Statement by the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing on World Habitat Day 2004.


The following statement was issued today by the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on adequate housing, Miloon Kothari, on the occasion of World Habitat Day, October 4, 2004.

The theme chosen by the UN to mark World Habitat Day 2004 is: Cities – Engines of Rural Development. The aim is to urge the international community to focus on the need for increased urban-rural integration and to put an end to viewing urban and rural development as separate initiatives.

Considering this theme, the Special Rapporteur urges that the following four key concerns be taken into account: (1) the manifold violations of human rights, including housing and land rights, that characterize the urban landscape across the world today; (2) that unchecked urbanization has, in fact, been one of the engines of destruction of the lives and livelihoods of rural populations; (3) the urban bias that has driven development policies across the world and which, if left unchallenged, will lead to further lop-sided investment in urban areas at the expense of rural poverty alleviation; and (4) the viability of rural livelihoods, including those of small farmers, fisherfolk, and indigenous and tribal peoples, independent of processes of urbanization. Urban areas across the world today are witness to violations of human rights, including the right to adequate housing. Some of the principle causes of such a state of affairs are the inability and unwillingness of governments at local, national and international levels to:

  • Control land and house speculation; to reverse concentration of land and hoarding of property; to promote affordable rental housing; and to invest in social housing. This has led to an increase in the number or people who live in slums and are homeless. According to the UN, in the least developed countries, around 78.2% of the urban population lives in slums.
  • Control the growth and power of land mafias and cartels that further fuel, and benefit from, land and house speculation, and contribute to making affordable housing inaccessible to low-income people.

Reverse the social disintegration of cities in a situation where we are witnessing growing ‘urban apartheid,’ ‘segregation’ and ‘ghettoization’ with physical borders of separation between wealthy and poor urban residents. The Special Rapporteur also stresses the importance of addressing the following rural realities:

  • Despite the fact that the number of people living in cities is rising, the absolute number of rural inhabitants in Africa and Asia is projected to increase over the next 30 years.
  • Extreme poverty is far more prevalent in rural areas. About 75% of the world’s poorest people—around 900 million—live in remote rural areas and depend on agriculture for their survival.
  • Large dams as well as mining and other extractive industries that promote urban development, tend to displace large sections of the rural population thereby violating their rights to life, livelihood and housing. This calls for an urgent reconsideration of such asymmetrical development paradigms.

The Special Rapporteur would also like to highlight three cross-cutting phenomena spanning urban and rural populations. It is imperative that the international community acts:

  • To end the ‘culture of silence’ that confronts women across the world in their struggle for the rights to housing, land, property and inheritance. This should include measures to deal with increasing violence being faced by women due to forced evictions and domestic abuse.
  • To arrest growing landlessness and homelessness. For instance, in the United States, at least 840,000 people are homeless at any given time, while over the course of a year, 2.5 to 3.5 million are homeless.
  • To halt the phenomenon of forced eviction that has recently assumed alarming proportions. In Delhi, India, for example, 350,000 – 400,000 of the urban poor have been evicted from their homes in the last three years. Globally, resettlement policies for those that have been evicted are either non-existent or not based on human rights considerations. This has resulted in millions of people across the world being forced into situations where they face violations of their rights to adequate housing, water and sanitation.

Given such a grave situation of housing and land rights in both urban and rural areas, it is imperative that the international community pushes for a global consensus on the human rights approach including diligent implementation of constitutional provisions, international human rights instruments and outcomes from world conferences. Such initiatives need to be built around:

  • Agrarian reform in rural areas, and land reform and wealth redistribution in both urban and rural areas;
  • Concerted efforts to build more inclusive cities that halt the ongoing process of fragmentation and ‘urban apartheid’. This should be accompanied by legal and policy measures that guarantee people’s rights to information and participation in the planning process;
  • Immediate action to eradicate the existence of land cartels and mafias, including by ensuring that effective laws and polices are in place and are implemented;
  • Guarantee through laws and policies, women’s equal rights to housing, land, property and inheritance; and
  • Focus on the right to adequate housing in rural areas. The current programme of the Brazilian government for subsidizing rural housing is a good example.

On World Habitat Day let us reaffirm our commitments flowing from, inter alia, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Habitat Agenda, to the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to adequate housing.

The international community needs a fresh resolve to tackle the different issues that have been raised in this statement. Failure to do so will mean more homelessness, landlessness and growing urban and rural apartheid across the world.