A hillside community in Medellin, Colombia.
A hillside community in Medellin, Colombia.
Photo: © Julius Mwelu/UN-Habitat

The United Nations designated the first Monday of October of every year as World Habitat Day to reflect on the state of our towns and cities, and on the basic right of all to adequate shelter. The Day is also intended to remind the world that we all have the power and the responsibility to shape the future of our cities and towns.

2020 Theme: Housing For All — A Better Urban Future

Having an adequate home is now, more than ever, a matter of life and death. As COVID-19 continues to spread, people have been told to stay at home, but this simple measure is impossible for people who do not have adequate housing.

At the same time, COVID-19 has reminded us that home is much more than just a roof. To make us feel safe and enable us to continue living, working and learning, a home needs to be secure, to allow us to access basic services and infrastructure for hygiene measures and to have enough room for physical distancing. It should also be located in a place that enables residents to access public green and open spaces, employment opportunities, health-care services, schools, childcare centres and other social facilities.

An estimated 1.8 billion people were already living in slums and informal settlements, inadequate housing or in homelessness in our cities worldwide before the pandemic began. Some 3 billion people lack basic hand-washing facilities. This means millions of people worldwide are more likely to experience poor health due to the absence of basic services and exposure to multiple socio-economic and environmental hazards.

Structural inequalities have been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, showing how people from minorities, indigenous peoples and migrants are disproportionally affected by housing precarity, overcrowding and homelessness.

COVID-19 has spread in areas where people lack adequate housing, and are faced with inequalities and poverty. Residents in these areas are also often not recognized by the authorities or protected and face the risk of being evicted and relocated, particularly in times of crisis. According to ILO, 55 per cent of the world’s population – about 4 billion people – do not benefit from any form of social protection.

Housing is a human right and a catalyst for all other fundamental rights. It is the only way to ensure the “Right to the City for All”.

Background

Designation

In 1985 the United Nations designated the first Monday of October every year as World Habitat Day. The idea is to reflect on the state of our towns and cities and the basic right of all to adequate shelter. It is also intended to remind the world of its collective responsibility for the future of the human habitat.

History

World Habitat Day was first celebrated in 1986 with the theme “Shelter is My Right”. Nairobi was the host city for the observance that year. Other previous themes have included: “Shelter for the Homeless” (1987, New York); “Shelter and Urbanization” (1990, London); “Future Cities” (1997, Bonn); “Safer Cities” (1998, Dubai); “Women in Urban Governance” (2000, Jamaica); “Cities without Slums” (2001, Fukuoka), “Water and Sanitation for Cities” (2003, Rio de Janeiro), "Planning our Urban Future" (2009, Washington, D.C.), "Better City, Better Life" (2010, Shanghai, China) and Cities and Climate Change (2011, Aguascalientes, Mexico).

Scroll of Honour

The Habitat Scroll of Honour award was launched by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme in 1989. It is currently the most prestigious human settlements award in the world. Its aim is to acknowledge initiatives which have made outstanding contributions in various fields such as shelter provision, highlighting the plight of the homeless, leadership in post conflict reconstruction, and developing and improving the human settlements and the quality of urban life. The award, a plaque engraved with the name of the winner and their achievement is presented to the winners during the Global Observance of World Habitat Day.

Documents

The urgency of improving living conditions has been brought to the fore by COVID-19, which has devastated the lives of millions in cities. Access to clean water and sanitation, along with social distancing, are key responses to the pandemic. Yet in slums it has proved difficult to implement these measures. This means an increased risk of infection, not only within slums, but in whole cities"

Secretary-General's Message

Official Logo

2020 logo

Links

Events

The Strategic Plan for 2020–2023 re-positions UN-Habitat as a major global entity, a centre of excellence and innovation. In that respect, the organization is refocusing its niche position as the “thought leader” and the go-to programme for issues pertaining to its work, setting the global discourse and agenda on sustainable urban development, driving political discussion, generating specialized and cutting-edge knowledge, shaping technical norms, principles and standards, and acting as a multiplier in the exchange of knowledge, experience and best practice in getting cities and other human settlements right.

Urban areas especially cities are now home to slightly more than half of the world’s seven billion people. Current urbanization trends indicate that an additional three billion people will be living in urban areas by 2050. The Global Urban Observatory (GUO) unit is a specialized statistical unit in charge of global monitoring of the Habitat agenda and other agenda with an urban linkage, and carries out normative work such as developing the City Prosperity Initiative (CPI) and computing the CPI for selected cities.

Geometric illustration with the Secretariat building at UNHQ, New York.

International days are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. We also mark other UN observances.