Adequate Shelter for Human Living

    This document has been made available in electronic format
         by the International Co-operative Alliance ICA 
                         July, 1996

Source : Review of International Co-operation Vol. 89 
No 1/1996 86-90.

               Adequate Shelter for Human Living
                  by Dr Claus Jurgen Hachmann*

Apart from `sustainable shelter' adequate shelter for all is
the basic topic for the HABITAT II Conference. The first
conference in Vancouver in 1976 has already illustrated the
difficulties involved and concluded that the housing misery
seemed to be unsolvable.

The Meaning of Shelter for all?
Twenty years ago there was already an estimated population of
four billion. This figure has now reached 5.6 billion people.
One in four of these people is living in inhuman conditions:
under plastic covers, in tin huts, on canal banks or rubbish

According to UN statistics, these people are not homeless:
officially homeless people means the men, women and children
lying on the street or under bridges.

During the HABITAT I Conference, the figures stated were
already 8,090 million homeless. Taking the population growth
into account, homelessness has increased by 100% and the
situation is dramatically deteriorating.

What is Adequate Shelter?
There is no official definition for adequate shelter. This
would be difficult anyway, as different climates, cultures and
possibilities of realization lend totally different meanings
to what can be labelled as `adequate'.

Housing is a human right, stated in the UN charter, but it
cannot be claimed by law, unless the right is mentioned in the
national constitution. Therefore adequate housing is difficult
to struggle legally for. The right to housing as a legal right
should be demanded at HABITAT II, but the governments of the
United States, China and the United Kingdom do not want it to
be incorporated into the agenda.

Before solutions can be discussed adequate shelter has to be
defined under the conditions of a developing country, where
slums and shanty towns are the home of masses of people.

The German Development Assistance Association for Social
Housing (DESWOS), Cologne, was founded in 1969 by German
housing co-operatives and associations and their federations.
As no official definition of adequate shelter existed, DESWOS
elaborated criteria of its own. These were that human shelter
should provide: 

-    legal safety against expulsion,
-    protection against climatic problems and other health
     risks (e.g. rain, flooding of water, cold),
-    protection of the private sphere of the family.

These three criteria are of course only a minimum, which
itself does not secure adequate shelter. The density of
occupancy, the infrastructure (water and electricity supplies
and the sewerage system) plays a vital role. Water and
sewerage systems especially influence the health problems in
the Third World.

Multi-dimensions Needs 
It is certainly not enough to list the problems and then
request funding, as local, regional and national governments
lack money.
Furthermore, adequate shelter is not enough. The needs for an
adequate quality of life are multi-dimensional. This means an
economic and social development leading to the stability of
families. The break-through of the circle of misery means has
a knock-on effect as illustrated below:

-    The construction of houses will produce jobs and,
     therefore, income. The demand for food will increase in
     the local market. Therefore, agricultural production will
     be increased, and small farmers will look for new
     labourers in order to fulfill the demand.

-    In the Third World, the construction of houses provides
     many more new jobs than in the developed regions. Housing
     construction is the motor of economic prosperity, leading
     to multiplication effects in other fields.

-    Unofficial estimates show that in China alone, 100
     million migrant workers are unemployed.  Intermittent
     temporary employment means they have a very low and an
     extremely unbalanced income, which leads to social
     tensions, crime, etc.

-    A modest permanent income would be the essential
     contribution for the economic and social stability of the
     family. So the situation in the developing countries
     cannot be compared with that of developed ones. In
     countries of the Third World, adequate housing can be a
     matter of survival or death and we cannot, therefore,
     transfer our housing problems and solutions to them.

Social conflicts and housing misery
The housing situation in the Third World is dramatic, with
civil wars, ethnic conflicts and ecological disasters leading
to increased social pressures and tensions. In most cases the
local, regional and national governments are not in a position
to tackle the problems.

Two examples show that, in countries where a certain economic
prosperity is taking place, dramatic challenges also lie

1.   The situation in China:

22% of the world's population is concentrated in China. Until
the opening for foreign investors, people were living in
communes which allocated both jobs and housing to their
members. If a person wanted to marry a bride from another
commune, permission had to be solicitated from the relevant
authorities. The one-child-family was enforced by law. There
was no labour market or housing market whatsoever. Suddenly
foreign multinational enterprises are invading the country,
attracting over 100 million migrants to the cities,  only a
tiny percentage of whom can be absorbed by the industry. This
is like a drop of honey provoking thousands of bees.

Expectations are created which can only be fulfilled for some
privileged workers. Masses of frustrated migrants will be part
of the very poor in the cities, having lost both their means
of existence and their value system. The consequences will be
extremely serious. The traditional social security system will
cease to work as large parts of the society will be dissolved.
The UN estimates that 200 tons of rice have already been
imported to feed the Chinese population. As there is not
enough rice surplus (approximately 120 tons), millions of
people may die of hunger. Additionally, there is the problem
of unbalanced distribution which may lead to unpredictable
conflicts. Gigantic streams of refugees will reach
neighbouring countries, where pressure and violence will

2.  The situation in South Africa:

In South Africa, world opinion overcame apartheid and many
people believed that this would bring  change for prosperity
and social justice.

But now there are signs of new conflicts. Without rapid
successes on the labour and housing front, the country is in
imminent danger of serious unrest, such as fighting between
different ethnic groups as we have seen in other African
countries. In South Africa, this could have a double
dimension: black against black and white against black. More
than an ethnic conflict, it would be a social struggle.

Only through adequate political, economical and social
measures can these tensions be reduced. The government of
South Africa is not in a position to tackle these problems

Of course an adequate standard of living includes adequate
shelter. This is a basic question for those black families who
suffered in the ghettos of hopelessness and frustration during
the apartheid regime. The world could overcome this regime by
boycotting it. Now all forces must be pooled to improve the
living conditions of these people. Co-operative principles can
show what is possible, if a good concept is adopted.

International solidarity
Mass misery and mass migration, lack of jobs and income,
education barriers and apathy of the poorer sections of the
population are all problems which have to be overcome
simultaneously. This is the objective of a human policy of
development aid. DESWOS works on co-operative and self-help
principles. The German Development Assistance Association for
Social Housing has promoted 146 projects in 23 countries of
the Third World.

In 16 years of project promotion, more than 25,000 houses have
been built and the social situation of the families
stabilized. There are currently 100 projects underway in 26
countries worldwide.

But the cost of a house in the Third World is quite different
from that in western countries. It might be as low as DM 1,000
in India to DM 25,000  in Latin America.

Small projects have also been realized with an average of DM
45,000 invested on an average to finance wells for drinking
water, health stations, hospitals, schools, or child day-care
centres. Altogether over 155,000 people have benefited from
these services. Over 42 million DM have been invested so far.

Considering the huge housing misery, this is only a small
amount of money, but the multiplication effects of these pilot
projects should never be under-estimated.

Most of the projects start with housing, but they are combined
with income generating employment schemes, school education
and professional qualifications. So a new basis for the
existence of the family is provided. There is no point in
merely providing housing, because housing needs depend on the
movement of people who follow job opportunities and, in many
cases, just the illusion of job opportunities. In any case,
most job opportunities are  to be found in the city.

Adequate existence for all - the basic concept of DESWOS, is
certainly the correct approach. Unfortunately, there are only
a few NGOs using this concept.

Housing co-operatives prove it
The ICA Housing Committee and its member organizations have
already decided on activities for HABITAT II. Photo
exhibitions, the housing conference and publications about
co-operative housing will show what is possible, if the
concept of solidarity works well.

Self-help and self-responsibility are key elements for success
in a situation where the individual is weak but the group is
strong. This is certainly even more important in developing
countries today, than during the time when housing
co-operatives started.

A comparison is possible
Housing co-operatives originated when the cities were invaded
by migrant workers from rural areas. Self-help ideas were
created during a time of misery and need. The break-through
was the legal framework of the co-operative law and the
limited responsibility on the co-operative shares.

Self-administration, self-help, self-responsibility and
solidarity were the essential principles of vital value
throughout the world.

The ICA Housing Committee formulated its principles during the
ICA's Centennial in a declaration, drawing attention to the
unsolved problem in the Third World. In Istanbul, they will be
requesting governments to introduce the legal basis for a
positive development of housing co-operatives, where it does
not exist.

International solidarity contributes to the solution of the
world's housing problems. Forces must be pooled to avoid the
danger of more social conflicts and to give social peace a

A global action plan
A global action plan as a guideline for future work is
certainly an important objective of the conference in
Istanbul. Nevertheless, housing, energy and water supplies,
sewerage facilities and urban transport are financial and
organizational burdens, which no government in the developing
countries is able to solve by itself.

Concepts of self-help and a solid partnership between communal
authorities, NGOs such as housing co-operatives, and regional
or national governments, are the preconditions which will
enable sustainable solutions. This can be illustrated by the
following example:

In most developing countries there are illegal spontaneous
settlements. In some countries they are called pirate
settlements. The construction is, in many cases, simple but
sufficient and could be improved. Infrastructure is only
partly available.

The `solution by police and military forces' leads to a worse
misery of families who have to live in the street. Extreme
poverty, the families' daily struggle to provide these street
children with adequate nutrition, and a rising crime rate are
the well-known consequences for many cities in developing

Non-governmental organizations like DESWOS and its partners
are able to legalize the land, negotiating with the communal
authorities and convincing them  that this is a better

In these cases, the settlements are physically and morally
upgraded, and social peace is achieved without large financial

Unfortunately, there are not enough non-governmental
organizations undertaking such work to provoke a substantial
improvement. But the pilot character of these examples
encourages and facilitates other organizations to start
similar projects.

The NGO forum of the HABITAT II Conference will provide an
excellent opportunity for housing co-operatives and their
federations to illustrate their positive contribution and to
offer their know-how for a real worldwide improvement towards
social peace.

* Dr Hachmann is Director of the International Relations
Department of the Head Federation of Non-Profit Housing
Associations in Germany, member of the permanent commission of
CECODHAS, ICA Representative to UN/ECE and active member of
the ICA International Co-op Housing Organisation. (This paper
represents the ICA Housing Co-operatives' Position at Habitat
II, Istanbul, September 1996)