The United Nations Human Settlements (UN-Habitat) is the lead United Nations agency for Cities and Human Settlements. The agency was established as the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UNCHS), through the General Assembly Resolution 32/162 of December 1977, following the first global Conference of United Nations on Human Settlements that was held in Vancouver, Canada, in 1976.
For nearly two decades of its existence (1978-1996), UNCHS remained a small technical agency. Faced with rapid urbanization, accelerating slum formation and growing evidence of urban poverty, the second United Nations Conference on the Human Settlements (Habitat II) was held in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1996. The main outcome of the conference was the adoption of Istanbul Declaration and the Habitat Agenda. This gave UNCHS an explicit normative mandate of assisting Members States to monitor the implementation of the Habitat Agenda and to report on global human Settlements conditions and trends.
UN-Habitat, as a small and specialized programme on urbanization and sustainable human settlements, has a central role in delivering the global sustainable development agenda (Agenda 2030), adopted by Member States in 2015. UN-Habitat is striving to align its programme of work with the SDGs and other international agreements adopted last year (e.g., the Paris Climate Change Agreement and Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development), which are in line with the reforms undertaken by UN-Habitat. UN-Habitats commitment to reform process and improving effectiveness is evident, among other things, in the enforcement of regional strategic plans and HCPDs aligned with national priorities; application of a three-pronged approach combining urban planning and design with local and national governance and legislation, and municipal finance and strengthening the local economy; and implementation of the International Public Sector Accountability Standards, Open Aid Transparency Initiatives and Umoja Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.
UN-Habitat has over two decades of experience and physical presence in communities across 20 provinces of Afghanistan. Since 1992, UN-Habitat has been working with communities across Afghanistan placing people at the centre of decision-making and action. This approach aims to make people more responsive and self-reliant, establish sense of ownership, and help build peace and social cohesion. The overarching vision guiding UN-Habitat’s work in Afghanistan is prosperous, inclusive and equitable human settlements that reduce poverty and contribute to national stability and development. Specifically, the mission of UN-Habitat Country Programme is “to transform lives through enhancing access to urban land, housing and services, while making systems and institutions responsive to people’s views and needs” (Country Programme Document, The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, 2016-2019, p.13)
In addition to direct implementation of community-based urban and rural rehabilitation and development initiatives, the enhancement of professional and technical skills, and the delivery of humanitarian relief, UN-Habitat has supported government counterparts with technical assistance in policy, planning and urban management, the provision or upgrading of services and infrastructure and the reintegration of returnees.
The diversity of UN-Habitat’s experience across Afghanistan reflects a key lesson learned over the past two decades of operation: the importance of operating at multiple levels from the ministry and municipality to the urban street, in order to address a complex in a holistic and organic manner an array of issues which are rarely static. Core to UN-Habitat’s work has been the importance of participation, as embodied in UN-Habitat’s ‘people’s process’ that draft on the ideas and reflect reflects the interests of key stakeholders.