The Publication of Habitat for Humanity International | February / March 2002
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Housing Need
Spans the Globe

Africa / Middle East: Housing is part of vicious cycle
Substandard housing almost disappears as an issue next to other, more publicized facets of poverty in Africa: hunger, disease, conflict. Yet, each of these issues impacts and is impacted by the profound need for decent, affordable shelter.

According to the Christian Children’s Fund, one-third of African children under age 5 are malnourished; time spent trying to survive in decrepit housing is time that could be spent earning food for the family. A study released in October indicates that AIDS has become the leading cause of death in South Africa; orphans must find enough work to provide for younger siblings and keep from losing the roof over their heads. Civil conflict in a number of countries causes families to flee their homes, increasing the likelihood of looting in their absence and the difficulty of establishing ownership upon their return.
• According to the United Nations, 34 of the world’s 49 poorest nations are located in Africa.

Asia/Pacific: A staggering number in need
The sheer number of people in need in Asia and the Pacific can be daunting: Of the 10 cities predicted by the United Nations to be the largest in the world by 2015, six of them–with a combined population of 139 million–are in this area.

Most of the population growth in this diverse collection of countries occurs in urban areas, a trend that presents as many obstacles as opportunities for improving the lives of people living there. Millions of urban poor squat illegally in rapidly expanding cities, desperately seeking work and exceeding the limits of service systems such as sanitation and water. With the price for a serviced plot of land at about US$3 per square meter, poor people have little hope of buying land on which to build their own house.
• The United Nations estimates that more than half the world’s poorest people live in South and East Asia.


Europe/Central Asia: Overcoming a burdensome past
Many countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have continued to struggle with the transition to market economies following the collapse of communism in the late 1980s. According to a study released by the European Children’s Trust in 2000, 12 times more people in Eastern European and former Soviet bloc countries live in poverty now than did 10 years ago.

Raising awareness of poverty and housing issues is a challenge for this region because of the common political philosophy that affordable housing is a “government problem.” Also, volunteerism–one of Habitat’s core success factors–is often viewed with suspicion by people who experienced the forced “volunteerism” of recent communist regimes.
• The demand for new housing units in Europe is expected to total 24 million units between 2000 and 2010, according to the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements.

Latin America/Caribbean: Housing shortage at crisis level
A vast housing shortage, income inequality and vulnerability to natural disasters are some of the challenges for the Latin America/ Caribbean region. The United Nations Centre for Human Settlements estimates the housing shortage in this region at 40 million units. Also, of a total of 90 million homes, 25 million do not have access to drinking water and more than 30 million do not have access to sewer systems and basic sanitation infrastructure. In urban areas, 25 percent of the households live below the locally defined poverty line. Many of the poorest people live in areas vulnerable to damage from hurricanes, mudslides and earthquakes.

Within this framework of tremendous need, local volunteers who can motivate their communities and embrace Habitat’s values–sweat equity, partnership and mortgage repayment–are crucial.
• In Latin America and the Caribbean, 11 percent of the population–53 million people–is hungry. Haiti, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Honduras are the worst hit, according to the World Food Programme.

United States/ Canada: Poverty persists despite gains
At first glance, the economic conditions in this region seem to have improved. The U.S. poverty rate in 1999 was at its lowest level in 20 years, and the median household income was at a record high, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. However, some statistics remain disturbingly consistent: 20 percent of children under age 18 are poor, and the wait for federal rental vouchers in some cities is five years.

As the cost of land and the pressure to limit sprawl around cities increase, providing affordable housing may become even more difficult for both commercial and nonprofit builders.
• Housing cost burdens have begun to affect moderate-income households as well as low-income households. In 1999, 700,000 moderate-income renters paid more than 30 percent of their incomes for housing, almost a third more than in 1997, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies.

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