Pretoria – For the millions of people facing forced evictions and displacement, access to secure and adequate housing continues to be a challenge. According to the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, it is estimated that more than 18 million people were evicted from their homes between 1998 and 2008. Every year, 15 million people have also found themselves displaced due to development projects.
“We are in the grip of a global tenure insecurity crisis,” says Raquel Rolnik, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, in her report presented during the 22nd session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“Access to secure housing and land is a prerequisite for human dignity and an adequate standard of living, yet many millions of people live under the daily threat of eviction, or in an ambiguous situation where their tenure status can be challenged by authorities or private actors at any time,” says Rolnik.
Land tenure, as Rolnik explains in her report, is the relationship among people, as individuals or groups, with respect to land. As a cornerstone of the right to adequate housing, the goal of security of tenure is to ensure the enjoyment by individuals of a secure home and enable them to live in security, peace and dignity.
“Recognition and protection of security of tenure is one of the most compelling challenges of today’s world and is fundamental to preventing the most egregious forms of eviction, displacement, and homelessness,” says Rolnik.
Displacement can be caused by development projects, natural disasters and conflicts. According to the report, by the end of 2011, about 26 million people became homeless due to armed conflicts, violence or human rights violations, while 15 million people were displaced because of natural disasters.
Drought and climate change, as well as land speculation and land grabbing, are major causes of migration from rural areas to cities where access to housing and land is limited, especially for the poorest population. People often settle in inadequate housing, with insecure tenure arrangements. It is projected that 67 per cent of the world’s population will be urban by 2050. In many cities, Rolnik explains, the majority of the world’s population resides in self-made and unplanned settlements, referred to as slums. According to the United Nations Settlements Programme (UN Habitat), it is estimated that 828 million people were living in slums in 2010.
People living in slums are most visible in this global tenure insecurity crisis. However, there are many other individuals and groups affected by tenure insecurity. These range from refugees, people living with HIV, and the poor, to nomadic communities, groups affected by caste-based discrimination and indigenous peoples. Women are particularly at risk because they often have to depend on a man to gain access to housing. Even individual property owners can be insecure, as the recent mortgage and financial crises have shown in different countries.
In her report, Rolnik described the complexity of this issue both in terms of practice and in international human rights law. During the past decade, some improvements have been made which have resulted in protection of various forms of tenure. However, while people already have a right to secure adequate housing, there is an urgent need for more analysis on how this right can be recognized, protected, and realized. “Much work remains to be done to harmonize law with practice,” she says.