Most people still live in the countryside but it is estimated that by 2000, half of the 6.2 billion population of the planet will be urban; by 2025 about 60% will live in urban areas. For many life in the country is hard. Disenchanted people, especially the young, come to urban areas in search of an easier life and better jobs. Each year towns and cities in the developing world must absorb more than 80 million new people. Communications, transport, services and water supplies crack under the strain. The result is, at best, urban sprawl and, at worst, mushrooming urban slums or shanty towns. About one third of city-dwellers in developing countries live in slums and shanty towns, where clean water is scarce, fuel expensive, refuse rarely collected, disease endemic and violence common. In these countries, an average of 2.4 people live in each room, a quarter have no sanitation, and infant mortality in slums is three times the wealthier urban areas rate. Worldwide, some 100 million people have no form of shelter at all. There is also a gulf in standards of living within the cities of the rich world, where an urban underclass is caught in a vicious circle of deterioration and neglect. The costs of these conditions are staggering, not just in terms of human suffering but, both directly and indirectly, for society itself. Almost everywhere, civic authorities have been unable to cope with the challenge of providing adequate housing. Few mechanisms have been found for financing, while grassroots movements are often thwarted by inflexible policies and institutions.
The proportion of the population living in urban areas in the European Region has continued to increase, largely owing to migration. In the year 2000, about 80% of the total population of the European Region will be urban. Many large cities now show indications of environmental stress, including high noise levels in residential areas, increasing levels of homelessness, greater waste generation and traffic congestion. However, the air quality of some cities has improved in the 1990s.
The United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) has based its Urban Rehabilitation Programme in Afghanistan on the premise that well-conceived rehabilitation activities can serve as an instrument to promote reconciliation between the communities affected by the conflict. The primary aim of the project is to support to indigenous process of repair and recovery for urban communities affected by the war. Thus, the programme not only aims at providing direct support for reconstruction but also to build the local capacity to develop longer-term support programmes for the country. This is achieved through a 'neighbourhood action programme' that provides direct support for community managed and implemented small works: water supply, access roads and drainage. A parallel 'infrastructure repair programme' supports the rehabilitation of priority medium-scale infrastructure in collaboration with local authorities and technical departments. The programme has already provided support to several thousand urban families to improve their living conditions in three cities directly touched by the conflict: Kabul, Herat and Mazar Sharif. But most important, the strong community based approach of the programme has been instrumental in ensuring an uninterrupted process of rehabilitation and in ensuring that infrastructure and services continue operating after the works are completed. The continued conflict in Afghanistan poses the main challenge for the project. The strategy for the future aims at deepening the work with community groups, particularly women, as well as with customary structures.