Vatican Wants International Effort for Homeless

«Habitat+5» Has Its Optimists and Pessimists

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NEW YORK, JUNE 11, 2001 ( At «Habitat+5,» the United Nations Special Session on Human Settlements held last week, the Vatican called for a worthy home for all the world´s poor.

The purpose of the three-day meeting, which included representatives from 170 countries, was to analyze and relaunch the commitments made five years ago by the international community at the Habitat Conference held in Istanbul, Turkey.

Addressing the assembly, Monsignor Francis Assisi Chullikatt, head of the Vatican delegation, explained that the Holy See welcomes the adoption of the «Declaration on Cities and Other Human Settlements in the New Millennium.»

«In this declaration,» he said, «representatives will reaffirm their commitment to recognize the important role of the family, as the basic unit of society, to eradicate poverty, safeguard the environment, respect human dignity, and promote and protect human rights.»

In his address Friday, the Vatican representative emphasized that the «success of this Special Session cannot overshadow the fact that so many people remain homeless or, as victims of armed conflict, natural disaster, or economic turmoil, have been forced from their homes, their livelihoods and, in many cases, separated from their families.»

Monsignor Chullikatt said the Vatican was the spokesman for the millions of people who live in «absolute poverty and without access to basic social services, such as clean water, safe sanitation, education, health care, and adequate nutrition, those things that are necessary for life and the realization of human potential.»

He continued: «[The] Special Session must spark a renewal of the world´s commitment to a solidarity that recognizes the benefits that come from a realization of the common good, and a concern for the dignity of each member of the human family.»

The conference had its optimists and pessimists.

The optimists were convinced that the conference made progress, though they acknowledged the need to guarantee sustainable development in cities and decent housing for all.

Pessimists such as Milon Kotari, the representative of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, thought a step backward had been taken. Kotari noted that the final document does not describe housing as a human right and, therefore, does not commit countries legally to guarantee it.

According to Paolo Mastrolilli, who covered the conference for Vatican Radio, the United States is one of the countries that most opposed the adoption of this commitment, refusing to «assume at the international level responsibility for homeless people who are in the cities.»

«Moreover, many developing countries in Asia, Latin America and especially in Africa, do not have the instruments to offer elementary goods such as running water,» Mastrolilli reported.

According to U.N. studies, more or less half the world´s population lives in urban centers and the number is growing. Close to 1 billion people live in ghettos or degraded areas, and 100 million are homeless.

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