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H.E. Mr. Volkan Bozkir, President of 75th session of the General Assembly delivers remarks at the opening of the virtual conference: Cities Matter: Resilient Cities After COVID-19
11 May 2021 -  Your Excellency, Ms. Maimuna Shariff, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UN-Habitat,
Distinguished leaders of the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization and American Institute for Architects,
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak to you via video message and would like to congratulate you as you celebrate the 12th year of collaboration.

Ladies and Gentlemen
Our word has changed irrevocably in the past year. The pandemic has undeniably demonstrated the connection between the urban and natural world.
In September, at first ever United Nations Biodiversity Summit at head of state level, I reiterated the scientific community’s clear message that I will share again today: the degradation of local and regional ecosystems, unsustainable agricultural practices, and the exploitation of natural resources, are putting critical pressure on world ecosystems. Our unsustainable use of nature increases the risk of zoonosis – when infectious disease jumps from a non-human animal to humans. As we have seen from COVID-19, urban areas are the ground zero of the pandemic, with 90 per cent of reported cases. Cities are bearing the brunt of the crisis as they heroically try to manage strained health systems and inadequate water and sanitation services.
As we take steps to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, we must look beyond where we were a year ago. Before the pandemic hit, we were already too far behind. We must look to recover better from where we were before.
As President of the General Assembly, I have been advocating that efforts to recover from the pandemic align with the Sustainable Development Goals and sustainable urbanization. Let me share some of the key points that will be relevant to today’s discussions and have been raised in General Assembly events that I have convened this session.
Firstly, the digital divide, including along rural-urban divides and societal fault lines within cities, risks becoming the new face of inequality and risks leaving the most vulnerable even further behind.
Secondly, the One Health approach, that puts human and planetary health on equal footing, at all levels, must be adopted. This approach is critical to avoid fueling antimicrobial resistance and a future in which all our medical advances are useless.
And thirdly, reformed food systems along urban and peri-urban lines are critical to ensure food security, fight climate change and protect biodiversity.

Ladies and gentlemen,
The New Urban Agenda is a clear blue-print for the sustainable future of cities and human settlements. Thoughtful stewardship of rapid urbanization can be part of the solution for a sustainable future.
As I said during the United Cities and Local Governments World Summit last November, cities, local governments, and parliamentarians are driving critical action across the entire SDG agenda. Green recoveries driven by cities and urban areas can be a prime example that catalyze national-level responses.
Local institutions are often the closest and most direct form of governance. They are essential to meet the needs of the people we serve. They must be open, accessible and responsive to citizen needs in order to be effective.
Local governments, and subnational frameworks are key in building disaster risk resilience. As we build forward stronger, it is essential to equip local governments with the resources, and resilient mechanisms that equip them to deal with crises as they evolve, and with the specificity that local governance structures are able to provide. The Disaster Risk Reduction and the Sendai Frameworks take a necessary whole-of-society approach that includes local governments.
While connections are being made, greater cooperation and coordination at the city, local, regional and national levels, is needed now to accelerate efforts to build back better and to adopt sustainable infrastructure for the years to come.
In conclusion, let us recognize and celebrate the elements that make our cities great: cleaner, breathable air; green spaces; and access to health and social services. To keep up momentum on urban issues, next month I will travel to Nairobi to attend UN-Habitat’s High-level mid-term review meeting of the Committee of Permanent Representatives.

Thank you.