Every year on the first Monday in October, Jamaica joins countries around the globe in observing World Habitat Day which highlights the right of all citizens to adequate shelter. It reminds us of our collective responsibility to ensure the sustainability of both our built and natural environment.
Minister of Water and Housing, Hon. Dr. Horace Chang.
Today, approximately half of the worlds’ populations live in urban centres and this is expected to increase to 70% by the year 2030 as more and more people seek access to work, educational and health facilities, proper infrastructure and other basic services, which is often more easily available in urban centres.
“Better City, Better Life”, is the theme for this year’s commemoration of World Habitat Day. Interestingly, it reflects the Ministry’s own slogan, “Building Communities, Improving Lives”, as we too are concerned with improving the quality of life for residents in all socio-economic groups.
Today, as urban populations increase, the challenge facing governments is the provision of adequate affordable housing, without placing undue pressure on amenities.
Over the years, balancing the provision of affordable housing with demand, particularly in or near our urban centres has had little success. The exponential growth of squatter communities attests to this fact. But, despite limited resources, the Jamaican government continues to place priority on initiatives to deal with the informal occupation of land and to create vibrant and sustainable communities.
Upgrading and regularizing the tenure of residents remain at the forefront of our efforts. So, this Ministry will be seeking to fast track the provision of titles and access to proper infrastructure.
Our Social Housing Programme therefore, continues to assist individuals or families at, or below the poverty line, to access adequate shelter.
Over 300 properties occupied by persons living in substandard conditions have been declared under the Local Improvement (Communities Amenities) Act (LICA). The objective is to begin a sustainable phased development of these areas of urban decay.
These efforts are strengthened by our partnership with UN HABITAT through its Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme. Phase one of the programme which is already underway, consists of a Rapid Profile Assessment which is being conducted on three urban centres, Old Harbour, May Pen and Montego Bay.
In Phase 2, projects will be designed and implemented with the aim of improving the physical and economic conditions of the targeted communities in these towns.
Any effort at sustainable urbanization must take into consideration, the tremendous impact our urban areas have on the environment. The ultimate goal in planning must not only be houses, but a healthy environment including adequate green spaces and community facilities.
Once again, I commend UN Habitat for its continued focus on achieving sustainable urban centres, and urge governments and all stakeholders to work together to realize a “Better City, Better Life” for all urban dwellers.