World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn and Klaus Töpfer, Under Secretary General and Acting Executive Director of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UN agency for cities), met Wednesday in Washington and launched the Cities Alliance, a multi-donor partnership to develop strategies to improve the living conditions of the urban poor and upgrade slums and squatter settlements.
"The Cities Alliance seeks to marshal the forces of localism and globalism to improve the quality of urban life," Wolfensohn said. "With more than 60 percent of the world's population living in cities by 2025, governance of cities is critical to achieving sustainable development. Experience has shown that the prospects for success in our fight against poverty are much brighter where city governments own their development strategies and have the means to implement them in consultation with local residents."
Community-based efforts, supported by national governments and global agencies, can dramatically improve living conditions for those suffering under extreme poverty in cities in developing countries.
For example, when Surat, India, grabbed headlines in 1994 with an outbreak of plague spread by rats in dirty, overpopulated slums, an overhaul of the city's administration was launched with residents participating directly in planning. Two years later, a study found that Surat was India's second-cleanest city.
Similarly, in Xalapa, Mexico, a squatters' community group developed a plan to improve living conditions in 80 low-income neighborhoods around the city's periphery. The group secured formal, legal recognition of the squatters' community as part of the city, and today they are consulted on decisions affecting them.
The Cities Alliance is a mechanism by which local initiatives and practices such as these can be transferred to other cities to promote sustainable, healthy urban areas.
Specifically, the Alliance will provide funds to help municipal governments design development strategies that meet their cities' needs, ensuring that urban-dwellers' concerns are addressed in national plans. More than US$5 million in seed funding, along with staff and administrative support for the Alliance, have been committed by the World Bank, the UN agency for cities and the Government of Japan, with additional pledges of support from Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.
"The challenge is to make local successes proliferate," said Klaus Töpfer, acting Executive Director of the UN agency for cities. "By combining our organizations' experience in dealing with urban problems and mobilizing capital, the Alliance will create opportunities for cities to share best practices in health, transportation, sanitation, power distribution and job creation."
This initial funding supports a task team in the World Bank that will design approaches to city-wide and nation-wide slum improvement programs in seven countries over three years.
Within the Cities Alliance framework, the World Bank will provide technical advice to help implement city development strategies, which will originate with and be owned by local authorities and residents.
A recent World Bank survey of urban decision-makers found that basic infrastructure is their first priority for future assistance. The Cities Alliance will seek to respond to existing urban initiatives that demonstrate positive outcomes and wide support from beneficiaries and local institutions, such as community-based organizations and NGOs. It will aim to create a global partnership with donor agencies, business leaders and private foundations to realize the rich promise of well-managed cities.
Helpful Links: To learn more about the World Bank's work in urban development, click here. For more on the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, visit