UNIVERSALLY, everyone has a right to adequate living standards, which includes housing. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights obligates States to progressively achieve the full realisation of the right to adequate housing, writes Natasha Koli-Muhire, Deputy Company Secretary at Shelter Afrique.
According to the OHCHR/UN-Habitat factsheet on The Right to Adequate Housing. States have resource constraints and that it may take time to ensure the right to adequate housing to everyone.
Many countries have constitutions that recognize the right to accessible and adequate housing and to reasonable standards of sanitation under their Bill of Rights. This right to adequate housing is critical more so within the context of disasters.
Africa has experienced a significant increase in natural disasters since the 1970s with Sub-Saharan Africa witnessing more than 1000 disasters over the last 40 years. Statistics further show that approximately 26 million people are driven to poverty by natural disasters annually.
These disasters within the African continent, whether due to natural or human causes, have impacted the stability and wellbeing of the affected citizens due to the displacement of individuals and families, massive losses of property, wealth, and livelihoods.
A case in point is the current flooding being experienced in Nigeria, which according to media reports view it to be the worst in the country’s history having claimed more than 500 lives, destroyed more than 200,000 homes and with many more homes being immersed in water.
According to the UN Habitat/AXA 2019 publication titled Supporting Safer Housing Reconstruction After Disasters: Planning and Implementing Technical Assistance at Large, some of the reasons advanced for the massive damage to housing during disaster include deficiencies in building design and construction, low awareness of standards, and poor-quality materials and workmanship.
There is the risk of replicating these mistakes during post disaster (re) construction and therefore the need to introduce improvements that will tackle issues such as hazard resistance, durability, water and sanitation measures, or environmental performance, in a bid to build back better or safer.
The institutional framework for providing emergency shelter and post disaster settlement for the displaced persons is inadequate in many African countries and great reliance is placed on the international agencies and other stakeholder to assist in emergency shelter response, who themselves are unable to respond effectively due to lack of sufficient resources, among other factors.
The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 places the primary responsibility on government to reduce disaster risk, which is shared with the relevant stakeholders, particularly non-State stakeholders who are considered to play an important role as enablers in providing support to States, in line with national policies, laws and regulations and their commitment, goodwill, knowledge, experience and resources is required.
In a bid to align its National Housing Policy, 2004, with the 2010 Constitution, Kenya adopted the National Housing Policy for Kenya (Sessional Paper No. 3) of April 2016 that forms the basis for enhancing the administrative and legislative framework for meeting the housing needs and demands of its citizenry including emergency housing.
The policy recognizes that emergency housing is an area of concern and agrees that there is a general need for stronger and better interventions in this area. It also acknowledges that currently “there is no effective institutional arrangement to address emergency housing issues” and therefore the Government needs to establish mechanisms for proactive planning for emergency housing.
The inability to guarantee housing during and after emergencies is worrying considering that shelter is a top physiological or universal human need.
This challenge is not unique to Kenya. Given the huge capital outlay required to finance housing recovery, stakeholders and more importantly the financial institutions need to actively play a role in financing post disaster recovery and reconstruction as this cannot be left to governments and humanitarian agencies alone.