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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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Charles Mbire gains $1.2 million as stake in MTN Uganda rises above $51 million



Ugandan businessman and MTN Uganda Chairman Charles Mbire has seen the market value of his stake in MTN Uganda surge above $51 million in just two days, as the share price in the leading teleco company increased by a single digit.

The single-digit bump in the share price caused the market value of Mbire’s stake to gain UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million) in less than two days.

The million-dollar increase in the value of his stake came after Uganda’s largest telecom company delivered the country’s largest-ever IPO through the listing of 22.4 billion ordinary shares on the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE).

Upon completing the largest IPO in Uganda’s history, MTN Uganda raised a record UGX535 billion ($150.4 million) from the applications that it received for a total of 2.9 billion shares, including incentive shares.

As of press time, Dec. 7, shares in the company were trading at UGX204.95 ($0.0574), down six basis points from their opening price this morning.

Data gathered by Billionaires.Africa revealed that since the telecom company registered its shares on the Ugandan bourse on Mon., Dec. 6, its share price has increased by 2.5 percent from UGX200 ($0.056) to UGX204.95 ($0.0574) as of the time of writing, as retail investors sustained buying interest long after the public offering.

The increase in the company’s share price caused the market value of Mbire’s 3.98-percent stake to rise from UGX178.45 billion ($49.96 million) to UGX182.86 billion ($51.2 million).

In less than two days, his stake gained more than UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million).

In a statement after the successful listing of MTN Uganda’s shares, Mbire said the IPO shows the confidence that Ugandans and other investors have in the company, its brand and strategic intent.

“We commend all the regulators for their support in our work to become a USE-listed company and to comply in a timely manner with the listing provisions of the national telecommunications operators’ license,” he said.

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350 million (debt free).

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350. ( debt free).

He is into communications-revenue assurance-cement-distribution-oil services-real estate-oil exploration and logistics.

Source: Billionaires Africa

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2-year-old dies at Arua hospital as nurse demands Shs 210,000 bribe




A two-year-old child died at Arua Regional Referral hospital after a nurse, Paul Wamala demanded a bribe amounting to Shs 210,000 before carrying out an operation. 

The incident happened on Saturday, after Aron Nabil, a two-year-old child was referred to the hospital for an operation after he was diagnosed with intestinal obstruction, a medical emergency caused by a blockage that keeps food or liquid from passing through the small intestine or large intestine.

According to the relatives of the child, Wamala allegedly asked them to initially give him Shs 30,000 to buy medicines to commence the procedure. He however returned shortly asking for an additional Shs 180,000 from the relatives.

Emily Adiru, a resident of Osu cell, in Bazar Ward, Central Division, and a relative of the child says although they paid money to Wamala, he abandoned the child without carrying out the operation. According to Adiru, Wamala later refunded Shs 200,000 through mobile money, after she threatened to report him to the police.

“They told us this boy needs an operation which was supposed to be done in the morning on Sunday at around 7 am. They took him inside there, some doctor came from the theatre, he called one of us and said, we should pay Shs 70,000 for buying medicine to start the operation. We paid the Shs 30,000 [but] after paying the Shs 30,000, after some minutes, the same man came and opened the door and called us again, and told us we should pay another Shs 100,000. We also paid the Shs 100,000 and we thought it is finished. We were outside there waiting for our patient to come out [but] then this man came back again and said we should pay another Shs 80,000,” said Adiru.

Although the operation was later carried out after a 7-hour delay, the child didn’t make it, and relatives attribute the death to negligence. Miria Ahmed, a concerned resident wonders why such incidents have persisted at the facility which is supposed to service the citizens.

“Is the problem the hospital, is it the management or it is the human resource that is the problem in the hospital? A small child like this you demand Shs 210,000 for the operation? Well, if the money was taken and the operation is done, I would say anything bad but this money was taken and the small boy was abandoned in the theatre,” she said. 

When contacted Wamala refused to comment on the allegations. Dr Gilbert Aniku, the acting hospital director says that the hospital will issue an official statement later since consultations about the matter are ongoing.

Arua City resident district commissioner, Alice Akello has condemned the actions of the nurse saying she has ordered his arrest so as to set an example to the rest. The case has been reported to Arua regional referral hospital police post under SD reference No:05/30/05/2022.

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Mexican president’s Mayan Train dealt new legal setback | Tourism News




Activists say the planned tourist train will harm the wildlife and natural features of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been dealt the latest setback to an ambitious plan to create a tourist train to connect the country’s southern Yucatan Peninsula.

On Monday, a judge indefinitely suspended construction on a portion of the project, known as the Mayan Train, saying the plans currently do not comply “with the proceedings of the environmental impact evaluation”.

The ruling follows a legal challenge by activists who said they were concerned the 60km (37 mile) portion of the train that would connect the resorts of Playa del Carmen and Tulum would adversely affect the area’s wildlife, as well as its caves and water-filled sinkholes known as cenotes.

The original plan for the disputed section was for an overpass over a highway, but the route was modified early this year to go through jungle at ground level.

The federal judge cited the “imminent danger” of causing “irreversible damage” to ecosystems, according to one of the plaintiffs, the non-governmental group Defending the Right to a Healthy Environment. In a statement, the group said that authorities had failed to carry out the necessary environmental impact studies before starting construction of the section.

Lopez Obrador had announced the ambitious project in 2018, with construction beginning in 2020. The roughly 1,500km (930 mile) cargo and passenger rail loop was presented as a cornerstone of a wider plan to develop the poorer states and remote towns throughout the about 181,000sq km (70,000sq mile) Yucatan Peninsula.

The railway is set to connect Caribbean beach resorts with Mayan archaeological ruins, with authorities aiming to complete the project by the end of 2023. The plan is estimated to cost about $16bn.

The project has split communities across the region, with some welcoming the economic development and connectivity it would bring. Others, including some local Indigenous communities, have challenged the project, saying it could not only disrupt the migratory routes of endangered species, including jaguars, tapirs and ocelots, but could also potentially damage centuries-old Mayan archaeological sites.

The National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism, the government agency overseeing the project, has said that it expects to “overcome” the latest challenge and that work should continue after an environmental impact statement is finalised. It said the Environment Ministry was currently reviewing its environmental application for the project.

For his part, Lopez Obrador has insisted the railway will not have a significant environmental effect and has accused activists of being infiltrated by “impostors”.

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