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Sierra Leone News: Better housing means better health and well-being

The World Health Organization (WHO) issued new guidelines on Tuesday, highlighting that better homes, invariably lead to better standards of health and overall well-being. “Housing is becoming increasingly important to health in light of urban growth, ageing populations and climate change”, say the new guidelines.

Healthy Housing according to WHO means:

  • Protecting health from excess indoor heat, toxic materials, mould and dampness.
  • Reducing air pollution through energy efficient buildings and clean fuel use
  • Reducing home injuries and overcrowding
  • Improving health equity for and people living in poverty.

Yet in Freetown as the city’s population balloons to well over a million people, exact figures are not known and space is becoming ever harder to find. More and more people are clearing to make way for homes, some grand mansions, others no more than a few sheets of tin pieced together raising fears of landslides and other calamities as development spreads unchecked up the mountainsides. In Sierra Leone, urban migration continues on a scale not previously seen, which means housing demand significantly outstrips supply. This forces people into making desperate choices, risking their health and very often risking their lives. The current housing deficit in Sierra Leone is projected at 7,000 units and a growing rate of 200 units per annum, Sierra Leone Housing Corporation (SALHOC) said. SALHOC’s findings indicate that household sizes ranged between 5-7 persons per household. 75.4% of the household share premises with other occupants with an average room occupancy rate of three persons per room adding that 53.8% household live in tin shacks commonly referred to as “pan bodies”. The draft national housing estimate noted that the urbanized population is at 30.5% of the total population of the country. The housing market review revealed that the housing situation is dire. Studies have shown that poor housing has implications for a wide range of health conditions, including respiratory, cardiovascular and infectious diseases such as asthma, tuberculosis, influenza and diarrhoea, as well as mental health. Developed based on systematic reviews, the WHO Housing and Health Guidelines provide recommendations based on the health issues caused by inadequate living space, extreme indoor temperatures, injury hazards in the home, and the accessibility of housing for people with disabilities or who face other impairments. In addition, the guidelines identify and summarize existing WHO recommendations related to housing, with respect to water quality, air quality, neighbourhood noise, asbestos, lead, tobacco smoke, and indoor radon emissions – a radioactive gas that is linked to cancer deaths. The WHO guidelines also highlight the significant co-benefits of improving housing conditions. For example, installing efficient and safe thermal insulation can improve indoor temperatures that support health, while also lowering energy costs and reducing carbon emissions. “Improved housing conditions can save lives, reduce disease, increase quality of life, reduce poverty, and help mitigate climate change,” highlighted WHO, noting also that these can contribute towards the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to health (Goal 3) and sustainable cities (Goal 11).

SV/28/11/18

By Sylvia Villa

Thursday November 29, 2018.

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