World Habitat Day and the challenges of urbanisation

The first Monday of October has been designated by the United Nations as World Habitat Day. The day is all about reflecting on the state of our towns and cities, and reminding the world of its collective responsibility for the future of the human habitat.

The theme of this year’s World Habitat Day is ‘Changing Cities, Building Opportunities’, with the focus being on cities as the world’s growth engines – currently more than half the world’s population live in towns and cities, and within a generation, that number will rise to two-thirds. It is also said that by 2030, up to 60% of these urban dwellers will be under the age of 18. The reason people flock to the cities in ever increasing numbers is that it is seen as the place where they can realize their dreams of a better life. Well planned and well built cities can provide a healthy support structure for this urbanisation; unplanned growth leads to chaos and urban sprawl.

Auckland, NZ. With a population of almost 1.4 million it is small by world standards, yet big in New Zealand – it is home to almost a third of the country’s population, and growing. The city thus aptly markets itself as the ‘Big Little City”.
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Urbanisation brings with it major challenges, but also great possibilities. To quote Dr Joan Clos, Executive Director of World Habitat Day 2012:

“The main challenges confronting cities and towns all over the world today include unemployment, especially among youth; social and economic inequalities; unsustainable energy consumption patterns; urban sprawl; high percentages of people living in slums; high levels of vulnerability to natural disasters; inadequate urban basic services, especially water, sanitation and energy; poor mobility systems and increasing emissions of greenhouse gases. 

Given that, historically, urbanisation has been a source of development rather than a result of it, it is clear that it can be used as a powerful tool for transforming production capacities and income levels in developing countries. This requires a mindset shift on the part of decision makers, away from viewing urbanisation as a problem, and instead towards seeing it as a tool for development.

Major changes are necessary. We have the science and the knowhow. And we know too that our ever growing cities are just where the changes can be implemented fastest and new opportunities created. We must all become city changers.”

Through the last line of Dr Clos’ message, World Habitat Day also ties in nicely with the wider UN-Habitat ‘I’m a city changer’ initiative. The idea being that making cities a better place to live is not just the responsibility of the authorities and the city planners, but that ordinary citizens can get involved as well. The initiative promotes these 10 reasons to be a city changer, and have released the little video below to promote the concept.

World Oceans Day

It’s World Oceans Day, our annual opportunity to honor the great oceans linking us all, to celebrate what the ocean provides humanity, and also to appreciate its intrinsic value.

World Ocean Day is a day for celebration, but also a day to start spreading the word on the importance of protecting the ocean for future generations
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The theme for World Oceans Day 2012 is Youth: the Next Wave for Change, which firstly acknowledges the role the youth plays in the future of the ocean, and secondly reiterates the importance of everyone playing their part in securing the future of the world’s oceans for our youth.

One of the initiatives undertaken as part of this day is “Wear Blue, Tell Two“, an information sharing initiative where everyone is urged to dress in blue and to share with those around us two facts about the protection of the world’s oceans.

So, to do my bit (yes, I’m wearing blue jeans and a blue sweater, I promise!) herewith my two messages about our oceans:

1) The havoc caused by climate change
The ocean absorbs the majority of the heat added to the earth through climate change, resulting in a warmer ocean, which negatively impacts on the coral ecosystem and affects the life cycles of many fish species. This warmer water also decreases upwelling, which means that less nutrients reach the surface water, harming many marine ecosystems. Furthermore, the Poles are melting at an alarming rate, affecting polar marine environments and causing the ocean levels to rise, resulting in the loss of critical coastal habitats. It is also estimated that 10% of the global human population lives below 10m above sea level, which means about 700 million people are directly threatened by a significantly rising sea level. Not a pretty picture… And we haven’t even touched on the impact of the chemical changes in the oceans as a result of increased atmospheric greenhouse gases, or the changes in the ocean currents and the effects this is having on the earth’s climate.
(Source: Five Effects of Climate Change on the Ocean, http://www.conservation.org)

2) What we can do to help
Despite the doom and gloom of my first message, all is not irretrievably lost. Each of us can contribute our little bit to help the environment. By merely living more socially responsibly (recycling, reusing, limiting our carbon footprint) we can help slow global warming, which directly impacts on the wellbeing of our oceans. And there are numerous local and international initiatives we can get involved in. For example:

  • Conservation International runs an initiative called “Save a Mile” where you can make a donation to support initiatives focused on ocean conservation
  • The World Oceans Day website hosts the “Blue Planeteer” awareness drive, where you can volunteer to perform simple online tasks, such as tweeting about World Oceans Day or emailing a blog.

These are just two small online examples – if you live near the sea your local aquarium or nature centre may well have their own initiatives going, so ask around and get involved.

So spread the word on World Ocean Day – wear blue and tell two!