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Govt. committed to solving low-income housing issue

Daily News logo Daily News 22/05/2019 Daily News (via HT Media Ltd.)

Sri Lanka, May 22 -- At the 37th UN General Assembly sessions, then Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa's proposal to designate 1987 as the 'International Year of Shelter for the Homeless' was unanimously adopted

According to recent surveys, 56 percent of Colombo city's population lives in huts and slums or unauthorised structures.

UN Habitat reported that in most countries, towns and cities are growing at rates unprecedented in history. In 1950, only 29.8 per cent of people lived in urban areas, but by 2020, an estimated 58 per cent will live in cities. Our cities are the powerhouses of economic growth, prosperity, and cultural progress, Yet, it is ironic that municipal and urban authorities are usually short of sufficient funds to meet their responsibilities.

Today half of the world's population, that is four billion, live in urban areas. Of them, almost 1.5 billion are desperately poor and live in slums that grow every day without even the most basic services like adequate sanitation. This situation is particularly acute in the developing countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

As a result, local governments are now taking up the challenge of urban safety and security. We live in an unacceptably violent world. And this why UN Habitat has chosen the theme 'A safe city is a just city' to mark World Habitat Day on October 1.

According to the UN Habitat report, 1.2 billion people are living in slums, the vast majority of whom make up the urban poor. They suffer high levels of unemployment and live in overcrowded conditions, often without access to water and sanitation and security of tenure.

They form part of the growing victims of the urbanization of poverty and deprivation and suffer from all forms of social exclusion.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets are a part of the UN's endeavour to create a better world. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which was adopted by 193 member state at the historic UN General Assembly summit in September 2015, and came into effect on January 1, 2016, under that eleventh programme for sustainable cities and communities. The Agenda aims to ensure adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services for all, and upgrade slums, by 2020.

The Agenda also aims by 2020 to provide access to a safe, affordable, accessible, and sustainable transport system for all improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations such as, women, children, persons with disabilities, and older persons.

The SDGs also aim to enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and the capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries and strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world's cultural and natural heritage, by 2020.

By 2030, to significantly reduce the number of deaths and substantially decrease the direct economic losses relative to global gross domestic product caused by disasters with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations.

By 2030, to also substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement, in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, disaster risk management at all levels.

In Sri Lanka, the Housing and Construction Ministry has declared inter alia that every family living in society has a right to claim ownership to a house and it is the sole responsibility of those in power to create the suitable environment and give necessary support to achieve that objective.

The National Housing Development Authority (NHDA) which completed 40 years of service on April 1, has taken steps to provide housing facilities.

NHDA which was a concept of late President Ranasinghe Premadasa when he was Prime Minister and Housing Minster was established by NHDA Act No 17 of 1979, to undertake housing development activities.

These activities are carried out throughout the island by the Authority through its head office in Colombo and 26 district offices and five city offices.

The NHDA assists low-income families to construct new houses or to improve substandard dwellings by providing loans and other assistance; provides houses to middle-income earners at affordable prices in partnership with the private sector; implements programmes for urban modernization and relocation, construction of houses, developing of infrastructure facilities connected with housing; provides low-cost housing technology and produces skilled works by means of the job training; consolidates the right of ownership of the property occupied by the occupants; and assists in the maintenance of housing schemes.

President Premadasa initited the 100,000 housing programme, one million housing programme,1.5 million housing programme, Gam Udawa, model villages, Gama Naguma, Jana Sevena, North-East housing rebuilding programme, Sevena Housing, fisheries' sector housing programme, urban and rural housing programmes.

At the 37th UN General Assembly sessions, then Prime Minister Premadasa's proposal to designate 1987 as the 'International Year of Shelter for the Homeless' was unanimously adopted.

The present Housing and Construction Minister Sajith Premadasa initiated the Samata Sevena housing programme, 2,500 model village programme, youth, Police and Army housing programmes, while his Ministry partners the Indian government assisted housing programmes such as the estate housing programme and houses for those affected by disaster, tsunami and the war.

The Megapolis and Western Province Development Ministry has also implemented more than 20 housing programmes in the Colombo district, as well as other programmes.

All these houses were constructed with the active participation and commitment of the beneficiary families producing permanent houses of higher value.

Colombo city's infrastructure, although used by a mammoth population, was created over 100 years ago for a city population of 35,000.

According to recent surveys, 56 percent of the city's population lives in huts and slums or unauthorised structures. Some 1,000 acres of state land and other reserves are occupied by these people and that means they are illegally occupied. Of an estimated 1,000 acres, 71 percent has been taken over by those living in slums and huts. Colombo has some 63 slums which reflect a massive housing problem.

The Urban Development Authority initiated a special project six years ago to re-settle such persons in new complexes of low-income flats in Slave Island, Maligawatte, Borella, Dematagoda, Grandpass, Thotalanga, Kolonnawa, Mattakuliya, and Angoda.

Ten such housing schemes have been opened thus far.

Published by HT Digital Content Services with permission from Daily News Sri Lanka.

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