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The United Nations Human Settlements Programme, UN-HABITAT, is the United Nations agency for human settlements. It is mandated by the UN General Assembly to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all. Towns and cities are growing today at unprecedented rates setting the social, political, cultural and environmental trends of the world, both good and bad. In 1950, one-third of the world's people lived in cities. Just 50 years later, this rose to one-half and will continue to grow to two-thirds, or 6 billion people, by 2050. Cities are now home to half of humankind. Cities are the hubs of much national production and consumption - economic and social processes that generate wealth and opportunity. But they also create disease, crime, pollution, poverty and social unrest. In many cities, especially in developing countries, slum dwellers number more than 50 per cent of the population and have little or no access to shelter, water, and sanitation, education or health services. It is essential that policy-makers understand the power of the city as a catalyst for national development. Sustainable urbanization is one of the most pressing challenges facing the global community in the 21st century.

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