UN Habitat's World Urban Forum V: Bridging the Urban Divide

Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs 
Washington, DC
March 22, 2010

Fifth Session of the World Urban Forum UN Habitat’s World Urban Forum V: Bridging the Urban Divide

Website: In Conversation with Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs María Otero

I am eagerly anticipating the World Urban Forum V in Rio de Janeiro and the assembling of many different perspectives on urban planning. As two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in towns and cities in the next fifty years, all political leaders, educators, scientists, and members of the business and civil society at large need to join together to marshall our intellectual and financial resources to build safe and inclusive urban environments. At the World Urban Forum, I will contribute to the discussion about crucial human security issues associated with this significant demographic transition.

As the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs, I understand how urbanization is linked to many of our current foreign policy initiatives and priorities such as the promotion of Democracy and Human Rights, Food Security, Global Health, Climate Change and Empowering Women and Girls.

All stakeholders should have a part in contributing to their own security, and governments can encourage this by promoting civil participation from men, women, youth, rich, poor. By involving stakeholders, governments ensure both a shared burden of planning and shared benefit of long term security for all individuals. Such participation is the foundation of democracy.

With the increase in the global population from 6.7 billion to more than 9 billion by 2050, providing basic needs such as food, water and energy is going to be even more of a challenge, particularly in developing countries already struggling to meet the needs of their people. For this reason, I understand that water security is a critical issue in urban planning. Access to safe drinking water and good sanitation are paramount to safeguarding health, security and economic development in any setting; the challenges in urban settings are particularly difficult. And, the demand for water as part of irrigation practices will increase as food demand increases for growing populations. At the same time, we know that climate change will disrupt the global water cycle, leading to more droughts as well as more extreme weather events, including those that impact coastal populations. Tensions surrounding competition for water are expected to increase. We are already seeing conflicts around the world sparked or fueled by competition for natural resources, whether they be precious metals, timber, fish or arable land. We must do more to protect the natural resource base upon which our health, security and development depend.

Additionally, we are working to expand economic opportunity through financial inclusion initiatives that are essential for bridging the wealth gap within cities as well as between cities and rural areas. We work to include gender consideration in this initiative as well as all of our efforts to ensure equal rights and participation for women and men in all parts of society.

I am pleased that I will be joined in Rio de Janeiro by my State Department colleagues Esther Brimmer, the Assistant Secretary for International Organizations, and Reta Jo Lewis, our new Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs. Our unified government approach, evidenced by this inter-agency delegation, enables us to link the considerable experience of the U.S. agencies engaged in domestic urbanization issues. We are also pleased to be working with state and city governments, our development experts, and with others around the world who are addressing the challenges of urbanization first hand.

Together, we are working to find solutions, maximize opportunities, and collaborate for efficient and innovative strategies around the significant demographic transition of global urbanization.

Under Secretary Otero will moderate the World Urban Forum Networking Session on “Youth and Technology” on Wednesday, March 24 and will serve as a panelist for the Dialogue on “Governance and Participation” on Thursday, March 25.