Today, Monday October 1, 2012, Jamaica joins countries around the globe in observing World Habitat Day. This year the United Nations has chosen the theme "Changing Cities, Building Opportunities" to focus our attention as a people on the state of our towns and cities, as well as the basic right of all to adequate shelter.
World-wide it is recognized that countries are becoming increasingly urban. Data published by UN-Habitat for Latin America and the Caribbean revealed that in 2010, 79.4 percent of the population of the region has been living in urban centres. This figure is expected to increase to 88.7 percent by 2050.
The impact of the increase in urbanization is readily played out in the complex social, political, economic and cultural dynamics that arise and which has led to the perpetuation of an ‘Urban Divide' characterized by high levels of unemployment, poverty, inequality and crime. Urbanization is however inevitable and must be viewed in light of the emerging opportunities that it brings.
Now more than ever, the Government of Jamaica underscores its commitment to pursuing sound policy measures to enhance the viability and sustainability of our towns and cities. A desired outcome is to arrest the glaring manifestations of urban blight, which is most pronounced in our inner city, through urban renewal and upgrading programmes. Majesty Gardens and its environs is one of the first beneficiaries of such an intervention. The implementation of a comprehensive development plan is currently underway and is intended to address all aspects of the human development. The Government also remains committed to employing a joined-up government approach to the implementation of this Programme by uniting the efforts of the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), the National Housing Trust (NHT) and HEART Trust/NTA in realizing this common cause. The support of businesses in and around the community in providing employment opportunities for the residents is also an essential element of the programme.
As we celebrate, not to be forgotten are the needs and concerns of the poor and marginalized within our urban centres and the challenges that they face particularly in accessing adequate and affordable shelter. The Government continues to place priority on several initiatives to address the concerns of this segment of the population.
Presently, apartnership has been established with Food for the Poor (FFP) that involves the implementation of two housing intervention initiatives in the inner city and informal communities throughout Jamaica under the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP). The primary objective of these initiatives is to alleviate the poor living conditions of vulnerable households and to bring about improvement in their health, as well as, their economic and social conditions primarily by providing access to housing and secondarily by providing employment. The initiatives will yield approximately 1800 solutions annually over a five year period.
The effort of the Government is also bolstered by our on-going partnership with United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) through our involvement in the Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme (PSUP), which is aimed at developing urban poverty reduction policies and programmes at the local and national level.
In celebration of World Habitat day this year, and in commemoration of our Golden Jubilee the Government will also be embarking on a debt forgiveness programme entitled “50 for 50” which will result in one person with outstanding mortgage balance from 50 Ministry Schemes being selected to receive a benefit based on pre-determined criteria.
This initiative is in keeping with the Government’s position that security of tenure, through the delivery of Registered Certificates of Title, helps in providing opportunities for many landless households. The gesture is also in recognition that land ownership builds capital and creates wealth, leading to active and gainful participation in the economic development, and in the positive transformation of human settlements.
Once again, I commend UN-Habitat for its continued focus on cities as places of opportunity for both current and future residents. Most importantly, the Government of Jamaica recognizes the sustainability of cities as paramount to our nation’s success and has adopted policies that are in sync with the theme “Changing Cities, Building Opportunities”. Within this context, I now call upon all stakeholders to play their part in ensuring that our urban centres are sustainable, and that the lives of its dwellers take centre stage.
Honourable Dr. Morais Guy, M.P;
Minister Without Portfolio (Housing)
Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing