Mathare slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo © UN-Habitat

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says world leaders must give a voice to communities living in informal settlements, as the UN marks World Habitat Day today, 6 October 2014.

In a statement ahead of World Habitat Day (commemorated annually on the first Monday in October), Ki-moon said there was concern about growing communities that endure often squalid conditions as they migrate toward cities in order to survive.

“In some parts of sub-Saharan Africa, as many as 70% of urban dwellers live in slums and informal settlements. [They] live in near-anonymity – no address, no census and no idea when their living conditions will improve. They regularly lack basic services such as water, sanitation, electricity and street lighting. Crime is often endemic, with women and girls particularly at risk. Unemployment, underemployment and the cost of transport to distant places of work add further hardship,” he said.

Ki-moon said it was crucial for policymakers to give a voice to shack-dwellers, as their experiences could help shape urban development in a sustainable way.

In South Africa, the National Department of Human Settlements is marking the day with the launch of a campaign to build homes for military veterans. Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said the department aims to build more than 5 000 homes over the next three years.

“It is our intention to clear the backlog of all military veterans who seek houses and shelter in less than three years. We will be launching projects in all nine provinces; we want to build them decent houses to restore their dignity and to honour their contribution to our freedom. This is a national priority,” the Minister said in a statement.

The UN estimates that there are already a billion people living in slums across the world, with many likely to face the impact of climate change, as their homes are unlikely to withstand the effects of landslides, floods and earthquakes.

UN Habitat has released a series of lectures on the way that the challenge of informal settlements is being tackled across the world.

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