For many years we have been trying to develop coping mechanisms for the disaster affected populace, and have trained hundreds of communities in Disaster Risk Reduction and Management. We in Pakistan are claiming before the international community that we are now trained and our disaster response and management system is self-sustaining. At the national level National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and Provincial Disaster Management Authorities (PDMAs) have been established. But it is more than unfortunate that in the month of April more than 127 fire incidents were reported. The media reports reveal that 30 people died and were badly injured and about 1,092 houses were affected. Around 305 livestock including goats, sheep, buffaloes and cows died. Reports also indicate that crops of 227 acre were lost. The disaster has turned thousands of souls into vagrants in Sindh.

For many years; deaths of children due to hunger and malnutrition in various parts of Sindh have been reported. Despite many efforts the disaster still continues and now it has become worse because the same communities are at risk of other hazards, mainly fire. While contingency plans for every kind of disaster are available to enable us to manage the emergency situations yet all the instruments seem to fail and all efforts are not bringing any results particularly in the case of fire incidents. It raises a question, what’s wrong with our planning?

Losing ones house in fire incidents is not the only issue. Its is loosing hopes, dreams, and beautiful memories that really matters. The initial assessments conducted one of the largest humanitarian organisations in Pakistan, Health and Nutrition Development Society (HANDS), says “mostly the homes were built with mud walls, the roof was made up of hard grass and wood, the houses were protected with a dry-hedge walls. Therefore; it took few hours to burn all the houses, livestock and belongings in the house. People just sustained to save their lives”. Few of the fire incidents survivors said that “it takes years to build a house and fires burn everything just in few minutes. We have never got support from Government nor does the Government help us in the reconstruction of our house’.

The assessment of HANDS and the comments of fire survivors reflect that the Government has not recognised the right to shelter. The research on the ‘right to shelter’ says the right to housing is an economic, social and cultural right to adequate housing and shelter. It is recognised in many national constitutions and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

This means everyone has a fundamental human right to housing, which ensures access to a safe, secure, habitable, and affordable home with freedom from forced eviction. It is the government’s obligation to guarantee that everyone can exercise this right to live in security, peace, and dignity. This right must be provided to all persons irrespective of income or access to economic resources.

If we closely look at international documents, there are seven principles that are fundamental to the right to housing and are of particular relevance to the right to housing mentioned in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 27 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 5 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and Article 14 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

It is regrettable that the response of the Government of Sindh to fire incident survivors of Sindh is still missing for the reconstruction of their houses. It reflects that the Government is not aware about various national as well as international commitments and guiding principles. Moreover, Benazir Housing Cell and Benazir Basti projects of the Government of Sindh can play a vital role in this regard. Ultimately this is the responsibility of the state to ensure the citizen’s right to shelter and housing, and must provide residents adequate spaces that protect them from cold, damp, heat, rain, wind, or other threats to health including structural hazards and disease.