For a full week in February, the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (KLCC) area was out-of-bounds to ordinary Malaysians save for those who earned right of United Nations access to attend the ninth World Urban Forum (WUF9) held on 7-13 Feb. 2018.
Attendees and participants from all over the world listened to experts offering their insights into improving the lot and the bettering the lives of urbanites in typical United Nation’s elaborate style.
WUF – which began with the inaugural event in Nairobi, Kenya in 2002 – is a biennial technical forum convened by the United Nations that brings together experts and stakeholders that contribute towards sustainable urban development and human settlements. WUF9 focussed its deliberations on the theme – Cities 2030, Cities for All, Implementing the New Urban Agenda
For the uninitiated, the New Urban Agenda is the UN’s common vision and global standard in the universal approach for urban development come 2030 in line with the world body’s Sustainable Development Goals.
During that one week duration in Kuala Lumpur, the barriers were up and the convention space was UN territory – which meant access was open to all attendees with the temporary lifting of any immigration restrictions imposed by the home country organising the event. That led to the ticklish political frisson stirred by the spectre of Israeli presence in Malaysia.
Curiously, the backlash erupted after the jamboree ended and only after the 'gatecrashing guests’ thumbed up their noses at their hosts by cheekily splashing their exploits – capturing their trip outside the confines of UN-territory of KLCC – on social media. Apparently, one of their diplomats skived off to investigate how Israeli technological tentacles have been embraced by unsuspecting or ignorant subscribers amongst taxi drivers plying KL’s confusing city roads – courtesy of Waze.
The international nature of this gathering did not stop there. Also visible by their ubiquitous presence was the overwhelmingly international posse of light-blue shirted, gun-toting UN police force with its multifarious nationalities – even our boys from the PDRM were confined to road traffic duties well outside the UN cordon sanitaire.
Pineda raises the stark spectre that disability will come to haunt just about everybody at some point of their lives – if we all live long enough
Amid the suffocating security, most attention was focussed on Victor Pineda, the Venezuelan-born American disability rights advocate afflicted by a neuromuscular condition which has made him wheelchair-bound since the age of five. He moves around with a special gadget encased in a haversack strapped to the back of his wheelchair that supplies air delivered through a tube for Pineda to breathe.
Reliant on full-time helpers, Pineda, PhD; is a globally-acknowledged academic and activist who served as the disability rights consultant under the Obama administration in 2015, contributing his views to the architectural and transportation barriers compliance access board.
Pineda is the President of World ENABLED, an educational non-profit organization that promotes the rights and dignities of persons with disabilities. It was developed in 2003 as a collaborative initiative of The Pineda Foundation for Youth.
He is a leading global expert on disability rights, policy, planning, and design and has worked closely with the U.S. Department of the Treasury, World Bank, United Nations, UNESCO, UNICEF, and cabinet-level officials in the UAE, Qatar, Venezuela, and Serbia among others to develop policies and programs that include persons with disabilities as equal stakeholders in development.
Pineda was born to a Serbian mother and Venezuelan father in Caracas. His disability caused him to stop walking at age 5 and by the time he was in high school, used a machine to help him breathe.
His mother moved the family to California where the opportunity and Pineda’s own resilience opened a whole vista of education and development opportunities only America could provide.
Mr. Pineda holds a Ph.D. from the Luskin School for Public Affairs at the University of California at Los Angeles and a Master’s in City and Regional Planning, a B.A. in Political Economy, and a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of California at Berkeley.
He has used his own experience and academic heft to lead the movement for change, for the urban environment and cities to take heed, plan and provide for people with disability as a matter of course.
In this interview with AWANI Review, Pineda raises the stark spectre that disability will come to haunt just about everybody at some point of their lives – if we all live long enough.
Pineda adds, while more than half of the world’s population live in cities, more than 80 percent of them are populations from the developing world. This presents challenges as well as opportunities in catering to the needs of the disabled.
Pineda further posits that living in a connected world bound by trade, countries can be persuaded to apply, implement and conform to universal standards of compliance to make disability less of a liability.