Mandate & History

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.

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), established in 1978, is the lead agency within the UN system for coordinating activities in the field of human settlement development. The organization’s mandate is outlined in the Vancouver Declaration on Human Settlements, Habitat Agenda, Istanbul Declaration on Human Settlements, the Declaration on Cities and Other Human Settlements in the New Millennium, and Resolution 56/206. UN-Habitat’s work is directly related to the United Nations Millennium Declaration, particularly the goals of member States to improve the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020, Target 11, Millennium Development Goal No. 7, and Target 10 which calls for the reduction by half of the number without sustainable access to safe drinking water.

It also serves as the focal point for monitoring progress on implementation of the Habitat Agenda – the global plan of action adopted at the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), held in Istanbul, Turkey in 1996.

The overall objective of UN-Habitat is to promote sustainable urbanization. With this objective under the framework of Medium Term Strategic and Institutional Plan (MTSIP) 2008-2013, UN-Habitat is focusing on five areas of work:

Focus Area 1: Advocacy Monitoring and partnership
Focus Area 2: Participatory urban planning management and governance
Focus Area 3: Pro poor land and housing
Focus Area 4: Environmentally sound basic urban infrastructure and services
Focus Area 5: Strengthen Human settlements Finance system


On 1 January 1975, the UN General Assembly established the United Nations Habitat and Human Settlements Foundation (UNHHSF), the first official UN body dedicated to urbanization issues. Under the umbrella of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), its task was to assist national programs relating to human settlements through the provision of capital and technical assistance, particularly in developing countries. The UNHHSF was only given an initial budget of 4 million US dollars for a total period of four years. At the time, urbanization and its impacts were less prominent in the UN agenda, mainly because two-thirds of humanity was still rural.

The conference known as Habitat I, the first international UN conference to fully recognize the challenge of urbanization, was held in 1976 in Vancouver, Canada. As a result of this conference, on 19 December 1977, the precursors of UN-Habitat were created in the form of both the United Nations Commission on Human Settlements – an intergovernmental body – and the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (also known simply as “Habitat”), which served as the executive secretariat of the Commission. Habitat was then also mandated to manage the UNHHSF funds.