Urban planning for the other bottom billion?

From the New York Times Magazine (courtesy of IHT), an interesting piece about the billion people across the world who are homeless –

There are 80,000 people living on top of a garbage dump in Manila; a population of indeterminate size – perhaps as many as a million – who sleep every night in the cemeteries of Cairo; homeless encampments in San Francisco, Atlanta and Houston; guest workers camped beside the towers of the Persian Gulf; migrant workers in the San Fernando Valley. They are all displaced people.

The article begins with a discussion about the type of shelter provided for refugees – blocks, sectors of simple tarp tents which make up refugee camps as we imagine them to be.

Rwandan refugee camp in the DRC

There definitely is a huge, huge housing problem globally – unfortunately, refugees aren’t the only ones living in that sort of unbelievably precarious shelter. In Paris, where I live, there are lots of homeless people living in tents handed out by Medecins du Monde and the Red Cross. When I was an MA student at Sciences Po, I remember getting worked up after seeing those tents for the first time – it made me wonder “why am I so worried about people in places I’ve never seen, when there are needs right here, literally at my door step?”


Medecins du Monde tents in Paris

But I digress….

Pertaining to refugees, I wanted to – again – mention that all refugee crises are not the same. In fact, I’d say that the refugees I work with in Buduburam are probably better off (in terms of housing) than homeless people in Paris. They have solid houses, with sometimes more than one room, painted in bright colors – this gives the camp this incredible quality, where you could almost be lead to believe that things are ok for the community (not so, for reasons which I have written about extensively on this blog)


Buduburam Refugee Settlement

It seems to me that the housing/shelter issue is merely a symptom of a denial of basic human rights which knows no boundaries. Recently, groups in France have called for decisive action on the part of the government to deal with the sister issues of homelessness and precarious housing. Unfortunately, there are still dozens of thousands of people living in the most, well, disgusting housing in France, even in the very heart of Paris. And these people aren’t all immigrants, in case that thought popped into your mind…..

Paul Collier’s book, “The Bottom Billion”, which has been discussed more than extensively in the blogosphere, talks about the plight of those living in those countries who have missed the industrial revolution and globalization gravy trains.

But is there another “Bottom Billion”, spread out all over the world, whose most basic human rights are nowhere near respected? Geography, and a country’s GDP, hardly matter for these people who are the face of inequality created by globalization.

Article 25, 1951 Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Sounds good, right? This begs the question: Is the IDHR the least respected international treaty in History?

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