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Why housing is the key to solving the Sustainable Development goals?

Article by Ilaria

Why sustainable development?

It’s how we make the world a healthier place.

The dynamics of global development have led to gaps. Some places have achieved insurmountable wealth while others are grappling with the instability of a future hanging by a thread. This other world remains out of sight for most people living in the developed world. The disparities between the well-off and those struggling to achieve a basic level of adequate housing hold us back collectively, and it is for this reason that Habitat for Humanity takes its role in achieving sustainable development outcomes seriously.

Housing is one of the critical drivers for thirteen out of the seventeen sustainable development goals outlined by the United Nations. It is a platform for both household resilience and sustainability, propelling the Human Development and Multi-Poverty Index outcomes in health, education, and standard of living. These outcomes are closely tied to development indicators relating to nutrition, child mortality, school enrolment, and sanitary infrastructure.

The availability of accessible housing allows for communities to prosper by encouraging the development of a sense of identity and belonging tied to home and place. This enables the emergence of cohesive societies and provides a working framework for further financial and economic development.

Housing strengthens families. It is the starting point from which we seek to achieve abundance in all aspects of our lives – a ladder out of poverty that reduces inequality. There is no replacement for the safety net afforded by a home.

UN-Habitat’s shared definition of adequate housing includes all aspects of basic services such as the provision of water and sanitation along with upgrades. Habitat’s scope of practice focuses on five important goals:

Eliminating poverty by achieving security of tenure
– Attaining gender equality through access to tenure, infrastructure and adequate space
– Providing access to clean water and sanitation
– Promoting affordable and clean energy
– Developing sustainable cities and communities by ensuring all people have access to safe, affordable, and serviced housing

How does housing support these sustainable development goals?

Goal 1 – No Poverty
According to current projections, the global housing deficit is set to hit 2 billion people by 2030. The global poor typically live in areas threatened with hazards, landslides, as well as barriers to employment, transport, education and healthcare.

Habitat for Humanity has produced a range of policy papers suggesting reforms that will increase the availability of affordable housing, alleviating poverty and reducing socio-spatial segregation. Housing builds community resilience which gives people the tools they need to break the poverty cycles that otherwise threaten the health and wellbeing of those trapped within them.

Goal 5 – Gender Equality
UN research shows that over half the developing world’s women and girls live without sufficient or durable housing. This makes them susceptible to exploitation and discriminatory practices. For example, women in Sub-Saharan Africa collectively spend 4 billion hours collecting water each year. There are many other examples shedding light on the dire need for raising community awareness around gender-based issues and empowering women.

The provision of adequate housing paves the road to this empowerment by providing independence, improving access to education and employment and, ultimately, financial benefit.

Goal 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation
It is a harrowing fact that over 650 million people don’t have access to clean water sources. Water and sanitation services are normally provided for by the underfunded public sector and, especially in slum regions, may fail to live up to basic standards imposed by health and safety regulations. For many communities, fighting for the enforcement of these regulations can be a struggle.

The importance of clean water and sanitation is highlighted not only in the necessity of establishing a baseline level of human dignity but also in the essential role they play in public health and personal hygiene. By liaising with community partners, local authorities and other not for profit organisations, Habitat works towards establishing equal access to these critical, life supporting resources.

Goal 7 – Affordable and Clean Energy
Globally, residential buildings account for 24% of total energy consumption and 18% of our CO2 footprint. The issue is particularly pertinent to developing regions where poverty-stricken communities are unable to access clean and affordable energy sources. One result of this disproportionality is what’s known as “fuel poverty” which, exacerbated by cold weather, can have fuel costs eating into more than half of a household’s fixed monthly income.

Adequate housing in line with UN-Habitat’s definition provides access to electricity, heating and cooking fuel, as well as protection from environmental conditions. Many people worldwide live in substantially rundown properties that need upgrades, while those sleeping rough cannot access energy at all.

The provision of sustainable housing allows accessibility to environmentally friendly technologies and helps reduce our environmental footprint – an effect that carries impact on a global scale.

Goal 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities
According to the UN-Habitat III policy paper, 60% of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2030. This means that we will need to meet the housing requirements for an additional 2 billion people. However, meeting these goals is not a simple case of building houses. To facilitate sustainable expansion of housing availability there needs to be an active effort to integrate sustainable housing frameworks in urban planning, advocate for inclusive and affordable housing, and ensure that the housing being provided is adequate in meeting the needs of individuals and communities.
A roof should provide safety, security, and an adequately serviced space from which individuals can grow and work towards increasing their positive impact on society.

Advocating for housing security as well as supporting organisations like Habitat helps raise community awareness and improve habitability in impoverished parts of the world.

It doesn’t stop there!
Although housing is a major contributor to the five sustainable development goals above, it also has a trickle-down effect to other SDG’s by leading to better physical and mental health, facilitating economic opportunities and growth, promoting affordable, energy-efficiency and green housing approaches, helping communities overcome inequalities, and reducing our carbon footprint.
Our world is multifaceted but we all share the need for a home. Find out how you can take part in the journey towards sustainable development. Visit
Source: UN-Habitat SDG Report