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Urban housing, living woes prime focus at UN meet ‘Habitat III’

| | in Bhubaneswar

The Habitat III is the third United Nations conference on housing and sustainable urban development which began in Quito, Ecuador from October 17 will adopt a new Habitat Agenda till the year 2036. The objective is to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable urban development, address poverty and identify and address new and emerging urban challenges for the establishment of the new urban agenda.

The Habitat III will assess progress made on the recommendations made at Habitat II in Istanbul in 1996, a conference that represented a significant landmark for the international municipal movement. It offers a unique opportunity to discuss the important challenge of how cities, towns and villages are planned and managed in order to fulfil their role as drivers of sustainable development.

The first United Nations (UN) Conference on Human Settlements was held in Vancouver in 1976.

Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN), India, in collaboration with partners, has prepared the report as an alternative to the official report from the Government of India (GoI) to UN-Habitat for Habitat III. The report aims to analyze India’s implementation of the Habitat Agenda while documenting the current status of housing and land rights in the country. It highlights key law and policy developments related to housing and land, and presents recommendations to the Indian Government for the improvement of housing and living conditions in the country, and to UN-Habitat for the development of a human rights- based ‘new agenda’ at Habitat III.

In the absence of affordable housing options, millions of urban residents, mostly workers in the informal and unorganised sector, are forced to live in extremely inadequate conditions on the streets or in slums. The Census of India 2011 reported that about 31 per cent of the Indian population-approximately 380 million people-lives in urban areas. This number is projected to increase to about 600 million by 2030. A Technical Group on Urban Housing Shortage estimated that the national urban housing shortage at the end of 2012 was 18.78 million houses; 95 per cent of this shortage (17.96 million dwelling units) was for EWS and LIG.  A 2015 study projects that the urban housing shortage is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 6.6 per cent for 10 years, and will increase to 34 million units by 2022.

As per the Slum Census 2011, India recorded a 37.14 per cent decadal growth in the number of ‘slum’ households. Almost two-thirds of statutory towns in India have ‘slums’ and a total of 13.75 million households live in them. Census 2011 data reveals that 36 per cent of households in informal settlements do not have basic facilities of electricity, tap water, and sanitation within house premises. As per Census 2011, over 27 per cent of urban residents live in rental accommodation, most of which is informal. Most low income residents do not enjoy security of tenure over their land and housing.

India’s National Sample Survey (2007-2008) highlights that nearly two per cent of migrant households in both rural and urban areas have faced forced migration resulting from natural disasters, social/political problems, and displacement from development projects. Since the human right to adequate housing encompasses urban and rural housing, and since the Habitat Agenda also focuses on rural issues, HLRN believes it is important to report on conditions of rural housing and land in India. Census 2011 reports that about 69 per cent of the Indian population (742.5 million people) is rural and lives in 6, 40,867 villages. India has the largest number of rural poor as well as landless households (101 million) in the world. Though Census 2011 documented 0.83 million homeless persons in rural areas, there are no national schemes to address rural homelessness or landlessness. According to the Socio-economic and Caste Census (SECC) 2011, more than 13 per cent of rural households in India live in one room with kutcha (mud/temporary) walls and kutcha roof.

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), between 2008 and 2014, India had the third highest number of people displaced from natural disasters - nearly 30 million people. In 2014, 1,644,700 people were displaced, including from floods in Odisha, Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, and Cyclone Hudhud in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. In 2013, IDMC estimates that 1,042,000 people were displaced from floods while Cyclone Phailin displaced one million people in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. Timely evacuation by the State resulted in prevention of loss of life during cyclones Phailin and Hudhud, but post-disaster relief and resettlement have not been as expeditious.

In 2011, Odisha was badly affected by floods that submerged about 2,600 villages in 19 districts, impacting over 1.1 million people. According to the Government data, 61,000 people had to be evacuated and relocated, more than 10,565 houses were damaged, and 19 people lost their lives, as a result of the flood. Unfortunately, the affected persons suffered again from cyclone Phailin in 2013. Alternative housing is seldom provided to disaster-affected persons.

The compensation provided to disaster-affected families is generally insufficient to rebuild homes and people are often forced to live in inadequate housing.

In October 2014, Cyclone Hudhud damaged almost 7,900 houses in Andhra Pradesh and 50,000 thatched houses in Odisha. In order to receive compensation, affected families were asked to produce proof of identification in the form of house tax receipts or Aadhaar cards. Having lost most of their possessions during the disaster, many survivors were unable to produce the documents and did not receive any relief. Those living in non-notified slums have not received any compensation and continue to live in temporary hutments.

Habitat III presents an opportunity to reflect on commitments-legal and moral-towards safeguarding human rights and ensuring the development of a strong plan of action that reiterates past commitments and creates obligations to reduce poverty, inequality, homelessness, landlessness, forced evictions, displacement and environmental degradation.

The creation of inclusive, equitable, and sustainable habitats requires strong political will, financial commitment, and time-bound implementation. The international community must work together and exert the requisite effort to make this happen. The New Urban Agenda, which will be the focal point of the upcoming Habitat III conference, may drive the achievement of sustainable development goal of making future cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

(Dr Praharaj teaches in Department of Architecture, College of Engineering and Technology, Bhubaneswar) 




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