Dealing With Major Housing Disasters: The United Nations Has A Recipe

Workers clear a building collapsed in an earthquake
A scene from the aftermath of a 2023 earthquake in Syria and Turkey

The ‘first world’ consists of all those countries which, while pleading poor (don’t they all?) consider themselves arrived in the land of advanced civilization. Their self-importance is often iron-clad. Take as examples the world’s leaders in both wealth and self-assurance, led by the USA. Others include the Group of 7 or the G20.

These world leaders are not inclined to take advice from pipsqueak ‘third world’ nations. For example, can anything be learned from Syria? What can it offer beyond the how-to necessary to become entangled in a self-defeating war?

Well, for starters many smaller, pipsqueak countries are not necessarily slow off the mark to take advantage of new ideas. Big and supposedly bold countries may still be scratching their chins and wondering what positive benefit the right to adequate housing can offer their citizens. Meanwhile, many lesser nations have identified a benefit in honouring citizens with a splash of recognition and a boost towards a lifetime of secure housing. These days, that can be a challenge for not only citizens of the ‘third world’ but in the ‘first world’ as well.

What can be learned after a major earthquake in Syria with an enormous loss of life, and as well, the destruction of much housing? The United Nations’ right to adequate housing compares the situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) with refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, who may wish to return to their former homes. As well, these IDPs:

“have the right to an adequate standard of living and that, at a minimum, regardless of the circumstances and without discrimination, the competent authorities shall provide IDPs with and ensure safe access to basic shelter and housing1.”

Amnesty International, which is well known as a champion of human rights, recently reported concerns about demolitions in the Syrian city of Aleppo. Even before the earthquake this year, buildings in the city had been damaged by bombs between 2012 and 2016.

Dianna Semaan, Amnesty International’s Syria Researcher, has been speaking with people in Aleppo. She is concerned that the government may be acting capriciously and knocking down people’s homes that could be repaired and reoccupied. As well local sources report that the government is blocking people’s efforts to rebuild their homes.

Semaan’s concerns arise from comparing the experience of the Aleppo residents with the UN’s guidance on the right to adequate housing. This includes instructions about forced evictions, which Semaan discusses the article linked below.

Read more from AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: Syria: Aleppo authorities must ensure that building safety measures do not result in forced evictions and homelessness


  1. From page 26 of UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights The Right to Adequate Housing