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The Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements brought to a close a series of world conferences designed to define and launch a global agenda to meet the complex challenges created by a century of unparalleled change. The issue of shelter and sustainable human settlements is recognized as a problem of crisis proportions that affects all countries. The crisis appears in stark and dramatic statistics: in the year 2025 the Earth is expected to be home to almost 100 megacities with populations exceeding five million.

The Habitat Agenda and Istanbul Declaration form the closing chapter of this agenda- setting phase — one inspired largely by the end of the Cold War and a political opportunity for the UN to become a key player in shifting the traditional security agenda of States toward people-centered sustainable development. It is anticipated that Habitat II and the special five-year review of the implementation of Agenda 21 in 1997 will prepare the ground for a new era focused on implementation of the conference outcomes in a series of partnerships involving States and their new competitors for resources and influence in a rapidly globalizing world: cities, transnational corporations, NGOs, and members of an epistemic and scientific community who have become indispensable sources of the risk-laden knowledge that informs contemporary policy in almost every area.

It was both appropriate and perhaps indicative of things to come that two of the major themes of Istanbul were “partnership” and local action. Given the importance of Local Agenda 21s in the dissemination and implementation of sustainable development concepts, Habitat II will complement and reinforce the UN system’s desire to create essential alliances at the community level. If some delegations demonstrated unease at the prospect of ceding sovereign control of the Habitat Agenda, there was no hesitation by the partners in asserting their expectation that things will never be the same again.