COVID-19 and the housing crisis in the global South – time for change


COVID-19 has highlighted the significance of housing for citizen wellbeing, particularly in the global South. IIED hosted an online event on Monday, 5 October to discuss what we have learned from previous interventions and COVID-19 to tackle the housing crisis.

Last updated 6 October 2020
Houses view from above.

Government housing with informal backyard dwellings in Zandspruit, Johannesburg (Photo: copyright Christina Culwick)

Housing is critical for wellbeing. It provides safety and security. It is the place for family life. It is also the place where, for the most part, people take care of themselves and their families, and sleep and eat. It is the location from which people access essential services including water, sanitation and energy. For many people, it is also a place of work.

There is limited access to adequate housing particularly in the global South where an estimated one billion people live in informal settlements. Their homes have inadequate access to basic services, and their dwellings may be built of rudimentary materials. Many households (one third or more of the residents in many cities) are renting a single room.

The risk of eviction is very real, frequently because incomes are too low to pay the required rent. Other risks include fire – particularly in high density neighbourhoods – and flooding, which have been exacerbated by adverse climate change.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of housing for citizens' health and wellbeing. It has shone a light on the essential nature of public service provision in high density areas, where good health can't be secured without adequate access to water and sanitation. The crisis has also highlighted the multiple difficulties faced by those living in over-crowded homes where social distancing cannot be achieved and where high-risk individuals may not be protected.

To coincide with World Habitat Day and the publication of the latest issue of Environment & Urbanization (E&U), this online event on Monday, 5 October 2020 brought together E&U contributors to discuss the nature of the current housing crisis and its impact on households, primarily in the global South.

What have we learned from COVID-19 about the challenges and risks for households in informal settlements? In order to do more, what can we learn from previous efforts to address housing needs?

Event coverage

Housing experts from across the world answer key questions from the webinar in this Q&A.

Watch a full recording of the event below or on IIED's YouTube channel.

About the speakers

Lajana Manandhar is the founder and executive director of Lumanti Support Group for Shelter.  Lumanti has been working on housing and urban poverty issues in Nepal since 1994 and was the first organisation in Nepal that brought the issues of urban poverty and secured housing for the informal settlers in national debate. She has provided support for the establishment  of community federations of informal settlements and the poor communities to advocate housing rights issues.

Higor Carvalho is a Brazilian urban planner and PhD candidate at the University of Sao Paulo. He has worked as a housing and urban development advisor in Brazilian municipalities including Sao Paulo, and has research experiences in Brazil, Mexico, France, Reunion, Japan and China. His main research topics are housing, urban issues, real estate and financialisation. He is one of the co-authors of 'Housing policies and the role of local governments in Latin America', published by E&U last July.

Diana Mitlin (moderator) is professor of global urbanism in the Global Development Institute at the University of Manchester and also principal researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development. Her work focuses on urban poverty and inequality including urban poverty reduction programmes and the contribution of collective action by low-income and otherwise disadvantaged groups. She has had a particular research focus on issues of urban basic services, tenure and housing.

Anna Muller is the co-director of the Namibia Housing Action Group, the support NGO of the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia. This partnership has become an exemplar of bottom-up urban development in Namibia, and its work in Gobabis has highlighted what is possible with community engagement in informal settlement upgrading.

About E&U

Environment & Urbanization (E&U) is one of the most widely read and distributed journals in its field. Since first launching in 1989, E&U has been publishing two issues a year, providing researchers, NGO staff and professionals a platform to write about their work, present their ideas and debate on issues.

Housing has been the key theme of two recent special issues of Environment & Urbanization (published in April and October 2020).

About the series

This event was part of the IIED Debates series. Through the convening of expert speakers and external stakeholders, IIED brings together an international community to discuss critical issues.

IIED Debates encompass both physical and digital events, including critical themes, breakfast debriefs and webinars. These events are public and are hosted regularly throughout the year in our London and Edinburgh offices and online.

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Juliette Tunstall ([email protected]), IIED's internal engagement and external events officer