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World Habitat Day Housing Forum 2008― Jonathan Reckford’s remarks

Limelight Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland, New Zealand
Oct. 6, 2008

About World Habitat Day
The United Nations has designated the first Monday of October every year as World Habitat Day to reflect on the state of human settlements and the basic right to adequate shelter for all. It is also intended to remind the world of its collective responsibility for the future of the human habitat.

Jonathan Reckford delivered a version of these remarks as he introduced the housing forum:

After he was arrested on April 16, 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama in his continued non-violent protest against segregation, Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote a famous letter.

In it, he wrote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

I believe his words then resound still today as we scan the world’s housing landscape and find:

  • 1.6 billion people living in deplorable conditions
  • 10 million people each year dying in conditions related to housing, water and sanitation
  • 1.2 billion people living on a dollar a day
  • Half the world’s population on two dollars a day

Those statistics reveal an injustice that affects us all.

When children and parents live in poverty, in substandard housing, they suffer poor health; their options are few, if any. Education is often beyond reach for children, because the family is focused on surviving rather than on thriving.

In my own experience with Habitat for Humanity, I’ve seen the transformational impact, however, that decent, affordable shelter can bring to families and entire communities. It brings stability and permanence, safety and comfort, hope, promise and possibility.

The UN’s World Habitat Day is a chance to highlight the vast shelter needs in our world, but also an opportunity to consider how we might come together—in partnership with poor families themselves—to meet those needs, to help bridge the gap between those who have and those who have not

But no one can do it alone. No individual or corporation. No single government or non-profit organization. Working together, however, we can deliver a deeper impact in more lives in more communities in more corners of the globe.

We can build decent homes and create access to clean water and sanitation. We can look holistically as a community’s needs, accounting for jobs, health, education. We can advocate … and work to change systems that influence housing and poverty. We can demonstrate through action our understanding of the vital role housing plays in the lives of people. And we can do so as we make poor families around the world part of the solution, not a problem to solve.

We can do so together. We MUST do so together.

As we recognize this year’s World Habitat Day, I will remember Dr. King’s writing from the Birmingham jail: We’re “tied in a single garment of destiny,” he wrote. “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” It’s up to us as a global village, then, to weave a thread of hope through housing and poverty alleviation. The great social justice champion Gandhi told us to, “Be the change [we] wish to see in the world.”

We all have a role to play. We can be that change: It starts with you, and it starts with me. I’m privileged to be here with all of you for this conversation on World Habitat Day. And as we discuss the immense housing and poverty challenges before us, let’s also recall the solution in which all of us can—and must—participate.