By Rick Hathaway
Having worked in the Asia-Pacific region for 27 years, I have seen much growth in affordable housing in the communities I have visited. But these gains and our quest for better living conditions are now being threatened by dwindling natural resources, the effects of climate change, overpopulation, and rapid urbanization. The growing population translates to an expanding economic gap. In Thailand, the new order leaves no room for those who cannot afford the solutions to these problems.
While affordable housing is available in Thailand, it is not accessible. Over 80 percent of the country’s 7.1 million poor live in rural areas as of 2014. An additional 6.7 million were living within 20 percent above the national poverty line and remained vulnerable to fall back into poverty. This exposes many people to the severe flooding, heat, and humidity faced by a tropical country. If we are all to survive extreme hazards and climate disasters, we must find ways to ensure that appropriate, climate-smart, disaster-resilient approaches and technologies are priority considerations in the construction of affordable housing.
The different sectors that shape Thailand’s economic and political landscape need to work together. A united national action to ensure development gains can curb increasing economic disparities, and strengthen social cohesion and inclusion, is imperative. Regional cooperation is also important. Countries can help each other to strengthen their communities. The housing shortage is not a standalone issue—more than 1.6 billion people, including half a billion Asians living in slums, are affected worldwide. It has far-reaching implications in the long term and if left unchecked, can leave 1 in 4 people without adequate housing by 2050.
Ultimately, the housing crisis has permeated the region. A recent UN ESCAP report tracking Asia-Pacific’s UN Sustainable Development Goal progress reveals that the region needs to accelerate its work in all the 17 SDGs in order to achieve its targets by 2030. The report also indicates that there is not enough data to analyze our progress in achieving the SDGs in the region. Looking at the report’s SDG 11 – sustainable cities and communities, which includes access to adequate housing, there is still much to be done to address the massive housing gap in the Asia-Pacific region.
The people in need of affordable housing, and the problems that stem from inaccessibility were central to the Seventh Asia-Pacific Housing Forum in Bangkok, Thailand, held September 18 and 19. With this forum, our aim was to collaborate with people from multiple backgrounds, disciplines and cultures to find ways that could mitigate the housing crisis. We also strove to bring various stakeholders together. The new relationships could grow into strong alliances that will allow us to find innovative and high impact housing initiatives through the sharing of best practices.
This Forum, attended by over 640 participants hailing from 33 countries from Asia-Pacific and beyond, took advocacy for inclusion to another level by amplifying youth-led solutions around housing issues through the Youth Congress; and by tapping into new ideas for relevant housing solutions from various organizations at the Innovation Awards.
Adaptive housing solutions must arise from responsive land policies. Market systems should cater to the needs of low-income families through products and services that fit the local context. Key learnings from the Forum will be brought into discussions at the UN-Habitat Asia-Pacific Urban Forum this October.
It would take a concerted effort to solve the housing crisis and make decent housing available to everyone. Multisectoral collaboration enables us to extend our reach and strengthen our ranks as we respond to the biggest housing crisis of our time.
Rick Hathaway serves as the Asia-Pacific Vice President of Habitat for Humanity International. Since 2018, Habitat for Humanity has served the housing needs of millions of people in 17 countries around the Asia-Pacific region, with the strong support of donors, partners and volunteers.