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“With the world population having surpassed seven billion this year, we must tap every person’s potential to help others. Everyone can make a difference. Volunteering matters.”
- United Nations Secretary General BAN Ki-moon

This year, some 13,900 people volunteered at Habitat for Humanity construction sites in Latin America and the Caribbean. 1,700 more participated in non-construction activities, such as advocacy and training. Of the more than 15,000 volunteers in the region, 10,400 were local—Latin American and Caribbean citizens lending a hand in their own communities.

Around the world, the spirit and solidarity of volunteerism is spreading. Young people are seeking ways to support their communities and ensure a better future for themselves and their children. Business people are responding to the call for Corporate Social Responsibility, organizing volunteer teams to help improve the communities where their businesses are located. Families are organizing to mutually help one another and better the neighborhood. Retired adults are joining social causes, leading with their wisdom and experience.

Volunteering matters.

The International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development (IVD) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 17 December 1985. Since then, governments, the UN system and civil society organizations have successfully joined volunteers around the world to celebrate the Day on December 5 (

However, the true importance of celebrating International Volunteer Day today, is what happens tomorrow. Improving the lives of families around the world is a 365-day a year task. Local and international volunteers are stepping to help.

In Haití, we heard voices of solidarity…

In México, we hear them…

In the Dominican Republic as well…

Nicaragua… present!

And you… What will you build?

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Republished with permission from COHRE.

16 August 2010 – It is estimated that in most countries in Latin America, between 30 and 60 percent of women have been victims of domestic violence at some point in their lives. The real figure is likely to be much higher, as many women don’t report these crimes.

The latest edition of the Centre on Housing Rights and Forced Evictions’ (COHRE’s) popular Bulletin on Housing Rights and the Right to the City in Latin America explores this crisis through the experiences of some of the activists working on this issue in Latin America, and details the main challenges and possible solutions for those women for whom the home has become a prison.

In her article, Elba Núñez, researcher at the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women’s Rights (CLADEM Paraguay), presents some of the obstacles to the achievement of the right of women to adequate housing.

Patricia Guerrero, founder of the League of Displaced Women in Colombia, raises some of the solutions that have been proposed by local human rights organizations to the housing problems faced by women. In her article, Guerrero details the construction of the City of Women, a unique housing experience in the region developed by and for women.

As Victoria Ricciardi, author of a recent COHRE report on women and housing rights in Argentina, Brazil and Colombia explains in her article, the number of shelters for women victims of domestic violence in the countries she studied is extremely limited, and with possible periods of stay limited to less than six months, long-term solutions are almost non-existent.

To read the latest Bulletin on Housing Rights and the Right to the City in Latin America, please click here (also available in Spanish and Portuguese).

To see the full COHRE report on housing rights for women victims of domestic violence, published on 16 July 2010, please click here.

For more information please contact:
Eliane Drakopoulos | Director of Communications | COHRE – Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions | 83, rue de Montbrillant | 1202 Geneva, Switzerland | T +41 (0)22 734 1028 | M +41 (0)789 106 745 | |


By Flora Calderón-Steck

“Housing should not be interpreted strictly as physical shelter, nor considered exclusively as a commodity, but as the right of all people, whatever their economic situation or social position, to live in security, peace and dignity.”

Adequate housing is a widely recognized human right, expressed in more than 20 international documents (UN-HABITAT, 2006). Despite the continued recognition by the international community of the fundamental role of equal access to adequate housing, the overwhelming reality is that millions of people lack this right. The situation is accentuated in urban areas, where more than half of the world’s population resides.

On a world-wide level, UN-Habitat estimates that in urban areas alone some one billion people experience housing-related problems (UNCHS, 2001). Including rural areas, the number of people living in inadequate housing condition could double. Among developing regions, Latin America and the Caribbean is the most urbanized, with 77 percent of the population residing in cities (UN-HABITAT, 2008). In the region with the greatest level of economic inequality in the world, the expansion of Latin American cities has been disorganized and umbalanced. Consequently, there are currently 26 million houses that in inadequate conditions, and 28 million additional units are urgently needed in order to reduce overcrowding and inferior standards (Jha, 2007). The inability of formal markets and state policies to guarantee adequate conditions for this growing urban population has resulted in 128 million people living in informal settlements (ibid). This statistic represents one-third of the urban population of the region (UN-HABITAT, 2004). Informal settlements—often called slums—that emerge from this reality are characterized by conditions that work directly against the health and safety of their residents, ultimately violating their human right to adequate housing.

In the context of this flagrant violation of the right to housing, Habitat for Humanity International has been dedicating efforts to confronting this challenge since the late 1970s. The organization directs these efforts towards the transformation and strengthening of communities through, among other programs, the construction, improvement and financing of economically accessible housing.

The right to adequate housing
Since the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the right to adequate housing has been explicitly recognized in a wide gamut of international documents.

The Declaration establishes that:

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services.”

In 1966, the right to adequate housing is reaffirmed and elaborated in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The United Nations appointed the Committee of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to monitor the fulfillment of the Covenant by signing nations and interoperating its contents.

Within this role, in 1991 the Committee issued “General Observation Number 4: The right to adequate housing,” which created an integral definition of this human right. The Committee notes that the right to housing is intimately linked to other human rights and the fundamental principles that serve as the premises of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Among these are the concepts of human dignity and non-discrimination. In conclusion, housing should not be interpreted strictly as physical shelter, nor considered exclusively as a commodity, but as the right of all people, whatever their economic situation or social position, to live in security, peace and dignity.

Gender perspective
It is important to pause for a moment to take note of the discrimination confronted by vulnerable groups, especially highlighting the case of women. Although both men and women suffer from unmet needs due to umbalanced urban development, women face certain additional legal, cultural, political and economic exclusions.

A reflection of the injustice which subjugates women is their over-representation in the majority of Latin American countries among the ranks of people living in conditions of poverty. At the same time, women-headed households tend to be more vulnerable. Daniela Zapata, consultant to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, points out that the percentage of women-headed households in the region has increased in the last decade. In 2002, between 18 and 30 percent of households were headed by females, while the percentage of women-headed households in conditions of extreme poverty was between 21 and 54 percent. In other words, women-headed households are over-represented among poverty-stricken groups (Zapata, 2007).

Unfortunately, in her report on the millennium development objectives from a gender perspective, Zapata does not analyze objective number seven, which touches on the subject of housing. Nevertheless, we know that on a world-wide scale the number of women-headed households living in slums is rising. These are areas characterized by limited sustainable livelihood options (UN-HABITAT, 2008).

In regards to the right to land and secure tenure, there continues to be a gap between the formal and legal equality between women and men and the practical success of gender equality. This continues to be the reality in the region, even in Latin American countries that have formally modified their civil codes and constitutions (Marqués Osorio, 2006).

Since the 1970s, much of social science discourse has acknowledged the many ways in which women in the region have organized in order to provide for their families and demand the state to recognize their rights as citizens of society (Radcliffe y Westwood, 1993; Kaijser, 2007). A focus on human rights demands that we do not lose sight of the diverse experiences among distinct groups, and adopt a gender perspective as a transversal framework.

The concept of “adequacy”
Returning to the work of the Committee of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in General Observation 4, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee utilizes the concept of adequacy to interpret housing in a wider sense—taking into account the diverse aspects of housing that  should be protected and guaranteed. Even when social, economic, cultural, climatologic, ecologic and other issues affect adequacy, the committee maintains that it is possible to identify the basic elements that make housing adequate.

Among other possibilities, the committee highlights the following seven elements that constitute the right to adequate housing. Even when a person does not lack shelter, a home that lacks any of the following elements cannot be considered adequate housing.

  1. Secure tenure: legal protection against forced eviction, harassment and other threats.
  2. Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure: permanent access to natural and community resources, potable water, electricity, heat and lighting, sanitary installations, sewage and emergency services.
  3. Affordable costs: housing expenses should not impede nor compete with the satisfaction of other basic necessities.
  4. Habitability: adequate space for its occupants and protection from cold, humidity, heat, rain, wind and other health threats, structural risks and communicable illnesses.
  5. Accessibility: housing should be physically accessible for all people, with priority to groups in situations of disadvantage (physical or mental handicap, old age, youth, victims of disaster, etc.).
  6. Location: access to employment options, health services, childcare, schools and other social services. Outside of areas of environmental contamination.
  7. Cultural suitability: the expression of cultural identity and diversity.

By way of this statement by the Committee of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in the last several decades the international community has taken important strides to deepen understanding of the legal right to adequate housing. In 1996, the United Nations hosted the Second Conference on Human Settlements, known as Habitat II, in the city of Istanbul. As a result of this conference, the Habitat Agenda was adopted by member nations. This document establishes the right to adequate housing as a fundamental human right, and outlines necessary actions and measures that need to be carried out in order to achieve this right (UNCHS, 2001).

The Habitat Agenda guides governments and civil society to putting human rights at the center of the formulation and implementation of housing policies. It calls for enabling housing processes; in other words, governments have a responsibility to establish and facilitate and favorable environment that supports all stake-holders in housing development and construction (UNCHS, 2001).
Four years after Habitat II, the United Nations Millennium Declaration announced a global consensus among member nations and key international development organizations to reach a series of goals aimed to reduce global poverty in its diverse manifestations by the year 2015. The declaration outlines eight fundamental objectives that subdivide into 18 specific goals. Housing falls under Objective 7, Goal 11, which assigns a significant improvement in the lives of 100 million slum dwellers. Maintaining the proportion of the population in the region to the world, 13.8 million of these pertain to Latin America and the Caribbean—representing 11 percent of the population that was living in slums in the region in 1990 (Quiroga Martínez, 2007: 68).

Citizen solidarity and commitment to the cause is essential to achieving the goals agreed upon by the international community in regards to the human right to housing. In its contribution to this work, Habitat for Humanity Latin America and the Caribbean seeks to mobilize groups of people who advocate and take action for the cause.

What’s your opinion?

Can the objectives and goals set forth by the international community be achieved?

What needs to happen in our region for the right to adequate housing to become a universal reality?

Jha, Abhas K. 2007. “La vivienda popular en América Latina y el Caribe”.
Marques Osorio, Leticia. 2006. El derecho humano a la vivienda adecuada en América Latina: de la teoría a la práctica. En Derechos económicos, sociales y culturales en América Latina: Del invento a la herramienta. Alicia Ely Yamin coordinadora. México: Plaza y Valdés, SA de CV. Pp. 235-254.
Quiroga Martínez, Rayén. 2007. “El séptimo objetivo del milenio en América Latina y el Caribe: avances al 2007.” Serie Estudios Estadísticos y Prospectivos. No. 57. División de Estadística y Proyecciones Económicas. Santiago: CEPAL.
Radcliffe, Sarah A. & Sallie Westwood. 1993. ‘Viva’: Women and Popular Protest in Latin America. London and New York: Routledge.
UNCHS 2001. Position Paper on Housing Rights.
UN-HABITAT. 2004. UN-HABITAT Feature/Backgrounder, State of the World’s Cities—Trends in Latin America & the Caribbean: Urbanization & Metropolitanization.
UN-HABITAT. 2006. No.2 International instruments on housing rights (HS/639/01 E). Nairobi.
UN-HABITAT. 2008. State of the World’s Cities 2008/2009: Harmonious Cities. London: Earthscan.
Zapata, Daniela. 2007. “Transversalizando la perspectiva de género en los objetivos de desarrollo del Milenio”. Serie Estudios Estadísticos y Prospectivos No. 52. División de Estadística y Proyecciones Económicas. Santiago de Chile: CEPAL.

Download the complete document (in Spanish):
Percepciones sobre la problemática de la vivienda y de la marca Hábitat para la Humanidad

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By Francisco Leguizamón, D.B.A.

A couple of months ago, I was fortunate enough to hear Bernardo Klisberg speak, a Latin American citizen who, along with Amartya Sen, a Nobel Prize winner in Economics in 1998, wrote the book “First the People.” The book examines the problems of the globalized world based on the ethics of development. As a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity Costa Rica, I was interested to hear the words of an expert in the subject and to share this with my colleagues. I think that everyone who attended was not only impressed but highly motivated to promote volunteerism in all its possible forms.

Indeed, during the conference, Klisberg made a sincere argument for volunteerism in Latin America. His statements, conclusions and recommendations weren’t rhetorical, but research-based and carefully developed. He continued with a brief comment about something he called, “The Seven Theses on Volunteerism in Latin America.” Klisberg began by positioning us in front of an apparent paradox regarding volunteers. “If they have no economic incentives, nor influence in the market, what can we expect of them? In the view of the most orthodox economists, what we can expect will be marginal and, by definition, almost entirely inefficient.”

From this statement, he proposed a way to resolve the paradox through a lucid, powerful, inviting, unconventional role of volunteerism in Latin America, and its contribution to development.

Volunteerism is a major producer of goods and social services. It is estimated that in Latin America there are one million organizations supported by volunteer work, acting in different fields: emergency services, basic necessities, environment, training, human rights, peace processes and more. The region, prone to frequent and varied conflict, is thus a fertile ground for volunteerism. In Brazil, the societal contribution from volunteerism exceeds 2% of the Gross Domestic Product. Recently, the president of Costa Rica, Dr. Oscar Arias, recognized the labor of Habitat for Humanity Costa Rica during the inauguration ceremony of the Drum Project. A contribution by Florida Beverages, coupled with over one thousand volunteers, helped to resolve the housing problem for the victims of the recent Cinchona earthquake.

Volunteerism is a builder of social capital. According to Albert Hischaman, the more social capital is used, the more it grows. In his words, “love or citizenship are not limited resources, or fixed, such as other factors of production. These are resources whose availability, far from diminishing, increases with employment.” Costa Rica in general, and Habitat for Humanity in specific, is a good demonstration of the ability of its people to respond with force and speed to their countrymen in situations of need.

It’s a fallacy to position government and volunteerism against each other. The state, by definition, is considered largely responsible for attention to social causes. Latin American history has taught us that this responsibility has not been sufficient for achieving the purpose of development. Countries that have achieved relatively greater levels of development present a model in which collaborative efforts between government institutions, civil society organizations and volunteer support contribute effectively to meeting development objectives. Klisberg expresses that the region must overcome the culture of false oppositions and mutual prejudices. Costa Rica is a good example of restraining this fallacy. The government responds in collaboration with volunteer organizations, dealing with problems like housing through projects in which they act as partners toward a common challenge.

Volunteerism is motivated by a strong force: the ethical commitment. Klisberg predicts that, “in a region such as Latin America, which has always been characterized as swarming with ideals, a spark can ignite them extensively… because the background environment is conducive.”

In a study by the University of Michigan, it was found that those who donate to a cause are 43% more likely to be considered happy than those who do not. Perhaps that’s why Costa Rica holds a privileged place among the happiest countries of the continent. That is the same appreciation of the personal satisfaction I have with both local and foreign volunteers who support the housing construction projects carried out by Habitat for Humanity.

There is an emerging new form of volunteerism, the volunteered building of citizenship and participation. Klisberg feels that volunteerism is at the forefront of the fight for expanded citizenship. “Experiences such as ‘Villa El Salvador’ in Peru are very encouraging. 350.000 people suffering from poverty used volunteer work to create an entire municipality. They built their streets, schools, health centers and highways on a self-management basis, and for the most part succeeded in improving basic living conditions. The ‘Volunteer of the Villa’ was decisive. Without the enormous amount of volunteer hours, the project would have been impossible.” As it consolidates and extends the experience, the Habitat projects point to the construction of a community that goes beyond the technical solution that provides decent housing.”

The achievements of volunteerism in Latin America have been recognizable, despite the fact that they are just beginning to emerge. While there is not yet the support for primary education levels that exists in other parts of the world, it is comforting to note the number and variety of nonprofit organizations whose results are based on volunteerism, and are contributing significantly in Latin America. The reader is probably familiar with at least a few in his or her own country, and perhaps already involved in one of them. While Costa Rica does not lag behind in growth, strengthening and diversity of solidarity activities increasingly occupy more time and energy of its inhabitants, particularly the younger generations.

Volunteerism has not yet said what it needs to say in Latin America. The words of Klisberg are at once inviting and challenging. We question, “Is it utopian to believe in volunteering?” And he responds: “No way. It is in the roots of the ethical and spiritual beliefs of Latin Americans,” and proposes a final example. “The Aymara, one of the oldest civilizations in the continent, distinguish between ‘welfare’, which means having material goods, and ‘good living’ which means to feel oneself by always opting for good and knowing that others see you as a ‘good person’. They argue that the welfare does not guarantee good living, but that this is a superior human state.” I believe that Habitat’s colleagues, and friends who volunteer with other organizations, can claim to live and work in collaboration with ‘good people’.

Incorporating, sharing and disseminating these new ideas and thoughts probably help us to overcome myths about volunteering, to facilitate the multiplication of volunteerism wherever it is needed, and to successfully overcome the barriers to our development as a region.

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“In Latin America, volunteerism should be a paradigm-changing movement, in which the individual is empowered, conscious of their problems and confronting their own reality. Combined with community involvement, this becomes part of an active solution. Without doubt, volunteerism in Latin America and the Caribbean is a revolutionary movement that moves us away from the paternalistic concepts in which one waits for the government or other more developed countries to solve problems.”

Luis D. Madrid
National Work Teams and Global Village Coordinator
Habitat for Humanity Honduras



By the year 2030, an additional 3 billion people, about 40 percent of the world’s population, will need access to housing. This translates into a demand for 96,150 new affordable units every day and 4,000 every hour.

One out of every three city dwellers – nearly a billion people – lives in a slum. Slum indicators include: lack of water, lack of sanitation, overcrowding, non-durable structures and insecure tenure.

Because of poor living conditions, women living in slums are more likely to contract HIV/AIDS than their rural counterparts, and children in slums are more likely to die from water-borne and respiratory illness.

Housing formation generates non-housing related expenditures that help drive the economy.

Investing in housing expands the local tax base. Each year 35.1 million new housing units are needed to house the urban population growth between now and 2030. This does not include replacements of deteriorated and substandard housing stocks.

In 2007, the world’s urban population outnumbered the rural for the first time.

Almost 180,000 people are added to the urban population each day.

95 percent of the world population growth in the next decades will occur in the urban areas of developing countries.

The poor are urbanizing faster than the population as a whole, reflecting a lower than average pace of urban poverty reduction.

Substandard housing, unsafe water and poor sanitation in densely populated cities are responsible for 10 million deaths worldwide every year.

Latin America is the most urbanized region in the world, with 75 percent of its population living in cities. According to the United Nations, 27 percent of these urban residents—more than 117 million people—suffer from precarious housing conditions, living without adequate sanitation, with irregular or no electricity supply and without adequate security.

Raising awareness and advocating for change are the first steps toward transforming systems that perpetuate the global plague of poverty housing. World Habitat Day serves as an important reminder that everyone must unite to ensure that everyone has a safe, decent place to call home.  Please advocate for adequate housing on World Habitat Day and throughout the month of October.

KenyaNairobi, Kenya
With an estimated population of more than one million people, Kibera is the largest slum in all of Africa.
© Habitat for Humanity/Steffan Hacker

ArmeniaMy Tho, Vietnam
Houses crowd the banks of the Mekong River.
© Habitat for Humanity/Ezra Millstein

ArmeniaArmavir, Armenia
Ellada Manasyan and her three young children live in this deserted and crumbling Soviet-era building.
© Habitat for Humanity/Ezra Millstein

El SalvadorSan Salvador, El Salvador
A young boy plays in front of his family’s shack, in the Las Victorias squatter community on the outskirts of San Salvador.
© Habitat for Humanity/Ezra Millstein

BrazilGoiania, Brazil
Favela dos Trilhos.
© Habitat for Humanity/Ezra Millstein

Sources: UN-Habitat, Kissick et al 2006

Want to blog about World Habitat Day and poverty housing?
Visit our World Habitat Day resource page.


MitssyIn anticipation of World Habitat Day, Habitat staffer Mitssy Rovira and 10 others will be blogging from Egypt, telling the story of one team working for one week towards the goal of adequate shelter for all.

On September 25, 2009, our colleague Mitssy Rovira—Regional Volunteer Coordinator for Habitat for Humanity Latin America and the Caribbean—will travel to El Mynia, Egypt, along with 10 other volunteers from diverse walks of life. During the trip, Mitssy and her team will be sharing their thoughts, stories and insights about housing, solidarity and working together towards a common cause.

Habitat for Humanity volunteers are individuals who are passionate about the cause of poverty housing, and are willing to fundraise, advocate and participate in whatever way they can in order to promote it. The Global Village program connects Habitat programs, partner families and volunteers around the world, mobilizing teams to and from Latin America, Asia, Africa, Europe, Great Britain, Canada and the United States to share their diverse experiences and a unified zeal for change.

Either contributing their own funds, or through fundraising, participants cover their travel expenses in order to help fund and build simple, adequate, affordable houses in partnership with families in another country.

Each volunteer brings to the group unique experiences, a unique personality and, sometimes, a unique challenge. During the trip, team members may face situations they have never encountered. They are in strange surroundings, away from family and friends. Flexibility and passion for the cause come a long way in helping volunteers to overcome these situations.

A typical day on a Global Village trip might not exist, but will always include hard work, laughs and life-changing conversations. The teams work side by side partner families while they build their homes, often involving other members of the local community.

Habitat partner families are people who strive to be homeowners, but have been unable to attain that goal through conventional means. Families are chosen for Habitat’s diverse housing solutions according to their need and willingness to partner.

For more information about Habitat for Humanity and the Global Village program, please visit our website.

Have a volunteer story to share? Tell us here!

El tema del siguiente artículo es la importancia de la tenencia segura, su relación con la pobreza a nivel global , y el desarrollo económico. Este articulo se publicó en el Atlanta Journal Constitution – GA, EEUU; el Martes 25 de Noviembre, 2008.



Martes, 25 de noviembre, 2008

Tratar la crisis de la vivienda –de la cual nadie habla- es la clave para asegurar  prosperidad en un mercado global, crecientemente interconectado.

Mientras que expertos debaten como mejor solucionar la crisis financiera internacional; otorgar a los pobres del mundo la tenencia segura de su vivienda o tierra que ocupan, es un problema social y económico que es crucial atender  nivel global, y para el cual ya existen soluciones.

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