By Doug Gray, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – The week after a conference was held in PUC University, Gavea, to discuss the current travails of the United Nations, one of its more successful programs, The World Urban Forum (WUF), arrives in Rio de Janeiro to discuss modern urban life at a time when, according to forum organizer UnHabitat, 3.49 billion people or just over half the world’s population, now live in urban areas.
The biannual event is timely for a city whose urban sprawl has been surpassed only by that of its megalopolis neighbor Sao Paulo and who, with the arrival of the Olympic Games in 2016, stands to inherit a fresh wave of economic migrants from all over Brazil in the coming years. The pressures that such migration puts on the city is all too evident on the short drive out to the city’s international airport, and it is these pressures – housing provision, poverty, sanitation and clean water supplies – that top the agenda this week.
As city mayor Eduardo Paes put it in his opening message, the location chosen for the forum could not have been more appropriate; “It is not by chance that the warehouses of the Port of Rio were chosen as headquarters of the event. The region, from which Rio developed and which had been abandoned, is now beginning to receive high investments from the public sector as well as support from the private sector, in order to become an important business, tourism and leisure center.”
Quoting Barsa (Latin America’s leading encylopedia) figures, UnHabitat says the population of Rio increased from 5.85 million to 7.14 million between 2000 and 2007, and the kind of strains that such growth puts on a city hemmed in by its own unique geography are of keen interest to those hosting the conference.
Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, speaking on behalf of UnHabitat the agency responsible for the WUF, said; “…much inequality and injustice stems from inadequate policy-making and planning by local authorities and central governments alike.” Encouraging those in charge not to continue sweeping the problems under the carpet is central to what the forum hopes to achieve.
Meanwhile in a Washington news conference last week the US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan spoke of the forum as an “important moment” in the quest for a more sustainable global future, as well as reassuring that he would be leading a high-level delegation to this important event.
The US Ambassador to Brazil Thomas Shannon will also be present, with the Embassy stating their commitment “… to strengthening the global economy by contributing to a robust agenda of sustainable development, embracing a ecologically greener future, and solidifying working relationships with our partners around the global community.”
Following the implementation of the global Millenium Development Goals at the start of the decade Brazil has reduced its slum population by sixteen percent, though the continuing growth of the favelas on the hillsides of Rio appears to paint a different picture.
Since the first World Urban Forum in 2002 the proportion of the urban populations of Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole living in slums has decreased from around 27 percent to 23 percent, and the majority of those are believed to be in countries such as Brazil whose economies are expanding.
Key events during the week include a session on integrated slum upgrading, discussions on sustainable and energy efficient buildings, and a special meeting to discuss the rebuilding of Haiti in the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake.
Also on the agenda are the challenges ahead of Brazil in the run up to the 2014 World Cup, and an event looking into violence prevention through urban upgrading.