Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), said that staging the event in Poland was the “right place, the right time and the right moment to mobilise much needed support for urban crisis response”.
Poland has received more than three million refugees from Ukraine since the war in Ukraine started three months ago, which has caused extensive and widespread damage to towns and cities.
The agenda for the forum, which is the largest global conference on sustainable urban development, has been significantly adjusted to include the conflict in Ukraine and the challenges it has raised about responding to urban conflict, recovery and reconstruction and coping with mass movements of people.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Ms Sharif said the World Urban Forum should “share uncomfortable truths about our urbanising world”, with an additional 93 million people pushed back into extreme poverty in 2020.
But she said the forum was also a place to share inspiring stories, such as Katowice, which has undergone an “amazing transformation from an economy that is heavily reliant on the coal mining industry, to a diversified one that is freer, cleaner and greener, based on culture and services”.
The southern Polish city’s renewal programme was assisted by UN-Habitat’s guidance and expertise in the mid-1990s.
Ms Sharif said that the short walk from the communist-era Spodek Arena, where the ceremony was held, to the International Congress Centre, site of the main programme, was “a giant step through time for Katowice”.
Convened by UN-Habitat and co-organized with the Polish government and Katowice’s municipal authorities, this is the Eleventh Session of the World Urban Forum (WUF11). Since the inaugural conference in 2002, this is the first time it has been staged in central or eastern Europe.
Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General, addressing the ceremony in a recorded message, thanked Poland and its people for “your extraordinary solidarity with Ukrainian refugees in their hour of greatest need”.
He also pointed out that cities could not tackle the current convergence of crises and continued urbanisation alone.
“They need more coordinated support from all levels of government, stronger partnerships with the private sector and civil society,” he said.
The conference, which ends on 30 June, brings together ministers, mayors, governors, urban academics, members of civil society and, for the first time, a youth council, to debate and develop policy ideas and solutions to enable sustainable urban development and cleaner, more liveable cities.
More than 22,000 people from 173 countries have registered, with the majority expected to attend in person and the rest online, in the first fully hybrid World Urban Forum. It is also the most inclusive and accessible World Urban Forum to date, with interpretation and the use of sign language mainstreamed throughout.
Mr. Mateusz Morawiecki, Prime Minister of Poland, said: “I wish all participants a fruitful conference that will draw up conclusions that can be put into action in all our respective countries, and that all countries, including Ukraine, can develop in peace, security and prosperity.”
Grzegorz Puda, Minister of Development Funds and Regional Policy, said: “The future of global cities depends on what we decide today here in Katowice and during the forum.”
In another innovation for the forum, there will be 11 WUF11 zones throughout Katowice.
“We are reaching out to the entire city, especially to engage young people because it is their energy and passion that makes us want to implement good policies for our cities,” said Małgorzata Jarosińska-Jedynak, Secretary of State, Ministry of Development Funds and Regional Policy.
Marcin Krupa, Mayor of Katowice, added: “Katowice was one of the biggest transformation projects in this part of Europe. There would not have been change in Katowice without its residents. It is paramount that our actions include local residents.”
“I wish all participants a fruitful conference that will draw up conclusions that can be put into action in all our respective countries, and that all countries, including Ukraine, can develop in peace, security and prosperity" - Mr. Mateusz Morawiecki, Prime Minister of Poland
Photo: Piotr & Monika Pasieczni