MESSAGE FROM THE HON. HORACE CHANG, MINISTER OF WATER AND HOUSING ON WORLD HABITAT DAY 2007


The observance of World Habitat Day on the first Monday of October each year has become a notable fixture on the calendar of important global events. Jamaica joins with the rest of the world as this year’s observance continues throughout today.
This year’s theme “A Safe City is a Just City” has profound relevance to both developed and developing countries with their growing urban population which is expected to reach six billion by 2050. In Jamaica, the persistent challenge of finding decent work and decent shelter has resulted in increasing urbanization and the proliferation of informal settlements across the country and particularly of shanty towns, shacks and ghettoes in our cities. The physical marginalization of these communities has become a symbol of the economic and social inequities of the dwellers that are exacerbated by lack of education and training, joblessness, crime and violence, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy and youth delinquency.
The challenge of urbanization has implications for Jamaica’s ability to achieve the Millennium Development Goals as the targets that relate to improving the lives of slum dwellers and reducing by half the number of persons without sustainable access to safe water and basic sanitation will affect our performance in reducing poverty, combating malaria and other diseases and ensuring environmental sustainability.
Government must confront the challenge with a fixity of purpose and it has a responsibility to lead from the front in advancing a forward looking urban sustainable development policy. This must be supported by strong institutional mechanisms for cross sector policies in areas such as education, health and welfare. Integrated and cross sector coordination including integrating financing of programmes, monitoring and evaluation should define the new way of thinking and working for public service managers.
This new paradigm of thinking and working across the government sector is an important pre-requisite for achieving the Millennium Development Goals and the ultimate objective of human security for the Jamaican people.
The achievement of human security calls for a new and bold vision and an urgent agenda that carries great social, financial and political weight. We must begin with the articulation of a collective ethos that will inspire government, private sector and the NGO community to take concerted action to arrest the trend of urbanization and address urban decay. It is of fundamental importance that every Jamaican interprets this new vision as a personal expression of his appreciation of the inextricable link between his future and quality of life and those of his neighbour.
The Ministry of Water and Housing is committed to developing flexible policies that relate to tenure and land use, work with the private sector and other non-state actors to improve access to financing and strengthening cross-government coordination in the pursuit of a better life for all Jamaicans and particularly for those who are marginalized. A new and comprehensive policy and strategy for housing will be ready in time for the new financial year. We have already commenced discussions with researchers from two of our universities to provide the necessary support to the techno-bureaucrats and key players within and without the industry in the formulation of this policy.
As we take the time of the observance to reflect on the past and contemplate the future, it may be useful, as part of our stock taking, to establish a registry of the institutional arrangements that now exist and linkages across government and non government institutions with a view to strengthening those arrangements and recommitting ourselves to urban sustainability and the sustainable development of human settlements. It is time to focus our attention on urban settlements by implementing an integrated set of programmes aimed at upgrading the physical and social spaces of our cities.
If we have safe homes, we will have safe communities and a safe nation and most of all a just society where all may not be rich but no one will be poor.

JIS Social