Recognizing the equity gap: informal settlements are being left behind

Houses cover the hillsides of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photograph courtesy of Habitat for Humanity International

By Anne Myers, Senior Director, Advocacy Campaigns, Habitat for Humanity International

More than thirty-five years ago, the United Nations General Assembly took an important step in promoting the idea that everyone deserves a decent place to live by declaring that the first Monday in October would be World Habitat Day.

This World Habitat Day, we invite you to reflect on the importance of adequate shelter.

The scale of the problem is enormous. According to the United Nations, more than 1.8 billion people lack adequate housing. Informal settlements represent one of the most extreme forms of deprivation, and 1 billion people are living in slums and other informal settlements. Their living conditions, a physical manifestation of inequalities holding back far too many families and communities, are unacceptable. They are not treated as equals. They are being left behind.

Homes without access to clean water are also inadequate and mean that people — especially children — face increased health threats. A home without land rights hampers families’ ability to plan. A poorly constructed home of lower-quality materials is most vulnerable to the consequences of our changing climate. And a home in an area with few platforms for residents to share their perspectives means decisions are made without them.

Even further, the fast-moving challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted that healthy housing is more important than ever. A safe and secure home is the first line of defense, and the preexisting global need for adequate and safe housing only exacerbated the pandemic. Very quickly, the global health emergency became a housing emergency.

Vulnerabilities are intensified by conflict and displacement, such as in Ukraine, where populations already at-risk are being made more vulnerable by the war, and long-term housing needs for displaced populations must be planned for while immediate shelter needs are addressed to ensure the social and economic stability of the region.

At Habitat for Humanity, we know homes can also be part of the solution. And we know equity and inclusion starts at home. Our work ensures that the ideas coming from people living in informal settlements complement government initiatives and are truly heard and factored into policies. We help promote secure land tenure, resulting in the most basic physical, and economic and psychological security. We ensure access to services such as clean drinking water, sanitation, waste management services, and electricity, in turn increasing the quality of life of those living in informal communities and reducing the spread of disease. We advocate for building climate resilience, which we believe is imperative to ensuring the stability, security and resilience of families and communities. We also advocate for housing that is well-located, accessible, connected to utilities, adequately constructed, not crowded, and affordable. We will ensure that the next pandemic will not unequally impact the most vulnerable.

Together, we can create a more equitable world where people living in informal settlements have a safe and secure place to call home. Rotary members can engage with Habitat for community impact, like recruiting volunteers to build homes or revitalize communities through repairs and other improvement projects or developing local, national, or international projects to equip communities with access to clean water and sanitation. Rotary members can further Habitat’s social impact by advocating for engagement and policy changes related to affordable, sustainable housing, such as women’s empowerment, engaging youth in service, and promoting access to information.

Have you collaborated with Habitat? Let us know how by contacting

Rotary International’s partnership with Habitat for Humanity International helps clubs and districts empower local communities through access to safe and affordable housing, water and sanitation facilities and hygienic practices, and skills training to improve employment opportunities. Contact your local Habitat to jointly design and implement local service projects. 

About Habitat for Humanity

Driven by the vision that everyone needs a decent place to live, Habitat for Humanity began in 1976 as a grassroots effort on a community farm in southern Georgia. The Christian housing organization has since grown to become a leading global nonprofit working in local communities across all 50 states in the U.S. and in more than 70 countries. Families and individuals in need of a hand up partner with Habitat for Humanity to build or improve a place they can call home. Habitat homeowners help build their own homes alongside volunteers and pay an affordable mortgage. Through financial support, volunteering or adding a voice to support affordable housing, everyone can help families achieve the strength, stability and self-reliance they need to build better lives for themselves. Through shelter, we empower. To learn more, visit

One thought on “Recognizing the equity gap: informal settlements are being left behind

  1. Hi Anne,
    Do you have a moment to discuss the handbook that the RETF wrote in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity?
    Incorporating Solar Energy in New Habitat HomesA Manual for Collaborations between Habitat Affiliates and Rotary and Rotaract Clubs in the U.S.
    This manual was created by the Renewable Energy Task Force of the Environmental Sustainability Rotary Action Group (ESRAG) with review by the staff of Habitat for Humanity International, local Habitat Chapters, and Rotary International.

    Liz Henke , Lead Habitat Solar Initiative

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.