For the month of October, in conjunction with the Housing and Land Rights Day (World Habitat Day) on 04 October and our global campaign, WITNESS will feature advocacy videos used around the world in campaigns against forced evictions in the name of development. We’ll profile advocacy videos from Cambodia, Colombia, India, the Philippines and the USA and also cross-post from the Habitat International Coalition blog page.
Please visit Habitat International Coalition for events and related blog posts. Make sure you read their statement about the day below and send us (info at witness.org) any examples of video advocacy being used on forced evictions. Thank you!
Habitat International Coalition Statement on World Habitat Day
Land is essential to realizing the human rights to housing and to livelihood. For many communities, the possession of land tenure is synonymous with life itself. In our times, on this International Housing and Land Rights Day (Habitat Day), we face the increasing challenge of urban expansion on the land, while rural and productive land becomes the subject of ever-greater commodification, contention and conflict.
The challenge is taking an ominous turn from the past. In previous decades, governments promised that land tenure reforms would generate a surplus in agricultural production to feed and finance greater urbanization and industrial production. Today, the majority of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and a global land rush is upon us, intensifying competition over tenure across borders and regions, as well as between social groups. Meanwhile, the food crisis of 2007–08 and the subsequent financial meltdown, largely triggered by another rush, the rush for unaffordable private housing ownership, have not curbed the greed for quick and questionable profits nor discouraged the trend of irresponsible overconsumption and development characteristic of our cities. Some of the most absurd urban development is taking place where ever-denser urban populations have far exceeded the carrying capacity of the land, and where adequate food production and water extraction are unsustainable.
We still hear the promise of sustainable development, but international agencies can do little more than manage poverty, let alone eradicate it. In light of the social and economic structural inequalities inside of our cities, as well as the policy imbalances between urban and rural priorities, can we claim the moral ground to suggest that our cities are getting better?
Indeed, are we getting better?
Discredited, but not extinct, are the claims that new tenure regimes and intensified forms of land use would stem rural poverty by driving export-led growth, and even that new agricultural modernization would promote greater representation of, for and by the rural poor. However, more often innovated rural water user associations and global land grabbing have swamped small-scale farmers under more-aggressive private and corporate interests. No better than the last unspeakable half millennium of colonization, entire land-based communities are becoming dispossessed and destitute under the crushing weight of land grabbing by national elites, land mafias and international profit seekers.
Food security may be the formal impetus for the current wave of some of the investors in rain-fed agriculture, especially from land and water-poor countries, but the undeniable harm inflicted on local and indigenous communities in the process cannot be justified. Seeking concentrated forms of tenure and production and higher rent values are not the prescriptions for sustained increases in productivity, farmer welfare or food security as stagnating projects can testify (1).
Increased rural debt, displacement and dispossession have increased with a return to indentured labor and the power of the revamped gentry (3), especially in women-headed households.(2) Direct foreign investment in land has emerged as a new form of subsidy provided by the rural poor to the rich and obscenely rich. (4) and rights of traditional users—small farmers, pastoralists and indigenous peoples—have been trampled, while encroachment by mechanized farms has destroyed natural vegetation, degraded land, and forced producers to abandon their farms.(5) Worse yet, suicides among destitute farmers have spiked as the only remaining option under life-crushing debt and/or foreclosed access to credit in favor of corporate interests with greater “bargaining power” and access to vital information concentrated in the cities.(6)
If the human loss were not enough, the forfeiture of biodiversity and small farmers’ local knowledge is a cost especially dear to all of humanity and the planet. Unbridled urban production and consumption have exacerbated climate change, which has increased pressure on the day-to-day struggle for land, water and natural resources.
Land grabbing that forecloses on land access has contributed to serious local and large-scale conflicts. The unending tragedy of Darfur is emblematic: A lethal cycle of violence arising from ill-advised land-tenure reform that outlawed symbiotic traditions of land management. Such foolhardy policies has pitted pastoral and settled people against each other, while subsequent drought, famine and, ultimately, political interests have transformed the conflict beyond the sight of its origins, rendering the leaving land-based lessons absent from the official record of global politics.
For land-based people, communities and human settlements, the land is becoming an unsustainable place to live. The consequent outmigration and displacement only add to the self-fulfilling prophesy of an “urbanizing world.” The facts and the consequences behind the limitless urbanization of this process should give pause to our commemoration of this International Housing and Land Rights Day (Habitat Day).
While cities may aspire to grow and gleam, our collective ability to learn and apply the ample lessons of our wasteful past seems to grow ever dim. This day, we recognize that for land based people, the dream of attaining and sustaining a secure place to live in peace, rights and dignity, without structural change, grows equally dim. Nonetheless, some of us still aspire to be better—for the cities, but especially for the land and its peoples. But in the glaring light of increasingly dire climate change declining land-based resources, we all have to change.
(1) “Rising Global Interest in Farmland: Can It Yield Sustainable and Equitable Benefits?” (Washington: World Bank, 8 September 2010, p. 36, at: http://www.wocan.org/documents/category/agriculture-and-rural-development.html.
(2) “From Dialogue to Action – The Empowerment of Rural Women In Agriculture,” 2010 Economic And Social Council (ECOSOC) Substantive Session High Level Segment, 29 June 2010, at: http://www.wocan.org/files/all/ecosoc_luncheon_summary_final.pdf.
(3) Ray Bush, “Mubarak’s Legacy for Egypt’s Rural Poor: Returning Land to the Landlords,” ISS/UNDP Land, Poverty and Public Action Policy Paper No. 10 , August 2005, p. 3
(4) As in the illustrative case of Ethiopia, World Bank report, op. cit., p. 78.
(5) Douglas H. Johnson, The Root Causes of Sudan’s Civil Wars (Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 2003); Sara Pantuliano, “The Land Question: Sudan’s Peace Nemesis,” Humanitarian Policy Group Working Paper (London: Overseas Development Institute, 2007); Mohamed A. Salih, Agrarian Change in the Central Rangelands: Sudan a Socioeconomic Analysis (Uppsala: Scandinavian Institute for African Studies, 1987); cited in World Bank report (2010), op. cit., p.17.
(6) According to India’s Food and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar. See “India: 3,450 Farmers Committed Suicide in 3 Years,” HIC-HLRN News archive, at: http://www.hlrn.org/english/newsdetails.asp?id=696, citing Hindustan Times (7 May 2010).