Africa requires long-term policy responses that ensure housing stability and secure land tenure, especially for the most vulnerable, in order to recover properly from Covid-19, says Habitat for Humanity.
The coronavirus pandemic has primarily been a public health crisis and an economic crisis. But it has also thrown a spotlight on other important issues on the African continent, such as housing insecurity.
Low-income families and communities are especially vulnerable to the spread of the disease, living in densely populated slums and settlements or impoverished rural areas hard to reach with public services. Without a secure place to call home, it is extremely difficult to self-quarantine, stay safe or even regularly wash your hands. In many slum areas of Addis Ababa, for example, women walk for half an hour to the nearest water source and save water for essential needs, such as drinking and cooking. People who live in Kibera, in the informal settlements of Lusaka or in the townships of Johannesburg have poor access to medical services and rely on crowded, informal markets for food and general supplies, where it is easy to contract a virus.
The fast-moving threats posed by the Covid-19 pandemic have forced governments and development organisations to respond rapidly. It was important to provide immediate financial support to households and conduct public awareness campaigns to reduce transmission of Covid-19 in homes and communities. In Ethiopia, for example, residents of informal settlements in Lideta Sub City and Woreda districts received sanitation kits and essential support to cope with economic hardships. In Zambia, public awareness campaigns on hand-washing targeted low-income groups and informal settlements of Lusaka.
Recently, the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Africa has passed 1 million. Some governments responded fast and dealt with the situation better. Senegal, for example, acted swiftly to close the borders and opted for widespread testing ─ lessons learned from the Ebola response. Now, as countries begin to plan to emerge from the pandemic, we are urging decision-makers to consider policy responses that ensure housing stability and secure land tenure, especially for the most vulnerable. Without that, we are convinced there can be no proper recovery from Covid-19.
We at Habitat for Humanity are hopeful that governments and policymakers, the private sector, community organisations and all other stakeholders will join us in protecting the adequacy, affordability, accessibility and stability of housing by:
- Continuing and expanding direct financial and technical assistance to households to assure housing stability, and ensure the sustainability of housing construction markets, as the economic impact of this pandemic will last for some time.
- Reducing overcrowding by enhancing systems for land use planning, implementation of secure tenure mechanisms and regulatory environments that promote physical improvements and safe construction at the household-level.
- Establishing handwashing facilities and plumbing upgrades to help prevent the spread of disease.
- Adapting building solutions to enhance health and well-being, such as concrete floors, solid roofs, well-fitting doors and windows, and designs which facilitate adequate ventilation, all of which help to prevent the spread of rodents, mosquitoes and other factors that spread diseases.
- Abstaining from relocations in informal settlements as a response to Covid-19 as it highly disruptive to people’s livelihoods and social networks and tackles only one side of the problem.
- Integrating the voice of communities into Covid-19 response and plans.
Responding adequately to this global crisis will require action at every level: enabling community organisations to make improvements that benefit entire villages, settlements and neighbourhoods; helping the public sector adopt policies that are favourable to low income families; and working with national government to implement those policies, such as improving access to secure land tenure for women. The private sector will need expertise and technical assistance, creating opportunities in the banking, building and construction industries to help financially sustainable businesses target the housing needs of the vulnerable groups.
Every government has its own response to the pandemic. However, they vary in their approach and intensity, and civil society has a unique role, as part of the global community, to ensure that the response is as even and as equitable as possible. At Habitat for Humanity, we have been running a petition to push the EU to prioritise affordable housing and water and sanitation services in informal settlements in their next budget.
Prior to the crisis there were already an estimated 1.6 billion people globally living without adequate shelter. The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem, pushing more people into sever poverty and deepening the housing crisis. Now, more than ever, we call on policymakers to work on housing policies and create the best vaccine against diseases – a proper home.
Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit organisation that helps families build and improve places to call home. We believe affordable housing plays a critical role in strong and stable communities.