BAM Tragedy Must Drive Resolve Towards Development of Safe Housing Standards Worldwide, UN Expert Says

In my capacity as Special Rapporteur on adequate housing appointed by the UN Commission on Human Rights, I wish to join in the expression of condolences and solidarity to the people of Bam for the loss of human life in the earthquake that took place on 26 December 2003. I express my profound regret that thousands of individuals and families find themselves confronting a severe crisis that has forced them into becoming homeless or surviving in inadequate and insecure housing and living conditions. I am deeply moved by the courage shown by the survivors, women, men and children, as they attempt to rebuild their lives and homes.

The official estimated number of those killed has now reached 30.000 to 32.000. At least 80 per cent of the homes and other buildings in Bam are said to have been destroyed, and some 70.000 people are now homeless. According to UN sources, including the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination presence in Bam, the authorities estimate that a total of 15.000 semi-permanent shelters are urgently needed to ensure housing for the homeless, pending the reconstruction of homes. Reports also indicate that, despite the availability of temporary shelter, many of those affected prefer to find refuge in proximity to their ruined homes in order to recover and protect the remains of their belongings.

The human right of everyone to adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living is enshrined in article 11(1) of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. General Comment No. 4 on the right to adequate housing of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights defines ‘habitability’ as one necessary element of this human right.1/ I would like to stress that the standards dictated by ‘habitability’, including durability of homes to withstand earthquake and other disasters, should guide the reconstruction efforts in Bam.

The tragedy of Bam must drive the resolve of all actors, including UN agencies and programmes, States, civil society and the private sector, to work towards the development of safe housing standards worldwide, including compliance with building standards and bye-laws based on the fulfillment of the right to adequate housing.

Compliance with sound housing standards achieved progressively throughout the world can ensure that the loss of life, human suffering and homelessness resulting from natural disasters are minimized in the future. Positive lessons learnt from rebuilding, including active participation of local people and appropriately trained local masons in the rebuilding process, from previous tragedies such as in Gujarat, India must be adopted in situations like Bam.

I strongly encourage the international community to intensify its efforts to assist the people of Bam and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to rebuild the city of Bam. Such a response would indicate the willingness of the international community to fulfill its obligation of international cooperation in accordance with the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

In the process of rebuilding the lives and homes of people in Bam, it is vital that the immediate humanitarian needs be complemented by planning efforts to ensure that the human rights and sustainable development agenda is established to ensure a safe future for the people of Bam.


1/ According to the General Comment, "(a)dequate housing must be habitable, in terms of providing the inhabitants with adequate space and protecting them from cold, damp, heat, rain, wind or other threats to health […] and structural hazards. […] The physical safety of occupants must be guaranteed as well."