Executive Secretary's Speech to Marchers from the Four Regions Slum Dwellers' network

The exchange of flags that we just witnessed between the climate change marchers and the slum dwellers captures the two great moral challenges of our generation – poverty and climate change – and in Asia and the Pacific, both these challenges are intimately linked. Failure to tackle one will lead to failure in tackling the other.

Two thirds of the World’s poor live in this region. Over the past seven years, Asia and the Pacific has suffered eighty percent of global casualties related to extreme weather events such as typhoons and floods. Just a few days ago we saw the damage that Typhoon Ketsana caused in the Philippines, Cambodia and Viet Nam. Climate change will increase the frequency and intensity of such extreme weather events.

As you know yourselves, the worst affected from such disasters are the poor, particularly the more than 500 million Asians who live in slums and squatter settlements without adequate shelter, without basic infrastructure and services and often on land that is particularly prone to natural disasters.

We at the United Nations understand that poverty is not just a lack of income, it is also a lack of choice, voice and security. The poor live in slums because they have no other choice. One natural disaster, one illness can lead a family from a future full of hope to utter despair. We also understand that the voices of the poor are often not heard in the corridors of power.

If we are to successfully meet the challenges of poverty and make our societies resilient to climate change, we have to address all these aspects of poverty. We have to ensure that all of us – UN agencies, governments, community organizations, NGOs, academic institutions and the private sector – work together, as partners, to upgrade slums and squatter settlements and if that is not possible, to mutually find acceptable resettlement options.

Decent housing is not just a basic need; it is a basic right. We must ensure it.