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Rio de Janeiro at the junction towards the World Assembly of Inhabitants

Following the success of the World Zero Evictions Days, preparations for the World Assembly of Inhabitants (WAI) continue. The WAI will be held at the Dakar WSF in 2011. Several Promotor Committees have already been set up in various countries, with further committees currently taking shape on every continent: in particular, there are plans to set up committees during this year’s Social Forums.
These preparations make the Rio de Janeiro step (22-26 March 2010) a major event. It will include the Urban Social Forum (USF), organized by local urban social movements and international housing rights networks, and the World Urban Forum 5 (WUF5), organized by UN-Habitat.

The initial assessment, drawn up during the International Day of Solidarity with Haiti of citizen organization initiatives in support of inhabitants affected by the earthquake, amplifies the importance of these events.

And we should not forget the Rio de Janeiro region, whose inhabitants have no desire to suffer the harmful effects of the Football World Cup (2014) or the Olympic Games (2016): evictions of working class populations driven by powerful real estate interests.

The International Alliance of Inhabitants (IAI) has therefore decided to invest fully in organizing and supporting a programme of initiatives at Rio that aim for the greatest possible political impact by bringing together inhabitants organizations, with all their forces and skills, and their institutional counterparts. It is difficult to believe that, left to themselves, governments, professional investors and even UN-Habitat are capable of abandoning the market-centric approach that has until now characterized most of their interventions. This approach is behind the possible failure of MDG 7-11, if it is confirmed that the number of badly housed and homeless people is set to climb to 700 million by 2020 rather than dropping below 100 million. Neoliberalism blinded these stakeholders to the real estate bubble and explosion of the global financial crisis which is affecting the entire planet, with dozens of millions of people more literally being thrown in the street.

Although it is important that WUF5 be dedicated to “The Right to the City – Bridging the Urban Divide”, without specifications and specific commitments in terms of political and budgetary decisions for developing public and participative housing and urban policies, it will be nothing more than a talking shop.

For these reasons, and in accordance with the agreements reached by Urban Convergences during the Belém WSF, the IAI has undertaken to participate in several initiatives at the USF and WUF5, alongside other inhabitant networks and organizations (COHRE, FAL, FNRU, HIC, etc.).

The USF, organized atthe Açao da Cidadania centre, fairly close to the WUF5, is at the heart of popular mobilization and the WAI construction process. The four chosen themes (Violence and Criminalization of Urban Poverty, Mega Events and Cities Globalization, Environmental Justice in the City, City Centers and Port Areas) represent avenues that can be explored to generate discussion and help us work together to construct the next stages, both locally and globally.

An important role is played by the workshops and assemblies organized by various actors which will supply the WAI Promoter Committee with content and food for thought. On the agenda will be a review of the process currently underway and the mobilization strategy leading up to Dakar.

Another theme will be the video interviews with urban social leaders in the favelas and at the USF, conducted in partnership with the Museu da Pessoa. They constitute the first stage in the multimedia systematization of inhabitant organizations, a founding memory of the shared experiences of a network under construction.

The opening march on 22 March, an event that connects the USF and WUF, will provide grassroots organizations with a concrete means of influencing the official position, opening up an institutional space, challenging the neoliberal approach and proposing a New Social Urban Pact for a Equitable and Sustainable Habitat , rooted in the right to the city for all.

Proposed by the main international networks for the right to housing during the first G20 on the crisis, there is now a need to take things further, in terms of action focused on a joint supported g-local platform, demanding and applying alternative policies as a way out of the urban and global crisis.

Key indicator: the number of homeless and badly housed people, to reduce to zero, so that we all become true inhabitants, playing a mindful and active part in building the cities of the future— the cities we already inhabit.

Rio invites us to meet the challenge.

The Volunteer translators for housing rights without frontiers of IAI who have collaborated on the translation of this text were:

Philippa Bowe Smith, Juliet Haylor