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Weird open sky policies!
Millions in this world are still condemned to live without a roof on their heads. Rather than blaming it on destiny, it’s time that the ‘haves’ did their duty more proactively
Issue Date - 24/11/2011
“The human right to adequate housing is the right of every woman, man, youth and child to gain and sustain a safe and secure home and community in which to live in peace and dignity.” The Universal Declaration of Human Rights on adequate housing for everyone has been generously accepted by every country and has been a part of many constitutions; but unfortunately, it has not been accomplished effectively in practice. There is a global housing crisis here and now, and we are not talking about the vagaries of the real-estate market.

The most widespread and shameful phenomenon is forced eviction or the removal of people against their will from their homes or property, which is sought after by the government and private developers. These people either become homeless or move to remote or slum areas. However, people living in slums and informal settlements are particularly in danger from forced eviction. Currently, more than one billion people live in slums across the world. More surprisingly, United Nations has projected that more than two billion people will live in slums by 2030. In Nigeria alone, more than two million people have been forcibly evicted from their homes since 2000. Around seven lakh people lost their dwellings in a single mass eviction campaign called Operation Murambatsvina (“Operation Drive Out Rubbish”) in 2005 in Zimbabwe. The Central American Council on Housing and Human Settlements (CCVAH) revealed that around 43% of the 43 million inhabitants of the seven countries in Central America – Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama – lack decent housing.

But the problem is not limited to only poor and least developing countries in Africa and Central America. Rights to housing have been ignored in developing countries (like India & China) as well as developed countries (like US). As per UN-HABITAT, there are 3 million people live without adequate housing in the European Council. HUD’s Homeless Assessment Report to Congress exposed that there were 671,888 homeless persons in the US in 2008. In recent times, migration has become a serious problem throughout the world. As a result, almost 200 million migrants have faced discrimination in housing.

With time, violations to the right to housing have become a grave concern. But all the concerns raised by organizations like United Nations Centre for Human Settlement, the European Research Centre on Migration and Ethnic Relations (ERCOMER), Habitat for Humanity International and initiatives taken many nations like “Housing First” in US have had limited impact. Governments seem to have handled business interests much better as compared to issues for the common man like affordable houses. As an example, despite the Guatemalan government’s decent effort to mitigate homelessness, poor people there are neither able to provide collateral to get loans nor equipped to pay 6,666 quetzal ($865) in fees to the government to buy a house.

Still, the scenario is not same in every country. Sweden is an excellent test case. A new financing system adopted by the Swedish Government in 1993 simplified the procedure of interest subsidies for house-building. Besides, municipalities are responsible to provide a home to everyone and this has been remarkably effective. Cuba, a poor & ‘embargoed’ country, has led from the front in solving housing problems. Housing is not free, but the government has put in all efforts to keep costs low. Besides, the unique culture in Cuba to keep extended families together helps maintain zero homelessness. That may not be possible for most modernising societies. But with proper planning, implementation, and active P-P-P deployment, governments of the world can significantly bridge the ‘housing divide’. Living in denial will increasingly become less of an option.


Amir Hossain           

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