More than 170 countries adopted a blueprint Friday night for tackling 21st century urban problems after they resolved a dispute over women's health and reproductive rights.
In the end, negotiators agreed to reaffirm the results of the 1994 U.N. population conference in Cairo and the farther-reaching 1995 U.N. women's conference in Beijing. They also retained language on reproductive and sexual health and family planning.Delegates met behind closed doors trying to reach a consensus before the 12-day U.N. conference on cities ended at midnight (3 p.m. MDT). Conference Secretary-General Wally N'Dow and U.S. Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros worked to break the deadlock.
In a last-minute move that stunned delegates to the U.N. conference on cities, the United States threatened to vote against the main conference document unless Arab nations agreed to drop apparent criticisms of Israel. The United States warned that such criticisms could disrupt the Middle East peace process.
Also delaying consensus was a Cuban proposal that all states renounce "coercive economic measures" - a reference to a recently tightened U.S. embargo on Cuba. The phrasing was not eliminated but was changed to "very neutral" language that was acceptable to the United States.
Under U.N. rules, conference documents must be approved by consensus, although countries can approve a document and still express reservations.
The down-to-the-wire haggling was a carry-over from U.N. conferences on population and women, which also snagged on issues of family planning and sexual health.
N'Dow said there was agreement on the rest of the 113-page agenda to tackle cities' lack of housing and explosive growth: Two-thirds of the world's people will be living in cities by 2025, the United Nations estimates.
"We have no doubt that if the agenda . . . is implemented even halfway, the living conditions of the ordinary people in the villages, the hamlets, the towns, the cities, certainly in neighborhoods of the big exploding mega-cities, will improve," he said.
Currently, about 100 million people are homeless and at least 600 million people in developing countries live in housing that is either "life- or health-threatening," N'Dow said.
The conference has demonstrated "that the resources exist to put a roof over the head and bring safe water and sanitation, for less than $100 per person, to every man, woman and child on this planet," he said.
For the first time at a U.N. conference, grass-roots organizations, local authorities, the private sector, parliaments and scientists made key decisions alongside government delegates.