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States have to ensure adequate housing amid the pandemic | Coronavirus pandemic



When COVID-19 was understood as a global and deadly threat, there was a singular prescription promulgated by the World Health Organization (WHO) and governments around the world: stay home, wash your hands, and keep a physical distance from others. As former UN special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing and an advocate in the area of housing for decades, the implications of this guidance to me were clear – and almost hopeful.

If protecting against further spread required a home, a shelter to isolate in, access to sanitation, then, intentionally or not, the WHO was prescribing access to adequate housing. Housing was clearly a requirement for the world to stay safe and effectively address the pandemic. Access to adequate housing would reduce infection rates and ensure that healthcare systems would not be overwhelmed. In other words, home and hospitals have been put forward as equally necessary to preserving life.

With this unambiguous position adopted by governments, I was certain we would see the global housing crisis tackled with the urgency that is in fact warranted when a human right is violated en masse. This was not utopian opportunism, but rather a logical deduction based on the global “stay at home” prescription.

I anticipated that governments would move swiftly to eliminate homelessness, not because of a new regard for the dignity of people living in homelessness or recognition of their rights, but because in the face of a virus that spreads exponentially and that causes death, governments know that one person living in the street who is exposed to the virus could put an entire nation at risk.

I assumed that in keeping with human rights law, those living in informal settlements (or “slums”) would finally be provided with access to adequate water, sanitation, isolation facilities and other changes that would be necessary to meet the “wash your hands” requirement and address other hygiene-related matters. I also imagined that residents of informal settlements would finally be afforded some security, no longer threatened with forced eviction; after all, forced eviction results in homelessness which then increases the risk of the spread of the virus.

I was sure that governments would impose adequate protections for those living in rental accommodation and experiencing economic hardship so that no matter their financial position they could remain in their own homes and out of harm’s way for the duration of the pandemic.

I was certain that governments would take the necessary steps to ensure that the ongoing legacy of the 2008 global financial crisis – the invasion of residential real estate by institutional investors and the unaffordability of rental housing – would not be exacerbated or repeat itself.

And I assumed that what would begin as emergency measures would translate into the drafting of longer-term housing strategies aimed at fixing the causes and effects of the housing crisis, again not as a matter of human rights obligations, but on the understanding that pandemics are no longer one-off events, so we must prepare for the future.

I thought a renewed sense of urgency around viral outbreaks and public health would ignite bold determination to end homelessness and forced evictions, upgrade informal settlements, increase tenant protections against unaffordability and eviction, and regulate global institutional financial actors that have wreaked havoc on the housing sector since the global financial crisis.

Six months into this nightmare, not only has the housing crisis and its effects not been effectively tackled, they may have become more pronounced, while revitalised plans to address the housing crisis have been scant.

In Canada, still one of the wealthiest countries in the world, there has been a proliferation of homeless encampments – in part as a result of limitations on the numbers of spaces in shelters to ensure conformity with social distancing policies. People living in homelessness also fear COVID-19 outbreaks in shelters and other congregate settings they have been offered, preferring instead the space and safety of pitching a tent in the outdoors.

In India, one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, forced evictions of Indigenous communities, as well as thousands of people living in informal settlements without provision of alternative housing, have been reported in Gurugram, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, and Delhi, in July alone.

In the United States, estimates indicate that approximately 40 percent of renter households are at risk of experiencing rental shortfalls, with 12 million potentially facing eviction within the next four months, particularly once moratoriums on evictions are lifted.

Meanwhile, private equity firms and other institutional investors are salivating at the once in a generation opportunity to do what they do best – make a profit – boasting access to trillions of “dry powder” for new acquisitions. Without any sign of government restraint, they are eyeing distressed residential real estate assets, including multifamily rental apartments, which can perform well, even in economic hard times.

This is not to say that governments have not responded at all with measures to address homelessness and protect residents of informal settlements and tenants. At the onset of the pandemic, the UK government swiftly provided 5,400 street homeless with hotel rooms and other accommodation and have promised the provision of 3,300 long-term housing units with social supports within 12 months. In fact, the use of hotel rooms as emergency accommodation for homeless people was instituted in a number of places, including the US state of California, France, and parts of Canada.

Spain, like many other countries, implemented a moratorium on evictions during the pandemic and is also providing microloans to low-income tenants or those who have suffered job loss to assist them in making rental payments. The loans can be repaid over the course of six years. 

Taking a longer-term view, the government of Costa Rica enshrined the human right to water and sanitation in their constitution in June, explicitly recognising the connection between human rights and the virus.

While such measures are not insignificant, a global scan indicates they are far too few. While governments may not be quick to embrace housing as a human right or admit there is a housing crisis that requires a new approach, the devastation wreaked by this pandemic has surely strengthened their resolve to be better protected against any future pandemic threats.

If that is the case, ensuring access to adequate, affordable and secure housing is both prevention and prescription. Maybe once governments commit to that, they will be bold enough to call those measures what they are: the implementation of the right to housing. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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Museveni: We Don’t Encourage Export of Labour




President Museveni has urged Ugandans to exploit the available resources to create jobs and stem labour export.

Uganda does not encourage the export of human labour resource abroad,” said Museveni on Saturday, April 10.

”Uganda is a very rich country. It is bad to be poor. What matters is to have attitude change among our people and to put the available resources into use to create jobs,” he emphasized.

 Museveni said Uganda should emulate countries like South Korea and Japan whose nationals do not seek for jobs outside their countries.

The President was meeting the Regional Director of International Organization for Migration (IOM) Mohammed Abdiker in charge of East and the Horn of Africa who was accompanied by the UN Resident Coordinator, Rosa Malango.

Uganda has one of the highest population growth rates globally with more than 78% of its population below 30 years.

This is the productive age of many people but while the labour force is increasing with each passing year, the labour market is actually shrinking rendering it incapable of accommodating the 500,000 young Ugandans that join the labour market annually.

This makes labour export the most feasible alternative way out of this unemployment conundrum.

Uganda adopted the externalization of labour in 2005 as a measure to shed off its excess and abundant labour force though this policy has culminated into an industry that is lucrative but unregulated hence the making the need for regulatory processes more needed today than ever before.

Ugandan women were recently warned against the increasing number of criminal gangs in Kampala city who allegedly recruit girls on the streets promising them ‘juicy jobs in Malaysia and other East Asian countries and instead sell them into forced prostitution.

Remittances to Uganda have increased from $ 1.6 billion (Sh4.6 trillion) in 2016, to $ 2.0bn (Sh7 trillion in 2017 and they can only go higher as the labour export industry is regulated and formalized so that the nation can gain from the labour and exploits of her citizens.

Meanwhile, Museveni and Malango discussed the current political situation in the region including Somalia, South Sudan and the DRC.

During the meeting that was held at Independence Grounds at Kololo, the President said the political solution to Somalia was to senstize the nationals about the weaknesses of fronting issues of identity including tribal and religion as opposed to people’s common interests to achieve Socia-economic transformation, prosperity and political stability.

Mr. Mohammed Abdiker thanked the President for his tremendous input on two fronts mainly; fighting for the political stability of Somalia and South Sudan and combating Covid-19 pandemic.

He thanked the President for his support to IOM programmes on disaster response and refugees.

The post Museveni: We Don’t Encourage Export of Labour first appeared on ChimpReports.

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Opposition sidelined as Benin votes in presidential election | Elections News




With most rivals in exile or sidelined, Benin’s President Patrice Talon looks set to win a second term in office.

Voters in Benin are set to cast their ballots in a presidential election on Sunday, days after deadly protests against President Patrice Talon, who is heavily favoured to win a second term.

Talon, a cotton magnate first elected in 2016, faces off against two little-known rivals, Alassane Soumanou and Corentin Kohoue.

Opponents accuse the 62-year-old Talon of undermining Benin’s vibrant multi-party democracy by sidelining most of his main opponents.

Protests in several cities last week turned violent. At least two people died in the central city of Save when troops on Thursday fired tear gas and live rounds to break up protesters who had blocked a major highway. Five others were wounded.

In the commercial capital Cotonou, several people said they feared violence on election day.

“The events of these last days scare me,” said Christophe Dossou, a student. “I prefer to remain cautious.”

Benin’s President Patrice Talon denies targeting his opponents [File: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters]

Among the protesters’ complaints are Talon’s U-turn on a pledge he made as a candidate in 2016 to serve only one term, and changes he pushed through to election laws that he said were aimed at streamlining unwieldy government institutions. In practice, those reforms resulted in total control of parliament by Talon’s supporters and the exclusion of leading opponents from the presidential race.

One opposition leader Reckya Madougou was detained last month on accusations of plotting to disrupt the election, a charge her lawyer says is fabricated.

A judge from a special economic crimes court created by Talon also fled the country last week after denouncing political pressure to make rulings against the president’s critics, including the decision to detain Madougou.

Meanwhile, businessman Sebastien Ajavon, who came third in the 2016 presidential poll, was convicted of drug trafficking in 2018 and sentenced to 20 years in prison, while another potential rival, ex-finance minister Komi Koutche, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for embezzlement. Ajavon lives in exile in France, while Koutche lives in Washington, DC.

Talon denies targeting his opponents.

He has campaigned on his economic record, which includes improvements to key infrastructure such as roads, water and energy supplies.

Soldiers stand in line to block supporters of the incumbent president during an electoral campaign rally at Abomey-Calavi, on April 9, 2021 [Pius Utomi Ekpei/ AFP]

Benin, a country of about 12 million people, became Africa’s top cotton exporter in 2018 and recorded average annual gross domestic product growth of over 5 percent before the global economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“What we did was not easy,” Talon said at one of his final campaign rallies on Friday. “We are strong and we know how to get it done.”

He said he expects a “knock-out victory” for which there would be no need for a runoff vote.

The United States, German, French and Dutch embassies as well as the European Union delegation in Benin all called on Friday for calm and for the vote to go ahead in a free and transparent manner.

“We urge all parties to express their perspectives peacefully,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters. “We urge the electoral institutions and courts overseeing these processes and verifying these results to ensure these elections are conducted freely, fairly, and transparently.”

Results are expected to be announced on Monday or Tuesday.

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Trucks Traveling to Juba Get Military Escort




Government of Southern Sudan has agreed to provide full military security and safety to all road users including Ugandan cargo truck drivers plying Juba – Nimule highway starting this week.

This was reached during a meeting between South Sudan government and Ugandan authorities on Friday at Elegu One-stop Border point in Amuru district, Northern Uganda.

High level security officials from both countries met to deliberate on the deteriorating security along major highways in South Sudan in which eight Ugandan truck drivers have been shot dead by armed men in the past weeks.

The Sudanese high-level delegation was led by the country’s Chief of Defense Forces, Gen. Johnson Juma, Inspector General of Police, Gen. Majak Akech, and Director-General of Internal Security, Gen. Akol Khor.

The Deputy Commissioner General of the National Revenue Authority, Hon. Africano Mande was also present and four East African Ambassadors.

On the other side, Uganda’s delegation was led by Police Operations Director AIGP Edward Ochom, Director Crime Intelligence Col. Damulira among others high ranking officers.

“We have successively concluded our two days meetings with Ugandan authorities including the drivers who later agreed to resume the normal operation,” said South Sudan authorities.

“And as government, we assure them of full security on the major highways in the Republic of South Sudan and removal of the illegal road blocks and check-points for easy movement of trucks to Juba and others towns within the country.”

Last week, truck drivers from across the East African region protested the increasing insecurity in South Sudan, illegal taxes and also demanded for compensation of their deceased colleagues.

They parked their trucks at Elegu border and demanded for both governments to intervene before the situation deteriorates further.

In regards to compensation, Sudanese authorities agreed to pay for the victims but said that the process will be discussed through the foreign ministries of the two countries.

Although traders had also requested Ugandan authorities and in this case the UPDF to escort their goods to South Sudan, Lt.Col Deo Akiki said that “this can’t be a decision of UPDF. South Sudan is a sovereign State, therefore anything done on its territory at the moment has to be a bilateral matter beyond the two forces. It’s a government to government affair.”

ChimpReports understands that some trucks on Saturday left Elegu border for Juba under full security escort.

The post Trucks Traveling to Juba Get Military Escort first appeared on ChimpReports.

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