Vast numbers of people, especially in the developing countries, do not have adequate shelter, water supply, sanitation or health care. Million of people continue to raise their families and spend their daily lives in urban slums, on city pavements, or in make-shift rural dwellings that lack the most basic amenities. The maintenance of such conditions is not consistent with human dignity.
Encouraged by the largely positive international responses to the awareness-raising efforts by the [International Year of Shelter for the Homeless] (IYSH - 1987), the General Assembly of the UN adopted the [Global Strategy for Shelter to the Year 2000] (GSS) at its forty-third Session in 1988. The main objective of the GSS is to facilitate adequate shelter for all by the year 2000. This objective is to be achieved by putting people at the centre of development, and by adopting innovative enabling strategies for improving the conditions of those who now must live in urban slums and in dilapidated rural settlements. There is a need to mobilize resources at all levels: international organizations, foremost the UN Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), governments, local authorities, non-governmental and community based organizations, and the private sector must all be involved. The General Assembly of the UN reviews and clarifies the GSS on a biennial basis. Agenda 21, adopted in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, confirmed the goals and approaches of the GSS, which it saw as integral to the global efforts of managing our natural and human-made environment in a sustainable manner and of improving the living and working conditions of the urban and rural poor.
Just before the Habitat II Conference (Istanbul 1996), it was reported that many of the recommendations of the first Habitat Conference (Vancouver, 1976) remained valid. But then the prevailing spirit was optimistic and relatively 'interventionist', with expectation that urbanization and housing problems for the poor in urban centres could largely be solved by public-sector guidance and actions. Now the relative weights given to public- and private-sector roles and responsibilities, and the linkages between shelter development and macro-economic planning would have been different. The changes in economic and political conditions, resource flows, and development theories of the past 20 years, the economic crises of the 1980s, rising urban poverty and declining public-sector resources in general, have led to a deterioration in housing conditions in many cities in both industrialized and developing countries, rendering policy implementation much more problematic.
Following the close of the [Global Strategy for Shelter to the Year 2000], the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements mandated a new strategic vision through two subprogrammes "Adequate Shelter for All" and "Sustainable Urban Development". The sub-programmes would be advanced through two global campaigns, one for Secure Tenure and the other on Urban Governance, which have been chosen as strategic entry points into the two main themes of the Habitat Agenda "adequate shelter for all" and "sustainable human settlement in an urbanizing world". The aim of both campaigns is to reduce poverty through policies which emphasize equity, sustainability and social justice. Strategic and operational partnerships with local authorities, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and agencies within the UN system are crucial to the success of the campaigns.
The most serious constraint for implementing the GSS is the frequent absence of sufficient political will to carry out difficult but needed policy measures, such as the provision of secure land tenure for all, the recognition of informal settlements, the taxation of vacant land and profits, and the allocation of targeted subsidies to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. Such fundamental measures are hampered and distorted by the reality of political conflicts of interest among local politicians, civil servants, the private business sector community groups. Endless seminars, workshops, expert meetings and conferences continue to formulate technical advice on the best strategies in pursuit of housing for all. However, real progress is only made in those countries whose political leadership and local government structures have recognized housing for all as a powerful strategy to achieve social and economic development. The single most important step for governments in pursuit of housing for all appears to be the provision of security of tenure, including secure rental agreements and land leases. This step alone, complex and politically controversial as it may be, has the most significant impact on making formal as well as informal housing markets work.
One conceptual difficulty in perceiving shelter for all as a realistic development goal stems from the widely-held misunderstanding that there may be a state of humankind, if only in the very distant future, in which all housing problems are met and everyone enjoys a condition of adequate shelter. This notion appears unrealistic because, as national development leads to human and material progress, national concepts of adequacy do not remain static. What appears adequate now is subject to change as a consequence of changing standards for human development. It follows, therefore, that adequate shelter for all cannot be understood literally as a state in which all housing needs are physically satisfied. Instead, and in compliance with the meaning of 'enablement' as the only realistic strategy, adequate shelter for all denotes a state of development in which every household and every person is offered the opportunity to satisfy individual shelter needs. This situation requires a diversified market which can address every need, combined with targeted State interventions to ensure and facilitate access by the poor, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged. Working towards such a condition of the national housing sector is the foremost challenge of the universal development goal of adequate shelter for all.