Plight of poor to worsen, says UN - Daily Nation

Plight of poor to worsen, says UN

Tuesday November 4 2008

By JOHN MBARIA in NANJING, China

Current worldwide crises might end up worsening the plight of the poor unless governments protect them, a United Nations official has said.

The executive director of UN-Habitat Anna Tibaijuka told world leaders that the plight of the urban poor, particularly the 1.2 billion who live in slums, was likely to deteriorate as one crisis after the other continued to bite.

“Since the end of last year, we have witnessed a succession of crises, the scale and pace which took all of us by surprise,” she said. She was speaking at a global meeting in Nanjing, China, called by the United Nations settlements agency.

She said the world experienced a massive rise in food prices. Hardly had the oil prices gone down than the entire world was gripped by a financial crisis that spread like bushfire, she added.

Dr Tibaijuka, however, said the effects of the crisis on the poor could be reduced if governments took over from the private sector the roles of regulating commodity prices as well as offering affordable houses to the poor. 

“It is in adversity that we find opportunity.”

To her, if governments took over such roles, this could alleviate the suffering of  1.2 billion people worldwide who live in crowded slums.

Such settlements lacked safe drinking water, sanitation and durable houses while the residents live under constant threat of being kicked out.

Imminent disaster

The opening session was also addressed by Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who said the rural-urban migration had created a crisis of global dimension.

To avoid imminent disaster, Mr Odinga called for a change of mindset among policy makers.

“The UN predicts that by 2030, the number of city inhabitants will be over five billion, or 60 per cent of world population… we have been warned that unless policy makers undertake a radical rethink, we face disaster,” he said.

He said many parts of the continent had been affected by severe climate changes, which made farming less attractive.

The land was no longer productive, the rains were scarce and the size of arable land had become smaller, he added.