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OAS Secretary General opens Roundtable Discussion on "Sustainable Cities and Communities in the Americas" in Conjunction with the General Assembly Session in Antigua, Guatemala

  June 4, 2013

The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, today opened the roundtable discussion “Building Sustainable Cities and Communities in the Americas: Moving from Demonstration Projects to Scale," which took place in the context of the forty-third regular session of the OAS General Assembly, in Antigua, Guatemala.

In his welcoming remarks, Secretary General Insulza recalled that “urbanization in Latin America has increased at an extraordinary pace over the past 30 years.” He said the American Hemisphere is one of the most urbanized on the Planet, with cities that are home to over 80 percent of its population. “The rapid pace of urbanization poses serious challenges to community life, particularly in terms of housing and transportation, and to the quality of human health and the environment,” he said.

During the event, held at the Training Center of the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation and Development (AECID) in Antigua, Guatemala, the head of the hemispheric institution spoke with representatives of 14 nongovernmental organizations from 10 countries, which received subsidies for the execution of innovative projects in the areas of clean energy, sustainable waste management, natural disaster mitigation, and sustainable transportation in their communities.

“This subsidy and personnel training program will promote alliances among local governments, nongovernmental organizations, and private enterprise in sustainable development investment projects,” he said. “We hope the results of these efforts will soon lead to long-term initiatives, which should extend beyond the seventh session of the World Urban Forum, to be held in Medellín, Colombia, in 2014.”

Secretary General Insulza went on to say “numerous innovative policies and strategies designed and implemented by governments and development agencies through the Hemisphere have been successful, and it is important to recognize them here. The member states face great challenges in making cities more functional. The rapid urbanization we have experienced will not be reversed; it will call for visionary, comprehensive policies for addressing problems like population growth, food security, citizen security, and energy and environmental security,” he concluded.

The opening of the event was also attended by the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources of Guatemala, Marcia Roxana Sobenes García, and the Permanent Representative of the United States to the OAS, Carmen Lomellin. They stressed that, as centers of innovation and economic creativity, cities in the Americas are drivers of growth and poverty reduction. They also noted the challenges of rapid urbanization, its environmental impact, and the need for coordinated efforts to allow the sharing of best practices and experiences in this area.

Ambassador Lomellin said that, “in response to these challenges, we have the opportunity and responsibility to work together to develop shared solutions. No country or city has all the answers.” She recalled that, as for sustainable city and community development, “we are convinced that the most dynamic and fruitful collaboration will come from increased dialogue at the subnational level.”

For her part, Minister Roxana Sobenes Garcia said that “environmental and social problems don't recognize the territorial boundaries that we have defined and we respect. Environmental issues, protection against disasters, protection of our water, soil, and forests, public participation, compliance with environmental regulations, and promoting green economies are priorities we all share, and on which the Government of Guatemala believes we should focus our common vision.”

The event, held in the context of the OAS General Assembly session to be inaugurated this morning in Antigua, Guatemala, was part of the initiative Sustainable Communities in Central America and the Caribbean, promoted by the Department of Sustainable Development of the OAS Executive Secretariat for Integral Development, with support from the Permanent Mission of the United States. The meeting was convened to discuss, among other topics, pragmatic traffic solutions; intelligent electrical networks; eco-friendly buildings; and recycling technologies.

In addition to the opening ceremony, the agenda included a panel discussion of mayors, moderated by the OAS Executive Secretary for Integral Development, Sherry Tross, on the "portrait of a sustainable city." Speaking were Eduardo Rivera Pérez, Municipal President of Puebla, Mexico; José Antonio Coro García, Mayor of the Municipality of Santa Catarina Pinula, Guatemala; and Ricardo José Arango, Director of the World Urban Forum and representative of the municipal government of Medellín,.

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-217/13