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Spring 2003
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Announced at UNEP Meeting

Esri's GUO Grant Initiative to Support UN-HABITAT's Program

At the recent meeting of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Governing Council in Nairobi, Kenya, Esri's Global Urban Observatory (GUO) grant program was announced. The program is an ambitious international grant initiative under the auspices of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT).

The Global Urban Observatory is an international capacity building network, established to help meet the goals of the Habitat Agenda, the World Summit on Sustainable Development, and Agenda 21.

Comments Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, executive director of UN-HABITAT, in announcing the initiative, "UNEP and UN-HABITAT will continue to work as partners to improve the environment and alleviate poverty, two goals that cannot be separated. This partnership will continue to translate into concrete improvements in the living conditions of growing urban populations throughout the world. And, in this regard, I am pleased to announce the signing this afternoon (February 5, 2003) of a Memorandum of Understanding between UN-HABITAT and one of UNEP's key partners in the private sector, Esri. Esri has established a generous grant program that will provide up to 1,000 cities in developing countries with advanced GIS software, training, and support. This will be a significant step forward in advancing the capability of cities to integrate environmental information into their management databases. We are already exploring ways in which UN-HABITAT, UNEP, and Esri might collaborate on both GIS applications and training."

The goal of the grant program is to provide GIS technology and training to cities in the least developed countries so they can participate in the collection of urban indicator information and improve both city management and the lives of urban citizens. These indicators are the foundation for the Global Urban Observatory. The data will be analyzed in support of the Millennium Declaration goal--adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2000--that is most closely related to UN-HABITAT's mission of Goal 7 Target 11: to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020.

Urban indicators include information about poverty, environmental degradation, lack of urban services, degeneration of existing infrastructure, and the lack of access to land and adequate shelter. GUO participating cities can use GIS for analysis and management of the urban indicator data collected and for the dissemination of this information to the public as well as partnering organizations.

"Currently, just under half of the world's population lives in cities. By 2020, nearly 55.7 percent of the world's population will be living in urban areas. This urbanization process is most pronounced in developing countries, where the urban population will increase from 39.9 percent (2000) to 50.8 percent (2020). Estimates of the total number of slum dwellers, based on the Secure Tenure Index, confirm that as many as 30 percent (712 million people) of the world's urban population in 1993 were living in slums," according to UN-HABITAT.

The GUO grant program will be implemented in a phased approach. In 2003, grants will be awarded to provide GIS technology and training to 350 cities that currently do not have access to the technology. The grants consist of a package of GIS software, technical support and upgrades, and training. They are valued at approximately $15,000 (U.S.) each, making the entire program worth about $15 million (U.S.).

"I believe that GIS technology truly can make a positive contribution in improving the general quality of life of the many impoverished people in the world," comments Esri President Jack Dangermond. "We at Esri are honored to offer this support to the UN-HABITAT Global Urban Observatory program."

"Most local authorities in the developing world have outdated information about the state of their cities. Few of them have the technologies to collect and analyze data about basic infrastructure and the current status of housing," concludes Tibaijuka. "If we are going to improve the living conditions of the urban poor, city authorities must be provided with the necessary tools, technology, and training. We are grateful to the software developer Esri for this generous grant. It will enable cities in Africa and Asia to produce accurate and accessible information. This is the basic right of every citizen and essential for good urban governance."

For additional information on the grant program, contact Carmelle J. Côté, Esri-Washington, D.C. (tel.: 703-506-9515, e-mail:

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