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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

World Urban Forum

Date: 03/10/2010 Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Description: World Urban Forum 5 logo. © UN ImageBACKGROUND


Urbanization and Foreign Policy
Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. If current trends continue, that number will rise to 70% by 2050. The challenges and opportunities created by burgeoning urban populations are closely linked to a number of current U.S. foreign policy priorities, including:

  • Food security;
  • Energy efficiency and climate change;
  • Governance and participation;
  • Safety and security; and
  • International development.


Given the increasing priority of urban issues on the international agenda, the U.S. Government is planning to send an official delegation to UN-HABITAT’s Fifth World Urban Forum (WUF V), being held March 22-26, 2010 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The World Urban Forum (WUF V)
UN-HABITAT’s World Urban Forum (WUF) is the world’s premier multilateral conference examining urban issues. The WUF was established by the United Nations to examine issues related to rapid urbanization and its impact on communities, cities, economies and policies. Through the WUF, the UN and its participants seek to find ways to address burgeoning poverty in cities and achieve environmentally-friendly, sustainable urban growth and development. The WUF also attempts to improve the urban poor's access to basic facilities such as shelter, clean water and sanitation. While not an occasion for signing treaties or issuing official declarations, this biennial event is an opportunity for national and local governments, NGOs, the private sector, urban professionals, academics, and members of civil society to discuss the problems and opportunities associated with modern urbanization while working together to identify successful policies and solutions. The WUF is not a legislative meeting, and does not follow the formal rules of procedure that usually govern official UN meetings. The working arrangements of WUF are kept deliberately simple and relatively informal to generate a healthy and inclusive debate on urban issues.

The USG has been present at every WUF since WUF I, held in Nairobi in 2002 [other conferences include: WUF II (Barcelona, Spain, 2004), WUF III (Vancouver, Canada, 2006), WUF IV (Nanjing, China, 2008).]. The U.S. level of involvement at WUF V is set to supersede that of previous years, thanks in part to momentum created by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development co-hosting together with UN-HABITAT the global celebrations for World Habitat Day 2009 (WHD) in Washington, DC, on October 5, 2009. WHD (and a week of related events in DC and across the country) enjoyed the full support of the White House, the State Department, and a plethora of respected, influential civic entities.

The Fifth World Urban Forum (WUF V)
Sustainable urban development is a priority of growing importance for the Obama Administration, the private sector, and local/regional officials across the country. During the opening ceremony for World Habitat Day 2009, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan announced that he would lead the U.S. Delegation to WUF V. The delegation now has over 50 members and includes a variety of high-level U.S. government principals, advisors, and private sector representatives that come together to form a delegation that reflects many different facets of U.S. society. The size and composition of the U.S. Delegation to WUF V demonstrates the breadth and depth of our country’s interest in responding proactively to the complex challenges of urbanization, and is a continuation of the coordinated USG efforts for hosting World Habitat Day last fall.

WUF V is being hosted by the Brazilian Government, and President Lula is expected to deliver the keynote address at the opening ceremony. The theme of WUF V is "The Right to the City: Bridging the Urban Divide." Both the topic and location of WUF V are timely, as approximately 85% of Brazil’s population resides in urban areas. Despite an emerging middle class, the majority of Brazil’s urban population still lives in poverty. Brazil will also be significantly developing and updating its urban systems over the next few years in preparation to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.

WUF V’s extensive five-day agenda will include an opening ceremony, thematic dialogues, leadership roundtables, issue-focused workshops, side events, media opportunities, networking opportunities, gender- and youth-focused assemblies, and displays/exhibitions in a large exhibit hall.

State Department InvolvementU.S. involvement at WUF will help us craft domestic and foreign policies to ensure that metropolitan regions, both in the U.S. and around the world, develop in ways that are socially inclusive, economically viable, and environmentally sustainable.


The State Department places great and enhanced emphasis on multilateral fora in addressing foreign policy issues, including international development, food security, gender parity, economic growth, governance and participation, and security. Urbanization intersects with many of these priorities, and addressing it via a large presence at WUF V presents a unique opportunity to forward our interests with the several heads of State, dozens of housing/finance/development ministers, and approximately15,000 public and private sector attendees who will be present (in addition to the thousands from around the world who will link up with us and the event through our new media-focused outreach efforts). Our participation also balances our international efforts on food security, which have a more rural focus, and supports our engagement toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals.


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