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Read below an article from Luis Triveno & Olivia Nielsen at World Bank, highlighting the importance of home, especially in these unprecedented times.

As the world struggles to fight the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, over 2 billion people still do not have access to a toilet, and hundreds of millions of people cannot even wash their hands at home Disasters and climate change are continuing to destroy an increasing number of dwellings, leaving an estimated 14 million people homeless each year.

Poor housing quality not only puts the health and lives of poor families at risk; it also impacts their mental health, an issue that gets little attention – and funding – when housing policies are made.

In fact, studies have shown that inadequate, risky, and overcrowded housing affects mental health in at least three major ways:

1. Poor housing quality stunts self-esteem.

In many cultures, personal identity is closely tied to how well people live. The home has become a medium of self-expression and self-identity. Poor housing conditions not only can affect physical health, but also undermine self-esteem – while home improvements are likely to build self-confidence.

2. Poor housing quality increases levels of depression and stress, leading to domestic violence.

Living in crowded conditions not only limits privacy but also risks inflaming family relationships – up to the point of domestic violence. Studies of overcrowded housing reveal an increase in conflicts among couples and between siblings. High housing costs are also a major issue, with one in four adults suffering from stress of paying their rent or mortgage.

3. Poor housing quality increases the odds of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Families surviving disasters often experience severe PTSD, not only due to the trauma of the event but also the displacement that often follows. In fact, nearly one quarter of earthquake survivors suffer from PTSD. The mental and emotional impact of highly devastating earthquake has been called “the other invisible disaster”.

Safe and affordable housing is a universal right. It is also essential to solving a growing global mental health crisis, which experts estimate would eventually cost the global economy $16 trillion by 2030.As COVID-19 spreads around the globe, our homes can provide the crucial protection we need for physical and mental health – only if they are safe and comfortable.

First, support home improvements to achieve better health outcomes. Simple, relatively cheap fixes can make a big difference, such as installing screen windows to fight mosquito-borne malaria and investing in insulation against cold and heat.Studies have shown that eliminating dirt floors dramatically reduces childhood diarrhoea and parasitic infections, while reducing stress for mothers. Businesses are emerging to address these needs. In Rwanda, for example, starts-ups are already at work paving dirt floors in order to halt the spread of diseases.

Second, make buildings stronger and more resilient. Home improvement programs need to immediately address structural deficiencies before the next disaster strikes. Affordable new technologies are available to identify buildings at risk and apply preventative measures. If machine-learning algorithms can assist oncologists in detecting cancer, they surely can turbo-charge the efforts of even the best engineers at identifying vulnerable structures.

Third, upgrade neighbourhoods to make cities a better home for all. Improving infrastructure at the neighbourhood level in poor communities is known to have positive impacts on health. Beyond simple upgrades, city planners should improve low-income populations’ access to green and public spaces, which proved to have a significant impact on mental health.

Though housing budgets are stretched, governments should factor in the social costs of poor living conditions for children, whose potential can be stunted by overcrowding, domestic violence, and depression. To increase community wellbeing, countries like Mexico and Colombia are leading by example with programs underway to integrate and empower marginalized groups, including migrants and refugees.

Whether we look near or far ahead, it is imperative for policymakers to adopt holistic housing strategies that focus not only on overcoming housing shortages, but also on improving the quality of the existing homes.

You can be a part of this life-changing work by raising your voice for the cause of safe shelter today!

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