improving the living conditions and gave accolades to private public partnerships. The UN Habitat’s partnership with Coca-Cola was highlighted.

The collaboration between Coca-Cola and UN Habitat includes setting up demonstration projects to increase water supply through rainwater harvesting and other techniques to store and conserve water in India. Dr. Tibaijuka stated the importance of leveraging the comparative advantage of large corporations. In the case of Coca-Cola, Coca-Cola will serve as operational management and commit to working on improving water management and sanitation in urban slums. Although large corporations have the capacity to bolster resources, strong local partnerships are vital to the success of any project.

Ms. Tibaijuka’s quote, “The urban plight and seclusion is a global phenomenon not just in areas of poverty,” struck me because the urban plight and forced evictions happen in Cairo, Sao Paulo, and surprisingly, also New York City. Recently, a fully occupied apartment building on Hester Street, New York, was scheduled to be demolished. The landlord chose to tear down the rent-regulated and force all tenants to move, many of which were left homeless. This action resulted in the loss of more affordable housing units for struggling families, many of which already live in impoverished conditions because landlords fail to maintain the buildings. This scenario is similar to that of developing countries, where individuals are either being squeezed out of their homes or do not have basic services.

As we focus on private public partnerships, it is important to investigate systematic barriers that prevent individuals from obtaining and securing housing.

Diana Mao is Co-Executive Director/Founder of Nomi Network and an official blogger at the Global Corporate Citizenship Conference.