Housing is one of the five basic needs of human beings. It is also a constitutional right. Article 15(a) of the Constitution of Bangladesh states that a fundamental principle of state policy is to provide, "…the necessities of life, including food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care".
So, housing could be considered a fundamental human right in Bangladesh. Covid-19 also emphasized the necessity of housing for all in the battle against Covid-19, where it can be a matter of life and death.
Without adequate housing, it is impossible to carry out social distancing and good hygiene practices; and around 1.8 billion people, or more than 20 percent of the world's population, lack a place to live in. In this backdrop, this year, World Habitat Day was observed on the theme of "Housing for All – A Better Urban Future."
Globally, around one billion people live in informal settlements, and more than 100 million people are homeless. With the growth of cities and urban life, the housing crisis is rising in developing countries.
In Bangladesh, 37.40 percent of 163 million population lives in urban areas, and due to rapid urbanisation, it is expected that the current urban population of 62 million will be doubled by 2035. Three major metropolitan areas - Dhaka, Chattogram, and Khulna - account for about 54 percent of the country's total urban population. And among Dhaka's 21 million people, about 3.5 million people are living in informal settlements.
The number increases as informal settlements offer homes to most migrating people, who are looking for better jobs in the city or driven by climate change. More than 26 percent of rural people flock to Dhaka leaving their home cities due to natural disasters and climate change.
Low-income communities face a lack of adequate housing, infrastructures, and services and bear the brunt of natural disasters including floods, storms, and cyclones in hazard-prone Bangladesh. During the Covid-19 crisis, in addition to the stressful homestay environment in small and crowded housing, social and protective networks' disruption and decreased access to services increase the risk of violence against women and children. The absence of essential services and the prevalence of stress and unhealthy living conditions also contribute to poor health.
The existing situation presents the opportunity to rethink the transformative impact of Covid-19 on housing for all and explore how to build societies back better by leveraging the role of housing as a catalyst for delivering human rights and as a foundation of people's wellbeing.
Covid-19 has brought the housing paradox into sharp relief – at a time when people are in urgent need of shelter, millions of apartments and houses sit empty. Inclusive, affordable, and adequate housing is the key to our cities and communities' sustainable transformation.
The SDG-11 aims for resilient, inclusive, safe, diverse towns and cities by 2030, and one of the targets is access to adequate, secure, and affordable housing and basic services for all by 2030 and the upgrade of the slum. The pandemic offers new opportunities for all stakeholders to participate. Cities need leaders who will work with local communities and recognise that it is possible to cater to housing for all.
Housing strategies, citywide slum upgrading, prevention strategies, and low-income communities' engagement provide the avenue for scaling and accelerating the implementation of the SDG-11 in cities in the Decade of Action.
Undeniably, safe, affordable housing is a basic necessity for everyone. Without a decent place to live in, people cannot be productive members of society, children cannot learn, and families cannot thrive. Providing shelter to all is recognised as a constitutional right to Bangladesh's citizens since independence.
The seventh five-year plans and the revised national housing policy 2016 illustrated sustainable housing for all. In the national housing policy, the emphasis has been given on low-cost accommodation. As natural calamities like floods and cyclones are common phenomena in Bangladesh, low-cost housing should be durable and should have good living conditions for the dwellers. UN-Habitat projected housing deficit in urban areas of Bangladesh by 2030 is 8.5 million.
To redress the housing crisis for low-income communities in urban areas, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in July this year handed over flats to 600 climate refugee households at Khurushkul Special Shelter Project in Cox's Bazar. The government has been constructing 139 five-story buildings on 253 acres of land on Bakkhali River banks at Khurushkul, spending BDT 180 million under the project. More than 4,000 climate refugee families will be rehabilitated there gradually.
To address the housing crisis for low-income people in urban areas, Brac, Habitat for Humanity Bangladesh, UNDP, etc have been working since the last decade. Since 2015, Brac across 20 major cities and towns has provided support to about 6,000 households to improve homes designed to accommodate maximum sunlight and ventilation. More than 200 families constructed low-cost climate-resilient houses through people's processes utilising community-managed revolving funds.
Brac has released Tk40 million as a grant in the last three years to 10 city development fund (CDF) committees in ten large cities. In coordination with city corporations and municipalities, and community people, this initiative is aimed to build low-cost climate-resilient houses according to the demands and choices of the households.
Besides, Brac sensitises local government institutions to realise the fundamental demands of the people living in low-income settlements. As a part of an emergency response to the devastating fire at Korail slum in 2017, Brac urban development programme (UDP) supported the reconstruction of 5,500 homes and 24 households at Durgamil Camp slum Saidpur in 2019. In Rangpur City, 28 households of the Oraon tribe rebuilt their homes in cooperation with the Brac and City Corporation.
As 90% of total slum dwellers are landless, long-term interventions focusing on reviewing current housing and land approaches are crucial. Around 2,000 new people are being added to Dhaka every day. So, cities must integrate vulnerable, low, and excluded people in overall city development.
The government needs to reshape policies, strategies, and legislation for diverse housing solutions for all and respect, protect and fulfil human rights in cities. We must put people at the core of decision-making, ensuring equity, and fulfilling housing rights for all.
Md Liakath Ali, PhD is the Director of Climate Change Programme, Brac and Brac International and Urban Development Programme, Brac
Md Washim Akhter is the Programme Coordinator at Brac Urban Development Programme
Md Abdullah Al Zobair is the Manager, Knowledge Management, Innovation, & Communication at Brac Urban Development Programme.