In 1986, the United Nations designed the first Monday of every October to be commemorated as the World Habitat Day. The core of this day, according to its founder, is “to reflect on the state of our towns and cities, and on the basic right of all to adequate shelter.” This year World Habitat Day is focused on Frontier technologies as an innovative tool to transform waste to wealth. The theme derived from the fact that cities around the world produce between 7 to 10 billion tons of waste—be that domestic, commercial, industrial, liquid or solid. Through Solid Ground, Habitat for Humanity has drawn attention to the important role secure tenure, slum upgrading, disaster resilience, and gender equality play in access to land for shelter. As the end of the campaign tiptoes near—but not of our efforts towards working access to land for shelter—we look back at some of our work which aligns with the core of World Habitat Day.
Since many people uproot their lives to large urban centers, big cities experience urbanization more intensely. The effects of urbanization can be seen in the populous informal settlements that are created due to the rapid increase of population and lack of appropriate location and affordable housing. Habitat for Humanity is working in cities, such as in Recife, Brazil, to improve tenure security for families living in favelas, or informal communities, to ensure that they do not have to relocate and to make sure that conditions are adequate and safe. If families have rights to where they reside that are recognized, they feel safer and are more likely to improve the state of their home and surroundings. In other cities, such as Monrovia, Liberia, Habitat for Humanity has forged partnerships with public and private entities leading to the creation of the Slum Upgrading Unit within the National Housing Authority of Liberia. This unit facilitates a path for low-income families to have access to basic services.
As cities urbanize at rapid rates, women’s rights are often overlooked. In many cases, either customary or traditional laws discriminate against women preventing them from accessing or possessing land, or getting information on land related manners. In major cities like Portmore, Jamaica, Habitat for Humanity is working to address issues of water, sanitation, hygiene, and waste, but it has also empowered women to make their voices stronger. As barriers are overcome and opportunities and tools are provided, knowledge of existing governmental programs which support women’s right to land is made more easily accessible. In Cochabamba, Bolivia, Habitat for Humanity partnered with local women and opened the School of Women Leaders for Secure Tenure. Through this venture, women learned how to improve their living conditions and advocate for land tenure. Additionally, in cities, like Beirut, Lebanon, the on-the-ground Habitat for Humanity team has worked with Syrian refugees, who were forced to leave their home-county due to the war. Many women are among the recipients of incremental upgrades to homes, such as providing access to hot water, new windows and upgraded bathrooms.
Urbanization can open up doors to different socio-economic opportunities, but it can also lead to many urban problems, such as lack of tenure security and water and sanitation, gender inequality and more. It is important to see to interconnectedness of these issues. World Habitat Day provides an opportunity to identify and address problems in a pluralistic way. And Habitat for Humanity, from Latin America to Africa, and from Europe to Asia, recognizes the basic right of all to adequate shelter, so that everyone has a decent place to live.