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Right to adequate housing in post-disaster construction

When presenting her annual report to the Human Rights Council on 8 March – three days before the powerful earthquake and tsunami struck Japan – UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing Raquel Rolnik warned of the “disastrous consequences, particularly for the most vulnerable” if human rights standards were not translated into concrete policies in post-disaster reconstruction processes.

Housing settlements in the Angolan capital Luanda © OHCHR Photo

“Because of the political economy of land and faced with the pressing need to act quickly, the actors involved in post-disaster reconstruction processes have skirted around one of the most important issues related to reconstruction processes and the right to adequate housing, namely the human rights dimension of access to land,” she said.

“This is particularly alarming when we know that natural disasters are not only a massive but a growing problem worldwide.”

In the aftermath of the Japan quake on 11 March, the UN expert expressed condolences and solidarity with the people of Japan and reiterated her call to integrate the right to adequate housing as a key component in any humanitarian, reconstruction and development responses to disasters.

“I’m confident that the Japanese authorities, also based on the lessons learned from the Kobe earthquake, will attach the utmost importance to fully complying with international housing rights obligations and will pay particular attention to the most vulnerable segments of the population of Japan,” Rolnik said.

In her report, the UN expert called for a system of rapid assessment and analysis of pre-existing tenure and property rights in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. This would help guide urgent steps taken to protect the right to adequate housing and tenure security of all, but particularly the poorer and marginalized members of society.

“Thinking in terms of human rights means primarily orienting our efforts toward the worst-affected by conflicts and disasters, the most vulnerable, considering them as the holders of rights to be fulfilled and not only as victims to be supported,” she said.

She also urged all relevant actors to ensure the effective consultation and direct participation of affected communities in the design and implementation of post-conflict and post-disaster responses, particularly on matters of housing and land.
The 16th session of the Human Rights Council was held from 28 February to 25 March at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. More information is available on the webpage of the session, which was also webcast.

28 March 2011