The Paradigm Shift: Globalizing the people agenda instead of localizing global agendas

October 6, 2014

By Gora Mboup, Founder, Global Observatory linking Research to Action (GORA) [i]

Setting up of the MDGs Slum Target

For the past fifty years, under the umbrella of the United Nations, states and governments met to discuss, negotiate and finally endorse global agenda giving each state or government to localize it into their own context. One of the latest global agenda is the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), endorsed in the year 2000, where – member states agreed on eight global goals and eighteen global targets for the next fifteen years. One of the global targets was the slum target (as part of Goal 7, originally named Target 11 and lately renamed target 7D), which was to achieve “ a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020”. Countries were encouraged to monitor the slum target using the secure tenure indicator (indicator 32) under the coordination of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).

Disconnection between the MDGs slum target and people’s lives

It was, however, unfortunate to note that the slum target was neither informed by people nor guided by an indicator with available information.  While the number of 100 million was meant to lead to a urban world without slums, it was just a tiny fraction of the 1 billion urban dwellers who were living in slum conditions at that time. Indeed, three years after the millennium declaration, information from people showed that 924 million urban dwellers were living in slum conditions; they lacked either safe water, adequate sanitation, durable housing, or sufficient living area.  Due to lack of data on land tenure, this estimation did not include those that did not enjoy secure tenure; they were without land tenure documents and, to some extent, exposed to eviction in the absence of institutional protection. The slum target was far to be an ambitious target compared to other targets of the MDGs that were to halve or eradicate social and development related problems, such as poverty, hunger, education, health, HIV/AIDS, etc.

Celebration and disappointment

It was not surprising that ten years after the target was set, world leaders celebrated the fact that the slum target had been reached. There was improvement in the lives of more than 100 million slum dwellers between 2000 and 2010. Immediately after celebration, world leaders were alarmed to notice that the number of slum dwellers was growing.  In the developing world alone, 863 million of urban dwellers were still living in slum conditions compared to 760 million 10 years earlier.  The target of “city without slums” was far being met, and the challenges had increased. Hundreds of million of urban dwellers were left behind without safe water, adequate sanitation, durable housing, or sufficient living area, and most of them did not enjoy security of tenure. How could they put themselves in this embarrassing situation? The citizens were not consulted by the world leaders to understand that they will not renounce to reproduction and to migration; the urban population will continue to grow, and in the context of poor city foundation marked by unplanned settlements, lack of basic public infrastructure and disconnected institutions and laws, the proliferation of slums will continue too.

The paradigm shift – The people agenda, an agenda by the people for the people

The disconnection between the MDGs slum target and people’s lives at the setting up of the Millennium Declaration and the subsequent disappointment of the world during the journey of the implementation of the declaration calls for a paradigm shift where goals and targets are set based on reliable, up-to-date information from people.  This calls for a bottom-top approach where global agenda are set to globalize people agenda, not the opposite. This also calls for another paradigm shift, whereby instead of technicians producing information and decision makers defining policies, and setting goals and targets, all must work together to link key findings to policies. The only way to prevent disconnection between people’s lives and policies is to move away from the solo environment and link key findings to policies for people’s wellbeing.

The paradigm shift - Information from people changed the global mood

Existence of information on slum conditions of people, showing that the target represented a tiny fraction of slums changed the global mood positively. The sixty-fifth session of the United Nations General Assembly in 2010 urged governments to continue working towards cities without slums, beyond current targets. The twenty-third session of the UN-Habitat Governing Council in 2011, also called for governments to develop global and national strategies and frameworks for improving the lives of slum dwellers beyond the MDGs target. The Rabat Declaration in 2012 also encouraged governments to strengthen national monitoring systems in defining national goals for halving, in each country, the proportion of people living in slums between 2015 and 2030.

In the 2012 MDGs report, the Global Urban Observatory of UN-Habitat introduced, for the first time, information on secure tenure that showed that possession of ownership and tenancy documents varied widely across eight cities[ii] ranging from 54 per cent in Dakar to 88 per cent in Casablanca.  It also showed that insecurity towards eviction was high ranging from 45 per cent of inhabitants in Lagos to nearly 20 per cent in Sao Paolo. Despite the very small number of cities covered in this study, the High-Level Panel of Eminent Experts, in its 2013 report entitled “A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development”, referred to it to justify the inclusion of targets and goals on land tenure for the post 2015 development agenda. This anchors that one way to promote people agenda is to produce reliable information on people lives and bring it to shape global, national and local agendas.

When the World Habitat Day is commemorated under the theme “Voices from Slums” on the first Monday of the month of October, now called by UN-Habitat the Urban Month introducing the World City Day on 31 October, we the people want to mention that giving voices to slums shall first mean recognizing that there are one billion people living without access to basic services and without the right to security of tenure. This must guide the post 2015 development agenda as well as the third Habitat conference. Slum manifests at three levels:  People level as expressed by lack of basic services; Place level by living in unplanned, informal settlement with high risk exposure to disaster; and Policy level without secure tenure and high exposure to eviction. The three Ps of slum must guide any future development agendas to become an agenda by the people for the people.



[i]  Dr. Mboup is the former Chief of the Global Urban Observatory of UN-Habitat (2004-2014). He is the author of the UN-Habitat’s publication “ Streets as Public Spaces and Drivers of Urban Prosperity” in 2013.  He is the principal author of the slum methodology in 2003 that produced, for the first time, the global estimate of slum dwellers showing that nearly 1 billion urban dwellers (924 million) lived in slum conditions in 2001.  He is also the co-author Monitoring Security of Tenure in Cities – People, Land and Policies, published 2011 by the Global Land Tool Network (GLTN) and UN-Habitat. One year later, on behalf of UN-Habitat he introduced information on secure tenure  (land tenure documents and perceived eviction) in the United Nations MDG annual report 2012 launched by the UN SG. He is also the principal author of the City Prosperity Index (CPI) in 2012 and the Composite Street Connectivity Index (CSCI) in 2013. He co-authored four series of the UN-Habitat State of the World’s Cities: thirty years of the Habitat Agenda in 2006; Harmonious Cities in 2008; Bridging the Urban Divide in 2010 and; Prosperity of Cities in 2012.

[ii]The eight cities covered in this study are: Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Cairo (Egypt), Casablanca (Morocco), Dakar (Senegal), Lagos (Nigeria), Kolkata, Mumbai (India) and Sao Paolo (Brazil).

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