The following statement was issued today by the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Miloon Kothari:
In my capacity as Special Rapporteur on adequate housing appointed by the UN Commission on Human Rights, I wish to join in the expression of sincere condolences and solidarity to all those individuals and families affected by the earthquake that took place on 8 October 2005. The earthquake has resulted in injury and an enormous loss of human life in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, the North-West Frontier Province and Indian-administered Kashmir. I wish to express my profound dismay at the severe damage that occurred in Muzaffarabad, Bagh, Rawalakot, Uri, Tangdhar and other localities, towns and villages, now in ruins, where millions of individuals and families while struggling to rescue loved ones, find themselves homeless or surviving in inadequate and insecure housing and living conditions.
According to recent estimates, the earthquake has resulted in more than 35,000 deaths and over 50,000 injured in northern Pakistan and India. These estimates are expected to rise with the clearance of debris and rubble from collapsed buildings, often in remote areas. Moreover, an estimated three million affected people are in urgent need of shelter, pending reconstruction of homes, as well as food and water. Reports also indicate that people are fleeing villages destroyed by the earthquake to seek refuge in larger cities, making them prone to living in inadequate conditions. International aid is critically required and it is encouraging to note that assistance efforts are being made, including by the United Nations Disaster Management Team and the Pakistan Red Crescent Society.
The human right of everyone to adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living is enshrined in article 11(1) of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. `Habitability` is one necessary element of this human right. According to the General Comment 4 of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, "(a)dequate housing must be habitable, in terms of providing the inhabitants with adequate space and protecting them from cold, damp, heat, rain, wind or other threats to health […] and structural hazards. […] The physical safety of occupants must be guaranteed as well." I would like to stress that the standards dictated by `habitability`, including durability of homes to withstand earthquakes and other disasters, should guide the reconstruction efforts in the affected areas in northern Pakistan and India.
This tragedy must reinforce the resolve of all international actors, including UN agencies and programmes, States, civil society and the private sector, to work towards the progressive development of safe housing standards worldwide, including compliance with building standards based on the fulfillment of the right to adequate housing. Such measures could help ensure that the loss of life, human suffering, and homelessness resulting from natural disasters are minimized in the future, especially given the strong link between poverty and vulnerability to natural hazards. Positive lessons from rebuilding from previous tragedies such as in Gujarat, India and Bam, Iran must be adopted in the aftermath of the current tragedy in Pakistan and India, including active participation of local people and appropriately trained masons in the rebuilding process.
The impacts of the earthquake on women have been particularly severe. Relief and rehabilitation must be carried out in a gender-sensitive manner. Similarly, the rights of children must be upheld while