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UN-Habitat urges Nigeria, others to halt relocations, evictions

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues its devastating consequences, member States of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) have been urged to fulfil their obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the right to adequate housing among residents and communities.

Around the world, billions of people have been told to stay at home, practice physical distancing, wash their hands regularly and wear masks. However, these simple preventive public health measures are almost impossible to follow for those who are homeless, or who live in unsafe or overcrowded conditions.

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In the policy statement on the prevention of evictions and relocations during the COVID-19 crisis, the agency said, the relocation and eviction of long-term residents and communities, particularly from informal settlements, during the pandemic would not only violate their fundamental rights but could also expose them and the rest of the local population to an increased threat of exposure to the virus.

Nigeria is part of the 193 member states of the United Nations programme for human settlements and sustainable developments that pledged to promote socially, environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all.

Essentially, it noted that the lack of adequate housing has repercussions on society as a whole and is a direct threat to everyone’s health and safety. Ensuring secure housing for all and the provision of essential services are crucial components of national efforts to contain the spread of the pandemic and prevent the loss of life.

Therefore, UN-Habitat urged member states and governments at all levels to stop all relocations and evictions at this time.

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“Where relocations or evictions are unavoidable, for example, to prevent new land invasions, they must be conducted in accordance with international human rights obligations, as well as the relevant national laws, and the maximum possible protections should be provided to ensure the health and safety of those affected,” the UN agency said.

According to the UN-Habitat Chief of Land, Housing and Shelter Section, Urban Practices Branch, Global Solutions Division, Robert Lewis-Lettington, member states have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the right to adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living.

Lewis-Lettington stressed that denying residents and communities this right during the COVID-19 pandemic can have devastating consequences. These include increased exposure to COVID-19 and other infections in addition to exposure to insecurity and violence, the loss of income and limited access to socio-economic safety nets and basic services including health care.

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In such exceptional cases, UN-Habitat advised that evictions must, at a minimum: Be proportional and provide for the evaluation of the decision’s impact on and potential benefit for various groups, including through an eviction impact assessment and community consultations. Evictions and relocations justified by planned physical development, or to repossess public land, should not be carried out during the COVID-19 crisis as they would put the health of residents and the entire population at risk and disproportionately affect their right to health.

Accordingly, during the COVID-19 crisis, only evictions and relocations directly aimed at preventing contagion among residents should be allowed.

Furthermore, the expected benefits for affected populations and measures to mitigate the risks of contagion should be clearly and publicly outlined.

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Therefore, UN-Habitat also urged national, regional and local governments to Firstly, take immediate and substantial measures to secure the right to adequate housing for all, including through moratoriums on evictions due to rental and mortgage arrears; deferrals of mortgage payments.

Other options are moratoriums on forced evictions of informal settlements; introduction of rental stabilization or reduction measures; suspension of utility costs and surcharges for the duration of the pandemic; and creation of emergency funds to reduce exposure for categories at risk;

Secondly, provide for the basic needs of vulnerable communities or neighbourhoods, particularly food, water, sanitation and hygiene essentials, and primary health care. Nationally appropriate social protection systems can also address causes of homelessness and inadequate housing by preventing poverty particularly associated with lack of employment and by contributing to improved health.

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