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WSF 2009: Inhabitants' joint leverage for surviving the global crisis

Key question: Are the inhabitants ready to face the crisis?

The crisis is the source of all sorts of drastic change, but are we ready to face it with unified proposals that are capable of combining resistance with alternatives? As Marxist geographer David Harvey highlighted during his presentation at the seminar on the right to the city, this is the most serious crisis and the most structurally rooted crisis in urban areas in modern history. Consequently, could the social movements attack the roots on the premise of the right to housing and to the city? How? With whom? When?

These are the key questions which have resonated and have been directed by thousands of participants at the dozens of initiatives that have been presented at the WSF in Belem, particularly, in the Urban Tent, and which have resulted in some interesting answers.

The real impact on the inhabitants, the hidden figures behind the global crisis

During the FAL-FALA plenary meeting, Cesare Ottolini, coordinator of the IAI, reminded us that this strategic challenge is substantiated by the often hidden figures. The failure of the neoliberal model has now resulted in over 1.2 billion people being homeless in urban areas, and this figure should reach 1.9 billion by 2020; a record reached thanks to the massive evictions of residents, and which accompanies the cyclical crisis as well as the increasing value of capital in countries. The fact that it concerns a global crisis of neoliberal strategy, and not only the 378th financial crisis since 1970, is illustrated by the amount of derivatives in circulation, a deficit that has exceeded 1.144 quadrillion USD. This is the equivalent of 22 times the GDP of the entire world, or 190,000 USD per inhabitant in the world, or 15.5 times the real estate property value of the entire world. These are not abstract figures; their impact on people's lives has been illustrated by the numerous compelling works presented during the video contest organized by the IAI and whose world premiere was at the Urban Tent of the WSF.

Some responses that are being developed

These impacts demand solutions, as did the presenters from the world over who were present at the seminar of the Zero Evictions Campaign. It should be mentioned that some responses are currently being developed at many levels, for example, the resistance against bulldozers in New Orleans, the self-managed reconstruction by Coophabitat in Santo Domingo, and the people’s monitoring of funds released from the debt service to reclaim the shantytown of Korogocho in Nairobi. Solutions that propose alliances that are solidly supported by institutions, as illustrated, for example, by Catherine Peyge, the mayor who tried to put an end to evictions by order in Bobigny, the availability of Jean-Pierre Elong M'Bassy, Secretary General of the City of United Local Governments of Africa, and president of the AGFE of UN-Habitat Yves Cabannes's united commitment against evictions. In this regard, we should also mention the agreement signed between the IAI and Dignity International, which targets a common commitment in the field.

Urban convergences, excellent common ground for the World Assembly of Inhabitants

Alliances that are of course founded on a dialogue that reinforces the status of the inhabitants and, therefore, the independent expression of their voices that until present was often silenced. Hence, the importance of building the World Assembly of Inhabitants in 2011, a proposal to which more than 120 organizations in the world have signed up during the ESF in Malmö, and at the ASF in Guatemala in 2008, and that receives the support of all inhabitants' organizations and networks, urban social movements and NGOs, as well as the local authorities of FAL-FALA, and which was approved in the document "urban convergencies" on the last day of the WSF in Belem.

So here is some tremendous common ground that could prove to be more effective than that implemented during previous WSFs, if it is developed collectively in all its dimensions: the exchange of experiences, sharing of analyses, and joint g-local platforms.

In other words, the Belem phase has consolidated the proposal to build a global "inhabitants" body for which Joint Promotion Committees of the World Assembly should be the collective intelligence.

For these reasons, and bearing in mind that at present this proposal is better rooted in Latin America and in Europe, the IAI has decided to support its consolidation in Africa and Asia, notably by way of initiatives in inhabitants’ participation in the construction of cities, as well as by supporting some Zero Eviction Campaigns.

It is within this framework, and others, that the 2009 organization of inhabitants' workshops in South Africa/Zimbabwe and in Canton will take place.

Towards the World Assembly, respectful and effective leverage

We need to point out that over the mid to long term this dynamic will be even more useful if it is in line with the mobilizations of the alterglobalist movement against the global crisis, in which the inhabitants' organizations will participate on the basis of the Appeal to the G-20 in November 2008: Build a Global Social Pact for Equitable and Sustainable Habitat now!

This link is indeed strategic in the construction of a global platform, articulating the rights dimension as well as the anti-cyclical dimension supported by public policies aimed at the improvement of housing conditions and the right to the city for the 1.2 billion homeless and poorly housed people.

The mobilization of the residents could, therefore, increase their potential to gain the strategic leverage to survive the global crisis in an alternative manner.

The next step will be to verify and to consolidate this approach during the International Inhabitants' Days (Bobigny, France, September 2009), where the Joint Promotion Committees of the World Assembly and other organizations will meet.

Coming soon: The World Zero Eviction Days in October.