Tag Archives: housing

Week in links – week 10/2011

First, the weblog equivalent of a moment of silence for the victims of the ongoing disaster in Japan. Six years after their adoption and sixteen years after the similarly devastating Kobe quake that gave rise to them, the Hyogo Declaration and Framework for Action on disaster risk reduction face a gruesomely concrete field test.

Second, on an administrative note, I should announce a likely hiatus in TN postings over the next ten days or so, during which I will be on mission in West Africa. I hope that a few guest-postings may land during that period (and they will be rushed to press) but its likely to be pretty quiet here otherwise.

Moving to news, UN housing rights rapporteur Raquel Rolnik focused on the right to housing in post-conflict and disaster reconstruction settings in her latest annual report. While I have not yet had the chance to review the report in detail, it is interesting to note that the press release focuses heavily on land rights for affected persons. From this perspective, there is likely to be some overlap with last year’s humanitarian guidance on post-disaster land issues (posted on by Esteban Leon here).

The FAO has released a new report on gender equality in agriculture that focuses on women’s unequal access to the various economic opportunities and inputs that would let them compete with men – and the enormous price tag of such bias in a hungry world where women make up 43 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries. If TN readers are willing to overlook one appalling pun (“a level ploughing field”), they will find much of interest.

The New York Times followed up on articles from October  2010 and January of this year with a more recent piece on the complications faced by NATO troops in Afghanistan attempting to compensate villagers for property destroyed in the course of counter-insurgency fighting.

Finally, following up on last week’s posting on the Economist’s special report on agriculture, I should point out that my plug for this week’s corresponding report on ‘property’ may have been a case of irrational exuberance. The new special report is a fascinating read on property as an investment, the ostensible safety of which appears increasingly fragile in an era of recurrent bubbles. Of great interest to me, but perhaps more in my capacity as a mortgage-holder in one of Europe’s few remaining bubble candidates than as a blogger.

Week in links – Week 1/2011

I owe about a month in links this time, given the blur in which last December passed! However, I have tried to exercise a bit of restraint in order to keep things current.

– The New York Times covers Bashir’s conciliatory trip to Juba and sets out the case for a peaceful referendum on secession in southern Sudan next weekend, including hints that a last minute fix could resolve the territorial dispute in Abyei. Along with shared incentives over oil (the South will have the bulk of reserves and the North controls access to the world market), focused international attention and pressure is credited with keeping the parties on course. However, this observation underscores the risks presented as international attention wanders from other theatres of unresolved conflict. For instance, this week has also seen news of the forthcoming closure of the ostensibly short-term UN Mission established in Nepal in 2007 to consolidate what remains a very shaky peace deal there. The outgoing SRSG in Nepal is expected to move on to head a significantly curtailed UN Mission in Burundi, where large scale violence has ended but human rights abuses remain rife and rebel groups are said to be re-arming.

– The New York Times recently ran two pieces demonstrating how ostensibly local urban policies reflect and shape broader politics. The more straightforward of the two discusses how urban squatting in Buenos Aires reflect a national political rivalry in Argentina. However, the second piece, on the renovation of the Old City of Aleppo, Syria, came as a revelation. By involving poor communities rather than displacing them, this project is aimed not only at achieving truly sustainable preservation but also at retaining the traditional family housing models that are thought to avoid the social tensions that can fuel Islamic radicalism. The key question going forward is how to inspire similar approaches to the architecturally less interesting but socially volatile shantytowns at the edge of the city:

…how to make the final link between historic preservation and the creation of a contemporary city remains blurry. Many preservationists working here, including some at GTZ, see the last 70 years as unworthy of their interest. And most contemporary architects, whose clients are almost uniformly drawn from the global elite, are out of touch with the complex political realities of the poor in the region.

– Paul Krugman on how climbing commodity prices signal the fundamental good news/bad news arithmetic of our times – increasing global demand based on resilient growth in the developing world, climate change, and the absolute scarcity of the natural resources we depend on.

– Open Democracy contributors Christophe Solioz and Denis MacShane differ on whether the Kosovo organ trafficking allegations raised at the Council of Europe are a devastating indictment of the dark grip of the past and international passivity in the West Balkans or a glorified rumor hijacked by Serbian nationalist interests.

Tracking aid in Cambodia: Monitoring the resettlement impacts of the Railways Rehabilitation Project

By Natalie Bugalski

In October 2010, I traveled with a small research team from the rights groups Bridges Across Borders Cambodia (BABC) and Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT) to Battambang in northwest Cambodia to interview families resettled to make way for the rehabilitation of Cambodia’s rail network.  The trip was a part of an NGO effort to monitor the resettlement impacts of the railways project and assess whether it is being implemented in accordance with the Asian Development Bank’s Involuntary Resettlement Safeguard Policy, international human rights norms, and Cambodian laws. The ADB is contributing US$84 million in concessional loans to the Rehabilitation of the Railways in Cambodia Project (hereafter “the Project”) and the Australian Government is contributing US$21.5 million in aid.

Although we had heard from community representatives that there were serious problems at the resettlement site, we were appalled to find the families living in deplorable conditions. Our interviews at the Battambang resettlement site raised a plethora of serious problems relating to a lack of access to food and basic services, and increased impoverishment. It appears that almost all families have been forced to borrow money to survive, rebuild houses, connect to electricity (other families remain unconnected because they simply cannot afford to do so) and in some cases earn less per day than their interest repayments. Widows have been treated particularly unfairly and in some cases have not received a separate plot of land.  Instead they have been told to live with their parents or children, despite having lived separately at their former location. These women are extremely vulnerable and have received insufficient support, if any at all. Every family we spoke to reported that they were significantly worse off now than before they moved. They feel desperate and abandoned.

Most alarmingly, four days after the families had been resettled in May, two children  – a brother (9) and sister (13) – had drowned in a nearby pond. We were told by the brother of the deceased children and other members of the community that the children had gone to collect water for household chores. Since piped water has not been provided at the resettlement site, families there had no choice but to trek through a muddy rice field to access water from the pond, or use water directly from the adjacent rice field. These water sources are polluted by chemicals used for rice growing and have caused skin diseases and other illnesses. On this occasion the children went to the pond and never returned. The community searched for many hours, and the bodies were eventually found at the bottom of the eight-meter deep pond.

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Week in links – Week 46/2010

– The New York Times reports on extensive destruction of booby-trapped houses and damage to agricultural land through the construction of new military roads by NATO troops in Afghanistan. Compensation programs appear to be up and running but the verdict of one district governor is a little chilling: “We had to destroy them to make them safe.”

UNHCR reports to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly. The ReliefWeb headline says it all: “Voluntary Refugee Returns Worst in Two Decades; World Faces Quasi-Permanent Refugee Situations in Areas of Never-Ending Conflict, Third Committee Told.”

– In the latest twist in the protracted real estate crisis in the US, the New York Times reports on a new wave of adverse possession. By taking open possession of abandoned foreclosed homes, repairing them and even renting them out, private individuals are hoping to eventually meet the statutory requirements to receive title, with both positive and negative local impacts.

– On desertification and pastoralism in the Sahel, we have a bullish take from the EU-Africa Partnership and a more apocalyptic one on climate conflicts from Yale’s E360 publication.

– ASIL has made available an interesting introductory note to a recent property decision by the European Court of Human Rights – in this case, the Court confirmed that the definition of possessions under the European Convention includes final and enforceable arbitration decisions.

Refugees International urges African Union member-states to ratify last year’s groundbreaking Kampala Convention on the rights of IDPs. IDMC has a dedicated webpage on the Convention.

– Indonesia gets serious about climate change adaptation with the announcement of new guidelines on permanent relocations of populations from disaster areas too dangerous to allow return.

– UN Habitat issued its technical assessment of housing reconstruction needs after the Pakistan floods.

– FAO launched a new report and website on ‘climate-smart agriculture’, highlighting a mixture of traditional and high-tech approaches that raise yield and reduce carbon emissions.

– Finally, an interesting example of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) taking up ‘HLP’ issues in a case in which Georgia accuses Russia of violating its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) by virtue of its failure to allow ethnic Georgians to return to the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where Russia is alleged to exercise effective control. A recent blog piece on this by the Harvard Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research provides some background and reminds of an interesting October 2008 interim measure in which the Court ordered the parties, among other things, to:

do all in their power, whenever and wherever possible, to ensure, without distinction as to national or ethnic origin,
(i) security of persons ;
(ii) the right of persons to freedom of movement and residence within the border of the State ;
(iii) the protection of the property of displaced persons and of refugees …

UN Secretary General urged to address Cambodia evictions

by Rhodri C. Williams

In a press release today, COHRE appealed to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to use his current trip to Cambodia to seek an improvement in respect for housing rights. The PR focused in particular on the ongoing evictions from the Boeung Kak district of the capital Phnom Penh, which has been the subject of previous TN postings by both myself and Natalie Bugalski.

Sadly, it is a bit hard to picture the Secretary General spontaneously acceding to COHRE’s suggestion that he

meet with representatives of the Boeung Kak community during his visit to Cambodia this week, to “demonstrate the commitment of the UN to its core founding purpose of ‘promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms’ for all people everywhere.”

Indeed, it will be interesting to see if the SG will be so indelicate as to mention any of the rather alarming lurches Cambodia has made away from the extensive human rights obligations it undertook as part of the early 1990s peace process.

For some insights, I turned to Turtle Bay, where I was most immediately struck by China’s recent diplomatic successes in the UN, both in terms of obscuring the fact that its own weapons industry appears to be doing a roaring business in Sudan despite the embargo, and in the narrower area of defending states in its near abroad – in this case Burma – from human rights and war crimes scrutiny.

As I’ve noted in the past, Burma and Cambodia have a few things in common, ranging from their increasingly close economic and diplomatic ties with China to their poor human rights records. Although there has been a longstanding tendency on the part of development actors in Cambodia to dither a bit on human rights issues like forced evictions, one can’t help but wonder whether China’s recent bouts of vigorous UN diplomacy might not have a further chilling effect on what is already a fairly cooled down topic.

Iraq’s next Parliament to inherit unresolved displacement and housing crises

by Rhodri C. Williams

Parliamentary polls in Iraq have gotten off to a bloody start and pre-election controversies over attempts to bar former Baathists from running – as well as ongoing tensions along the boundary with the Kurdish region in the north – do not bode well for stability in the post-election period. However, in its latest overview of internal displacement in Iraq, IDMC issued a timely reminder yesterday that the human consequences of earlier rounds of violence remain unresolved.

For starters, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis remained displaced within Iraq and in neighboring countries as a result of the sectarian violence that exploded after the 2006 bombing of the Al-Askari shrine in Samarra, and one of the main obstacles to durable solutions remains occupation of their homes:

There are significant numbers of unresolved property issues for pre- and post-2006 IDPs. The current extent of secondary displacement is not known, though an estimated 15 per cent of returned IDPs and 56 per cent of repatriated refugees were in 2009 reportedly unable to access their property (UNHCR, December 2009). In September 2008, MoDM reported that almost 3,500 properties were illegally occupied, including houses, flats, other buildings and land, though anecdotal evidence suggests higher rates of secondary occupation. Nearly 36 per cent of IDPs report their property has been destroyed or damaged and 18 per cent that it is being occupied illegally by militias, local residents or other IDPs; many fear harassment should they attempt to reclaim property (UNHCR, December 2009).

Meanwhile, the background to this displacement crisis is a housing crisis of monumental proportions, with some 1.3 million housing units – or just under one-third more than the current nationwide total of 2.8 million – needed in order to meet demand. The NY Times recently reported on the effects of the shortfall in housing, a daily round of “bathroom crises” that loom larger in the lives of many ordinary Iraqis than lustration of Baathists or distribution of oil revenues:

Beneath the grand issues hanging over Iraq, like the coming national elections or the continuing violence, the day-to-day lives of most Iraqis turn on more quotidian concerns: the lack of electricity; the pervasive corruption; and a housing shortage that forces two, three, even four families to live under the same roof.

Finally, an ongoing process of returning property wrongfully confiscated by the Baathist regime before 2003 is likely to constitute a headache not only for the next round of Parliamentarians but the next…and the next…and the next. A statement by Peter van der Auweraert of IOM at a conference on Iraqi displacement last November indicated that even this fairly well-established restitution program will take two decades to complete at current rates of processing.

As Mr. van der Auweraert and other observers have noted, relatively simple reforms could drastically speed both the pre-2003 and post-2006 restitution processes. Moreover, implementation of a National Housing Plan currently under development with input from UN HABITAT could both facilitate restitution in the short term and put paid to the thousands of bathroom crises over the longer view. A pretty tall order for a new Parliament, but a crucial one.