The right to adequate housing in the context of urban disaster displacement in Sierra Leone, Kenya and Uganda

One of the most distinctive dimensions of the FIRE framework is its focus on fundamental rights and equality as developed under international human rights law. Whereas other dimensions of FIRE feature in myriad other frameworks, the focus on the catalogue of rights established under treaties like the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women provides a depth of insight into the nature of state obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of all persons within their jurisdiction.

This blogpost highlights some of the insights that emerged around flood-related displacement, focusing on the right to adequate housing:

Our work during February focused on examining the challenges that arise in the context of flood-related displacement in informal urban settlements from the perspective of the right to adequate housing. The right to adequate housing, together with the right to adequate food, is a part of the right to an adequate standard of living protected under Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, amongst other instruments. What ‘adequate housing’ means has been clarified by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, based on decades of engaging with states on their work to progressively realize this right in practice. According to the Committee, the right to adequate housing consists of seven components, including:

  1. Legal security of tenure
  2. Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure
  3. Affordability
  4. Habitability
  5. Accessibility
  6. Location
  7. Cultural adequacy

Legal security of tenure was a key element of the right to adequate housing in focus when discussing displacement risk in informal settlements. In this connection, the focus in many of our discussions was on the challenge for local authorities in terms of the measures they ought to take to protect people from displacement risk, without supporting settlement in areas with high levels of flood risk. In one case, an added complexity was identified where the informal settlement was located within a protected wetland area where authorities were required to prevent the encroachment of human settlements. In this and other contexts we discussed the human rights legal framework relating to evictions, acknowledging that multiple dimensions including in particular the question of alternative housing arrangements and protection of property were often ignored.

In several groups we discussed the issue of relocation elsewhere, but the same challenges as have been observed around the world relating to priorities of people to be close to livelihood activities in the city were identified in these contexts. In one case, an effort had been made to provide housing in another, more distant, part of the city, but most people had chosen not to move there, preferring the many benefits of living within the city over the safety and quality of accommodation in the more remote location. Indeed, this point connects closely with other elements of the right to adequate housing, including availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure, affordability, accessibility and location, suggesting a deep tension between elements of the right to adequate housing in the context of informal settlements, both generally and in relation to displacement risk. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing identifies upgrading of informal settlements to be a ‘human rights imperative’ aligned with SDG 11, and further discussions around the notion of ‘imposed informality’ will inform the development of the city profiles.

Recognizing challenges relating to preventing flood-related displacement in informal settlements and acknowledging that relocation will often not be a preferred option for residents, discussion also focused on the kinds of measures that local authorities could take to respond to flooding, including improving early warning mechanisms, evacuation routes and temporary shelters. From a human rights and gender equality perspective, a key consideration in this context is the experience of people in situations of vulnerability, and how protection measures can be tailored to ensure, literally, that no one is left behind. This topic will inform discussions as we move into Module 5 on non-discrimination.

The completed city profiles will be launched in August 2023.

freetown thw harbour of sierra leone

Features images: Abenaa / iStock

Find more on this topic here:

Climate Displacement in African Cities

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