ESRI, a developer of geographic information system (GIS) software, announces the Global Urban Observatory (GUO) Grant Program. This ambitious international grant initiative is under the auspices of the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-HABITAT). The Global Urban Observatory, an international capacity-building network, was established to help meet the goals of the Habitat Agenda, the World Summit on Sustainable Development, and Agenda 21, from the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

The goal of the grant program is to provide GIS technology and training for up to 1,000 cities in the least developed countries so they can participate in the collection of urban indicator information and improve both city management and the lives of urban citizens. These indicators are the foundation for the Global Urban Observatory. The data will be analyzed in support of the Millennium Declaration goal, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2000, to improve the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020. This declaration is closely related to UN-HABITAT’s Goal 7, Target 11, which states a similar purpose.

Urban indicators include information about poverty, environmental degradation, lack of urban services, degeneration of existing infrastructure, and lack of access to land and adequate shelter. GUO participating cities can use GIS for the analysis and management of the urban indicator data that is collected and for the dissemination of this information to the public as well as partnering organizations.

Currently, just under half of the world's population lives in cities. By the year 2020, already 55.7 percent of the world's population will be living in urban areas. This urbanization process is most pronounced in developing countries, where the urban population will increase from 39.9 percent (2000) to 50.8 percent (2020). Estimates of the total number of slum dwellers, based on the Secure Tenure Index, confirm that as many as 30 percent (712 million) of the world’s urban population in 1993 were living in slums, according to UN- HABITAT.

The GUO Grant Program will be implemented in a phased approach. Initially, grants will be awarded to provide GIS technology and training to 350 cities during 2003 that currently do not have access to the technology. The grants consist of a package of GIS software, technical support and upgrades, and training. They are valued at approximately $15,000 each, making the entire program worth about $15 million.

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