Stressing That Fallout from Conflict, Colonialism Drives Homelessness, Speakers in Social Development Commission Call for Durable Solutions
The legacies of conflict, colonialism and a lopsided global financial system took centre stage as drivers of inequality — and in turn, homelessness — as the Commission for Social Development continued its general discussion today.
Delegates from a range of countries pointed to structural imbalances and a history of dispossession, as the Commission delved deeper into the theme of its fifty-eighth session, namely, “Affordable housing and social protection systems for all to address homelessness”. Recounting challenges and sharing solutions, they also called for more support from developed nations — especially in ending protracted wars and tackling the existential threat of climate change.
The representative of Afghanistan said that infrastructure in his country has been largely destroyed by decades of war, while its citizens continue to be uprooted by cross-border terrorism, extremism and natural disasters. “In such contexts, homelessness often implies a complete loss of dignity and rights,” he said, noting that even those who manage to return often find their homes unrecognizable. In addition, Afghanistan is impacted by rapid urbanization and climate shocks, such as droughts and landslides. Against that backdrop, the National Peace and Development Framework focuses on durable solutions for a better future, he said.
Striking a similar tone, Iraq’s representative emphasized that the success of any development strategy requires peace and stability as a necessary precondition. Outlining her country’s poverty eradication strategy, she said it includes targeted legal and political responses to old and emerging challenges, such as terrorism and unplanned housing settlements. It focuses on building a sustainable revenue base, empowering human capital, providing affordable housing and ensuring protection for its poorest people, she added.
The representative of Iran was among those who spotlighted the negative impact of some powerful countries’ actions on others in the global community. Emphasizing that the right to development has been seriously eroded by the nations that dominate the international financial system, he decried the imposition of unilateral, coercive economic fiscal and trade restrictions — also known as sanctions — as a contributing factor to poverty and homelessness.
Cuba’s representative echoed some of those points, outlining some of the impacts of the long‑standing trade and financial blockade imposed against his people by the United States. Describing that policy as vicious and criminal, he said it is intended to weaken the resistance of the Cuban people. In that vein, he characterized the current global economic order as unjust and unsustainable, and urged developed countries to shoulder their commitments vis-à-vis official development assistance (ODA) and the worsening global environmental crisis.
The representative of Namibia, providing an even longer-term perspective, outlined the structural legacy of discriminatory policies, colonialism and Apartheid in her country. Noting that such a history of dispossession resulted in deep inequalities with which Namibia is still grappling, she said those challenges are now further exacerbated by climate change, with more frequent droughts increasingly driving rural-to-urban migration.
Viet Nam’s representative agreed that climate change is one of the biggest factors underlying homelessness in his country. Indeed, he said, extreme weather events can leave hundreds of thousands of people without shelter. Viet Nam spares no effort when it comes to adaptation and mitigation efforts, he said, adding: “Climate change affects us all and we therefore need to collaborate on solutions.”
The representatives of several least developed countries, small island developing States and landlocked developing countries also sounded alarm about the impacts of climate change and inequality, pointing out that 80 per cent of the more than 1 billion people living in slums or informal settlements reside in developing countries. Describing that statistic as “an urgent wake-up call”, the representative of Bangladesh stressed that more support to developing nations is imperative if the world hopes to tackle poverty, inequality and exclusion.
Also speaking were representatives of Poland, Colombia, Senegal, Uruguay, Italy, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, United States, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, United Kingdom, Japan, Myanmar, Ecuador, Pakistan, Zambia, Sweden and Panama.
Speakers representing the non-governmental organizations Doha Family Institute, ATD Fourth World and Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University also participated.
The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 17 February, to continue its work.
PAWEŁ RADOMSKI (Poland), associating himself with the European Union, said that article 75 of his country’s Constitution provides that public authorities must meet the housing needs of citizens. Despite no direct right to housing, tenants’ rights are strongly protected in Poland. Its Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Policy monitors the scale of homelessness nationwide every two years. According to its February 2019 data, there were about 30,000 homeless people across Poland, mainly men. The most frequent reasons cited for becoming homeless were family conflict, addiction, eviction and the deregistration of residence. In 2016, the Government adopted a national housing programme which focuses on affordable flat rentals under commercial terms and conditions, as well as the construction of rental flats under an integrated social rental housing programme. Low-income people are also provided with financial and social support through a subsidy fund, he said.
CAROLINA GUTIERRÉZ BACCI (Colombia), associating herself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China and the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said her country is strengthening its housing policy based on the principles of stability, coordination and comprehensiveness. Among other things, the Government is focusing on complementary home buying, leasing and saving schemes, as well as easier financing for low-income housing. The target is to build 520,000 new housing units and upgrade 600,000 others. She emphasized that housing policy must be long-term and geared towards reducing the national housing deficit while also improving citizens’ lives.
SARA NDIAYE (Senegal), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, drew attention to his country’s national development model, the Plan for an Emerging Senegal, as well as the policies it has put into place to combat inequality and social exclusion. Housing-related measures include legislation to encourage the manufacture and use of building materials at the local level, an approach that is environmentally friendly while also contributing to affordable accommodation. He went on to call for a paradigm shift in the fight against poverty that would include the establishment of a global fund for social protection.
LUIS HOMERO BERMÚDEZ ÁLVAREZ (Uruguay) said that, while Uruguay has seen a significant drop in unemployment in recent years, gaps remain in terms of quality employment and training. Developing effective policies requires the participation of all stakeholders, including persons of African origin and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons community. He underscored the role that cooperatives can play in promoting equality and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, explaining that the history of cooperatives in Uruguay is closely linked to the country’s development.
MOHAMMED NAEEMI (Afghanistan), associating himself with the Group of 77, said that vulnerable people in conflict-affected areas are often uprooted from their homes, families and everyday lives. Those who manage to return later find their homes unrecognizable, destroyed by conflict and underdevelopment. “In such contexts, homelessness often implies a complete loss of dignity and rights,” he said, noting that such a situation is regrettably the case in Afghanistan. While the country is firmly committed to implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the New Urban Agenda, its citizens continue to be displaced by cross-border terrorism, extremism and natural disasters. Infrastructure has also been destroyed by decades of war and instability. Pointing out that Afghanistan is one of the most rapidly urbanizing countries in the world, he said it is also impacted by climate shocks, droughts and landslides. Against that backdrop, homelessness in Afghanistan cannot be addressed in isolation. The Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework includes a strategy to ensure a better future for the country’s displaced people, focused on durable solutions, and the Urban National Priority Programme (2016‑2025) seeks to provide adequate housing and land tenure rights to all Afghans. He appealed to the international community to work in partnership with his country to help realize those goals.
SIMONA DE MARTINO (Italy), associating herself with the European Union, said that homelessness is a violation of the right to adequate housing as stated in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is also a condition through which numerous other human rights are not granted. Italy works to address the phenomenon through specific interventions aimed at combating poverty and supporting homeless persons. She underlined the need to shift from an emergency approach to a strategic one — such as through a “Housing First” or “housing-led” model. For the first time, Italy has defined a comprehensive national plan based on the principle of active inclusion and on the identification of appropriate models of intervention for vulnerable categories of people — especially youth, persons with disabilities and older persons. For the latter, Italy has adopted specific social policies which take into account the psychological and physical aspects of ageing, she said.
OBAIDA ABDULLAH ABOU ELABASS ELDANDARAWY (Egypt), associating himself with the Group of 77, said that his Government’s 2014 Constitution includes a specific article on the right to housing. In addition, the national housing plan respects the environment and targets poor areas by strengthening infrastructure and access to services. Noting that the goal is to ensure adequate, dignified housing for all people, including women who are the heads of their households, he said there are plans to build 1.5 million new housing units, with 658,000 completed to date. Over the last year, Egypt has worked to eradicate its slums — building newer, safer housing in their place — while expanding health care, clean water and other social services to the poorest residents. Among other things, it is paving roads and undertaking other public projects to reinvigorate the areas where slums once stood, he said.
SERHAD VARLI (Turkey) said that his country has a strong track record of providing accessible housing and services to all its people. In 2016, it launched the “Accommodation to the Homeless” project, aimed to support people on the streets, especially during the winter months. “We need to accept that homelessness is a housing problem,” he said, noting that Turkey has undertaken efforts to ensure that lower- and middle-income people can become homeowners, including by building more than 900,000 new units in several cities. It also carries out renewal and transformation projects in slums and other areas with high risk of natural disasters. Disadvantaged groups, such as persons with disabilities, pensioners and the families of martyrs, are the top priority for Turkey’s support programmes, he said, also noting that the country continues to host the world’s largest refugee population and provides more than 4 million refugees — mainly from Syria — with housing, food, health care, education, social services, vocational training and psychological support.
DINH NHO HUNG (Viet Nam), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said that combating homelessness requires a comprehensive set of policies which address both the phenomenon itself and its causes. Under the Constitution, everyone in Viet Nam has a right to home ownership, he said, adding that social protection plays a key role in realizing the right to housing. Climate change is one of the biggest factors underlying homelessness, he added, emphasizing that extreme weather events can leave hundreds of thousands of people without shelter. As a country most affected by climate change, Viet Nam spares no effort when it comes to adaptation and mitigation efforts. “Climate change affects us all and we therefore need to collaborate on solutions,” he said.
MOHAMMAD ABDURRAHMAN S. ALKADI (Saudi Arabia), associating himself with the Group of 77, said that his country is stepping up its social protection efforts to combat homelessness. The level of home ownership across Saudi Arabia has grown significantly thanks to a new housing programme launched in 2017. On health care, he noted an increase in the number of family doctors and psychiatric clinics, as well as the deployment of mobile clinics to reach outlying areas. The King Salman Youth Centre in Riyadh combines training for young people with their participation in decision-making. He added that Saudi Arabia is investing more in education, sending more than 250,000 students to the four corners on the world on scholarships, thus creating a generation that speaks every language and contributes to national development.
MORDICA M. SIMPSON (United States) welcomed the Commission’s focus this year on homelessness, as well as the progress it has made in recent years to streamline and consolidate its work. She also noted the Commission’s recognition of the role of non-governmental organizations in shaping solutions to complex global problems. She called, however, on Member States to align the Commission’s functions with core elements of the Secretary-General’s reform agenda. With the United Nations facing chronic fiscal challenges and weighty agendas, the status quo is no longer affordable. She recommended that the Commission shorten its annual sessions and join other Commissions in negotiating a single outcome document. The overarching goal should be to reduce reports, conferences and negotiations by 50 per cent to ensure that the Organization’s resources have a meaningful impact on the ground.
SAMA SALIM POULES POULES (Iraq) said that solutions to combat homelessness must centre on poverty eradication — both in urban and rural areas — as well as the provision of affordable housing. Outlining Iraq’s poverty eradication strategy, she said it includes targeted legal and political responses to old and emerging challenges, such as terrorism and unplanned housing settlements. The success of any development strategy relies on establishing the conditions of peace and stability, she stressed, calling for efforts to make poor people agents of production. Iraq’s plans focus on several key pillars, namely building a sustainable revenue base, empowering human capital, providing affordable housing and ensuring social protection for its poorest people.
SHARIFA NOAMAN AL-EMADI, Doha International Family Institute, said that the family is the essential unit, providing crucial support to all its members. There are currently many flaws in countries’ social protection systems, leading to gaps that leave people behind. “We need a social protection framework that is family‑based,” she stressed, calling on States and research partners to promote policies that are family-centred and which include support for youth, older persons and those with disabilities.
JAIME HERMIDA CASTILLO (Nicaragua), associating himself with the Group of 77, reaffirmed his Government’s commitment to the implementation of social policies in line with the 2030 Agenda. Since 2007, the Government has prioritized building new housing for teachers, health workers and now entrepreneurs and others. It provides incentives, grants and subsidies to make homes more affordable and has built tens of thousands of new housing units. By the end of 2020, hundreds of new, affordable housing lots will be handed over to a first round of recipients. Outlining several related flagship social protection programmes, he spotlighted Nicaragua’s “Housing for Mothers” plan, its “Housing for the People” scheme and its “Roof Over my Head” plan.
THILAKAMUNI REKHA NISANSALA GUNASEKERA (Sri Lanka), associating himself with the Group of 77, said that it is ominous that progress in achieving global development targets continues to fall far below expectations. Sri Lanka’s long‑standing welfare policies cater to the needs of all citizens, particularly underprivileged and vulnerable people, and ensure that no one is left behind. Pointing out that the country currently ranks 76 out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index, he underlined the importance of investing in human capacity. That requires facilitating access to quality education, universal health care and well-designed social protection systems. Sri Lanka has had universal free education since 1945 and its universal health policy entitles all citizens to free care at Government hospitals. Noting that poverty and inequality can only be eradicated by providing new income opportunities, she spotlighted the country’s Samurdhi Programme and the Grama Shakhti People’s Movement which contributed to a decline in poverty from 26.1 per cent in 1990 to 4.1 per cent two decades later. Meanwhile, the Urban Regeneration Programme works to develop lands occupied by slums and shanties and constructs new houses at the same location with improved sanitation and other services.
PAYMAN GHADIRKHOMI (Iran), associating himself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that his Government has had an affordable housing policy for years. It is based on the needs of society, taking into account young adults with low incomes, and is rooted first and foremost in the constitutionally enshrined right to housing. Housing strategies are also included in the country’s development programmes, he said, spotlighting the provision of inexpensive non-agricultural land on which to build housing; the granting of low‑rate loans with long-term instalments to vulnerable groups; and incentives for mass housing producers to provide rentals with appropriate conditions. Emphasizing that the right to development of people in developing countries has been seriously impacted by the actions of some nations — especially those that dominate the international financial system — he rejected the imposition of unilateral, coercive economic, fiscal and trade restrictions, as well as sanctions, as some of the root causes that lead to homelessness.
MIRGUL MOLDOISAEVA (Kyrgyzstan) recalled that World Social Justice Day — an initiative driven by her delegation — was established in 2007. The Kyrgyzstan Government works closely within the framework of its Affordable Housing Programme (2015-2020) to create the conditions needed for improving housing affordability. Among other things, it works through the State Mortgage Company to facilitate public access to financial instruments for housing purchases, as well as financial projects for the construction of new affordable housing units. Meanwhile, the 2018-2040 National Development Strategy provides additional inputs to provide housing for the least protected groups, she said.
OSCAR LEÓN GONZÁLEZ (Cuba), associating himself with the Group of 77, said that eradicating poverty requires cooperation and genuine partnership. Describing the current global economic order as unjust and unsustainable, he said the international community faces huge challenges, including an exacerbation of inequality between developed and developing countries, unfair trade practices and unilateral coercive measures. Developed countries must fulfil their commitments vis-à-vis official development assistance (ODA) and shoulder their historic responsibility for a worsening global environmental crisis. Resources earmarked for war should go towards development instead. He noted that Cuba has achieved several of the targets set out in the Sustainable Development Goals despite a vicious trade and financial blockade and the criminal policy of the United States that aims to weaken the resistance of the Cuban people.
JULIA IMENE-CHANDURU (Namibia), associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said that her country faces a backlog in services, land and housing — a situation resulting from a combination of factors and manifesting as urban sprawl and the growth of informal settlements. Citing persistent inequality as one of the main drivers of homelessness in Namibia, she described it as the structural legacy of past discriminatory policies, colonialism and Apartheid — which dispossessed most Namibians of their productive resources and denied them equal access to rights and services. Climate change is also driving homelessness, as droughts increasingly drive rural to urban migration. Outlining a range of policies and programmes aimed at combating those challenges and supporting the people most affected, she said that the 2017 Public Private Partnerships Act provides for smart and viable financing schemes and works to develop land and housing units in a way that benefits all partners.
SHAH ASIF RAHMAN (Bangladesh), associating himself with the Group of 77, said the fact — stated in the Secretary-General’s report — that 80 per cent of the world’s more than 1 billion people living in slums or informal settlements are in developing countries is “an urgent wake-up call”. Strategies to address homelessness must include vulnerable groups if the problem is to be overcome in a holistic manner. The efforts of least developed countries in particular must be supported to address poverty, inequality and exclusion. Summarizing his country’s efforts, he said Bangladesh has achieved one of the world’s fastest poverty‑reduction rates despite modest resources. The poverty level in 2019 stood at 20.5 per cent and the country aims to bring extreme poverty down to single digit levels soon.
GHANSHYAM BHANDARI (Nepal), associating himself with the Group of 77, expressed concern about alarming levels of global inequality, adding that gaps widen even further in countries in special situations — including least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States. The Government of Nepal is determined to reduce all forms of inequality. Its “Happy Nepali, Prosperous Nepali” programme focuses on the economic empowerment of the country’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable people, he said, adding that the right to safe and affordable housing is stipulated under the Constitution and reflected in the 2018 Housing Rights Act. The recently enacted People’s Housing Programme is providing 17,000 housing units to economically disadvantaged and ethnically endangered communities, with 38,000 more units planned in the near future. Meanwhile, he said, Nepal’s social security scheme provides for health and maternity benefits; accidental and disability coverage; and old-age benefits.
HERMAN VAN BREEN, ATD Fourth World, said that homelessness disempowers, demonizes and pushes people to the bottom. It is evidence of a collective failure of the human family. However, homeless individuals, families and communities can gain agency if they can access their rights, including the right to participation. People living in poverty must be equal partners, with spaces created for them to contribute fully. He recommended that solutions to end homelessness should be fully integrated with global strategies to eradicate chronic poverty based on social protection floors and policies that allow a sense of dignity and community. Entities that work on housing issues should take the views of the homeless into account and legislation should be adapted to ensure that homeless persons and those at risk of homelessness do not lose their legal status or access to social protection systems. He went on to suggest raising public awareness to remove the shame and stigma of homelessness and to introduce or strengthen laws to prevent discrimination against homeless persons.
THOMAS RATHMELL WOODROFFE (United Kingdom) said that his country’s Government has prioritized the reduction of all forms of homelessness and ending “rough sleeping” by the end of the current Parliament. “We do not underestimate the challenges we face in meeting this bold ambition,” he said, noting that homelessness is a highly complex issue that goes beyond housing and also includes the health‑care issues affecting so many homeless people. The Government has already provided £1.3 billion to that approach and will invest another £437 million by 2021. To address the challenge of rough sleepers, a national policy seeks to prevent the phenomenon before it occurs and assist people in recovering with flexible support that meets their needs. Taking lessons from successful policy examples around the globe — including Finland’s experience — the United Kingdom is also implementing its own Housing First pilots and has enacted a Homelessness Reduction Act aimed at ensuring that everyone — not just those deemed a priority — can receive the support they need to prevent them from becoming homeless.
YASUYUKI SHIMADA (Japan) discussed his country’s efforts to address homelessness, starting with a nationwide survey to grasp the real situation of homeless people. Taking its findings into account, the Government has implemented several measures to help the homeless become socially independent. Japan is also promoting universal health coverage to eradicate inequalities among older and vulnerable persons. He also underscored the contribution that the upcoming Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games can make to the 2030 Agenda, stating that its “be better, together” concept of sustainability will hopefully be passed on to future large-scale sporting events.
TIN MAUNG NAING (Myanmar), associating himself with the Group of 77 and ASEAN, said that housing and homelessness issues impede the ability of developing countries to meet the targets enshrined in the 2030 Agenda. About 80 per cent of the more than 1 billion people living in slums globally live in informal settlements in developing countries, and most of these settlements are in East and South-East Asia, where poverty remains high and progress slow. Homelessness can lead to the formation of informal settlements, also known as squatting, which has been a feature of Myanmar’s cities for several decades. The Government’s national housing policy seeks to provide all citizens access to housing they can afford, in line with the New Urban Agenda. The city of Mandalay recently received the Smart City Award for the rapid development of its public services, including water supply, wastewater treatment and solid waste management, all using advanced technology. Turning to the impact of climate change, which has brought such disasters as floods and storms, he said Myanmar prioritizes the management of natural disasters and recently passed a law ensuring the systematic implementation of disaster risk management policies.
FABIÁN OSWALDO GARCÍA PAZ Y MIÑO (Ecuador) said that a new development regime will not be possible if people worldwide are left in poverty. Ecuador’s social development policy seeks to ensure protection for all people throughout their entire lives. It guarantees full access to public services, with an emphasis on vulnerable groups. Its policy of housing for all also prioritizes those who lack any form of housing. Noting that achieving sustainable development and ending homelessness requires policies that ensure affordable housing, he said that the Government provides subsidies for those most in need, as well as single mothers and persons with disabilities. It also provides grants and incentives to facilitate more affordable homeownership, as well as schemes to bring down mortgage rates. Public policies should seek not just to build houses, but to build homes, he added, underlining the importance of strengthening social fabric and including communities in decision-making processes.
Mr. AZIZ (Pakistan), associating himself with the Group of 77, said that, like other countries, Pakistan is facing an acute shortage of housing units, with the annual housing deficit estimate at 12.5 million units and rising. In response, the Naya Pakistan Housing Programme aims to build 5 million low-cost housing units in the next five years, with the Government providing underutilized State land and the private sector providing financing for construction. The Government is also rolling out new regulatory initiatives to promote low-cost housing finance, and it has entered into a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) to build at least 500,000 new affordable homes. He went on to emphasize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to reducing social inequalities. It is therefore essential to respect each country’s policy space and priorities for reducing poverty.
Mr. CHIWELE (Zambia), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, pointed out that, while homelessness is a complex phenomenon with many factors, it is often driven by increased urbanization and gaps in social safety net programmes. Zambia, like many other developing countries, has prioritized poverty eradication — including reducing vulnerability among its population. The Government has implemented such programmes as a social cash‑transfer scheme and the provision of a “Food Security Pack”, while also promoting empowerment programmes for women and youth aimed at ending poverty and hunger. About 40 per cent of the country’s population live in urban areas, and rapid growth has outpaced the rate at which affordable housing can be made available to citizens. As a result, many people in both urban and rural areas live in poor housing conditions. Underlining the need to reduce developmental inequalities, he said the Government recognizes the need for adequate shelter as a key element for sustainable development. As there are currently only 2.5 million houses available for the country’s 17.5 million people, efforts are under way to build new units and formalize and upgrade the informal housing settlements that already exist, he said.
HENRIK INGRIDS (Sweden), associating himself with the European Union, said that various options are available to the homeless in Sweden, from emergency shelters to treatment programmes. Extra resources are provided by the Government to the 10 municipalities with the highest number of people living in acute homelessness. According to a 2017 national survey, the most common reasons for homelessness in Sweden are a lack of economic resources, lack of employment, drug or alcohol addiction, and psychological illness. For homeless women with children, factors also include domestic violence, divorce and separation. Emphasizing that children should never find themselves homeless, he said the Swedish social services make it a priority to prevent the eviction of families. To address a deficit in affordable housing, developers are required to set aside a share of new dwellings to municipalities for reallocation to social services or young people, he added.
DESIRÉE DEL CARMEN CEDEÑO RENGIFO (Panama), associating herself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said homelessness is a complex social phenomenon that lacks due attention from the international community. She noted Panama’s efforts to create a “national opportunities index” and to promote the construction of universally designed homes that are both affordable and accessible. For its part, the Ministry of Housing has recently announced that it will create shelters for persons with disabilities. She added that, over the past few years, there has been a spike in gentrification in Panama, affecting housing security and displacing original populations. Several neighbourhoods are affected, she said, adding that there is a long road ahead in terms of finding solutions for those affected.
NIDHI SHUKLA, Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University, discussed her organization’s participation in a project in the United Kingdom that offers not only shelter, but also the means for homeless people to nurture their own dignity in a non-judgemental space. When people are treated as guests, rather than as beneficiaries, they can realize their own agency, with a profound impact on their self-worth, thus creating an unshakeable foundation upon which to rebuild their futures. Overcoming homelessness means addressing both the material and spiritual needs of the individual, she stressed.