Today is World Habitat Day 2022 – Mind the Gap. Leave No One and No Place Behind.
Housing inequalities and families living in substandard conditions has become an urgent global priority. The first Monday of October each year is designated by the United Nations (UN) as World Habitat Day. This year’s theme of “Mind the Gap. Leave no Place and No One Behind” strives to bring awareness to the growing inequalities that divide and deprive access to decent shelter.
Among these growing inequalities, housing challenges faced by vulnerable communities have been exacerbated by the recent triple ‘C’ crises – COVID-19, climate, and conflict, directly threatening people’s sense of security. These same challenges are what Habitat for Humanity is striving to mitigate through our work.
The threat of COVID-19
Across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has largely reversed progress made in the fight against families living in substandard housing. However, closer to home in the Pacific, the recovery post-pandemic is proving once again that education and practical knowledge are vital tools to build back better.
Our work in the Pacific focuses on educational programmes that teach sustainable skills and build self-reliance. The Participatory Approach to Safe Shelter Awareness (PASSA) training in Samoa and Fiji was extended in 2020 to include COVID-19 preparedness training for 72 communities. The original training taught risk assessment and basic shelter knowledge. The extended programme also includes Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) training and basic plumbing, so communities are better able to identify and mitigate health risks and prevent the spread of disease.
In April 2022, members of the Habitat team visited our partner communities in Fiji, who had previously participated in these programmes. In Sauniveiuto Village, one community action taken post-training was the improvement of their handwashing facilities, connecting a rainwater harvesting tank to the community handwashing station to increase access. Multiple people can now use the basin at the same time, store soap at the basin, and there is proper drainage.
Diseases, viruses, and health conditions all threaten people’s income, healthy living conditions, and the ability to maintain and strengthen a home. Habitat is proud to be working with local communities in the Pacific to mitigate these threats resulting from COVID-19.
The threat of climate
Climate change poses one of the largest global threats to people’s security of home. Natural disasters and extreme weather events can destroy whole villages, taking any sense of home and consistency with it. This will become more frequent as most climate scientists agree that climate change will exacerbate severe weather events. These events will become more impactful, with higher wind-speeds, when they eventually hit land.
Work is underway globally to address climate change, but there is no quick fix. This means that while we tackle the causes of global warming, we also need to minimise its impact. This approach is known as climate resilience. Families living in the Pacific Islands are especially vulnerable to the devastating effects of both natural disasters and extreme weather events. Climate resilience is vital for the Pacific.
Earlier this year we saw the devastation in Tonga following an underwater volcanic eruption and tsunami, displacing at least 300 families. Habitat is responding to this disaster with a rebuild – learn more about the rebuild here.
Habitat New Zealand has been building shelter resilience alongside Pacific communities since the 1990s. In recent years it has facilitated Build Back Safer (BBS) and PASSA training in Samoa, Fiji, and Tonga alongside in-country partners. Participants learn how to strap cyclone shelters to ensure they stand strong against severe weather, strengthen their own homes, assess potential risks in their community, and gather the knowledge and resources needed to rebuild and repair homes in their communities damaged in disasters. They are also able to use this information to train others in their community to build self-reliant and strong, climate resilient communities.
The threat of conflict
Conflict is continuing to push people out of their homes at an ever-increasing rate. The number of people forced to flee their homes due to war, violence, persecution, and human rights abuses now stands at more than 100 million; the highest level since records began. In 2021, 23 countries faced medium- or high-intensity conflicts as several conflicts escalated and new ones flared.
A notable contributor was the Russian invasion of Ukraine, causing the fastest and one of the largest forced displacement crises since World War II. Since the start of the war in Ukraine, more than six million refugees have left Ukraine to date, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
“Any who have moved back [to Ukraine] have found their homes severely damaged and struggled to find jobs — as the war continues to have a devastating economic impact — and had no choice but to leave again,” the UNHCR reports.
Since the conflict began, Habitat for Humanity has worked closely with government officials and key partners to provide shelter and rebuild families, security, and self-reliance. Habitat has supported more than 10,000+ refugees with shelter services at the border and in Warsaw train stations, handed out emergency travel kits, and over 14,000 people have been provided with furniture and household items through the Warsaw ReStore. Habitat is also helping thousands of displaced persons gain access to mid to long-term housing. So far, 496 families have benefited from medium term existing apartments and over 700 refugees have also benefitted from previously vacant or refurbished spaces, facilitated by Habitat.
For these refugees, the journey home or toward a new life is a long-term one, and habitat is ensuring the response reflects this.
“While we’re witnessing appalling new refugee situations, and existing ones reigniting or remaining unresolved, there are also examples of countries and communities working together to pursue solutions for the displaced,” said Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Habitat for Humanity New Zealand continues to address the common contributors to substandard housing throughout Aotearoa and the Pacific, with fundraising efforts taking place to support crises abroad. Find out how you can help.