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Special Rapporteur on adequate housing calls for international solidarity for earthquake victims in Peru

The Special Rapporteur on adequate housing of the Human Rights Council, Miloon Kothari, issued the following statement today:

Geneva, 21 August 2007: I wish to join the international community in expressing my condolences and solidarity to the people of Peru for the loss of human life caused by the earthquake that took place on 15 August 2007. I am deeply moved by the courage shown by the survivors, women, men and children, as they attempt to rebuild their lives and homes and try to survive homelessness and inadequate and insecure housing and living conditions.

The official estimated number of those killed has now reached more than 500 persons in Pisco, Chincha, Ica, Cañete and surrounding areas. At least 80,000 persons have been affected by the earthquake and 34,000 homes and other buildings in those cities are said to have been destroyed and for instance, 85% of the city of Pisco will need to be rebuilt.

Whilst welcoming the prompt reaction by UN agencies and national authorities which are already planning for the first phase of delivering humanitarian aid, I am concerned that obstacles and constraints are limiting the efforts to coordinate relief activities and aid has not yet reached the victims. In particular there is an urgent need for securing emergency accommodation for the homeless and access to drinking water for the people of the affected region.

The tragedy of this earthquake in Peru must drive the resolve of all actors, including UN agencies and programmes, States, civil society and the private sector, to work towards the development and the implementation of safe housing standards worldwide, including compliance with building standards and by-laws based on the fulfillment of the right to adequate housing. Compliance with sound housing standards achieved progressively throughout the world can ensure that the loss of life, human suffering and homelessness resulting from natural disasters are minimized in the future. Positive lessons learnt from rebuilding, including active participation of local people and appropriately trained local masons in the rebuilding process as well as the use of local materials, from previous tragedies such as in Gujarat, India must be adopted in situations like Peru.

The human right of everyone to adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living is enshrined in the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. International human rights standards also define 'habitability' (1) as an essential element of this human right. This standard on habitability, which includes durability of homes to withstand earthquake and other disasters, should guide the reconstruction efforts in Peru.

I also remind all States of their obligation undertaken under international instruments to provide international assistance and co-operation for the fulfillment of human rights, including the right to adequate housing, everywhere. I therefore strongly encourage the international community to intensify its efforts to assist the people of Pisco, Chincha, Ica, Cañete and other affected areas and the Government of Peru to rebuild the affected cities.

Finally, I encourage the international community and the qualified professionals and experts, to assist the process of rebuilding the lives and homes of people affected by the earthquake in Peru and in particular to put in practice prevention plans and disaster management plans for the high risk areas of Peru.(2) It is vital that the immediate humanitarian needs be complemented by planning efforts to ensure that the human rights, including the right to adequate housing, is implemented to ensure a safe future for the people of Peru.

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1- According to the General Comment, "(a)dequate housing must be habitable, in terms of providing the inhabitants with adequate space and protecting them from cold, damp, heat, rain, wind or other threats to health […] and structural hazards. […] The physical safety of occupants must be guaranteed as well."
2- The Special Rapporteur visited the city of Ica during his mission to Peru in March 2003. See the report of the visit at http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=E/CN.4/2004/48/Add.1