Housing is a Human Right
Every human being has a right to a decent house. From the beginning of history, human beings had a shelter to live in whatever has been its form. In modern times, housing is recognized as a human right in a number of international human rights instruments.
The most important one among them is the UN Declaration of Human Rights. In that, the article 25 recognizes the right to housing as part of the right to an adequate standard of living. It states that: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and wellbeing of oneself and his family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services.”
Another such instrument is Article 11(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) which guarantees the “right to housing as part of the right to an adequate standard of living.”
A Right to All Persons
This right must be provided to all persons irrespective of one’s income or access to economic resources or one’s race, religion, age, economic status, group or other affiliation or status or any other such factor.
The issue of the right to adequate housing is all the more pertinent as it has being observed by the United Nations where the General Assembly has adopted it as one of the UN Millennium Declaration Goals in September 2001.
When it says adequate housing it means providing security, health sanitation, comfort, nutrition, drinking water, adequate privacy, space, lighting and ventilation, basic infrastructure and suitable location at a reasonable cost.
Housing Right in Sri Lanka
In the past, housing has always being a private responsibility. However, in Sri Lanka from the time of colonial rule, the State has recognized the responsibility of the State in this regard. As such, the State has intervened in providing guidelines, policies rules and regulations and State mechanisms as well to improve better housing facilities for people.
All governments that ruled Sri Lanka during the past few decades have contributed to formulate the relevant policies, rules and regulations and mechanisms required in facilitating the provision of housing services to the people. For example, some of the measures that have been taken by the successive governments have been: house construction launched by the local governments, the enactment of rent ordinance, the establishment National Housing Commission, Building Material Cooperation, National Housing Authority, Village Reawakening Programme and so on.
Housing in Negombo
In the decade of 1970s, the Negombo Municipality having realized its responsibility regarding housing needs of the low income people, has built “Twin Houses” in Munnakkara area “Line Houses” in the town area. In the decade of 1980s, on the instruction of the then Hon. Prime Minister Mr. R. Premadasa two major housing programmes were carried out in Munnakkara and Kadolkele.
However, all housing needs in Negombo have not being completely met. It still remains a burning need that has to be fulfilled by the authorities. Due to the fact that the authorities have failed to take note of this fact, the low income people in Negombo continue to undergo numerous sufferings.
Many of these families are forced to live in over crowded houses. For instance there are three or more families living in one small house. Their living environment is often very unhygienic.
The families who live in rented houses have their own problems. One major issue is the payment of cost. For an example e to find the key money that they are expected to pay an advance for which purpose they often burrow on high interests from the money lenders and thereby they automatically fall into the trap of indebtedness.
When people rent out houses, they are subjected to the conditions forced them by the houses owners. There have been instances when they were not permitted to have a wedding or even a funeral in these houses. They are unable to register themselves are voters or admit their children to schools as they do not have a permanent address. Consequently, these helpless people have been deprived of their basic right of voting.
Janawaboda Kendraya over the past few years has been engaged in helping these people to organize themselves as Negombo United People’s Organization or (NUPO).
On this World’s Habitat Day, the members of NUPO request the local authorities to recognize housing as a serious issue that is affecting the low income community in Negombo.
They also expect the authorities to give top most attention to the formulation of a proper housing policy for the local authority and implementation of a housing programme.
If the local authority lacks enough resources such as land or funds or expertise to meet these demands, NUPO expects the authorities to negotiate with the provincial government or the central government to acquire the required resources without any delay.