4.1 What is healthful housing?
Every family and individual has a basic right to a decent home and a suitable living environment. Housing is a basic prerequisite for health. This right is noted in the constitutions of many countries, including Ethiopia. However, a significant proportion of the population in rural and urban areas in Ethiopia does not possess suitable healthful housing.
Housing is a term that we use for a physical structure in which we live.
Just stop reading for a moment and ask yourself: what is housing?
You may say housing is a shelter where we sleep and live, or a place in which we cook our food, or a place where a child grows, or a place where we get clean water for drinking.
You will probably have a long list like this. The question is, then, how will you provide a complete understanding of housing so that members of your community understand you?
If you look for definitions of housing in books, you may find different answers. The Oxford Essential Dictionary defines housing as ‘flats and houses for people to live in’. Housing is also considered as a dwelling or physical shelter that is used for living purposes. Many of these definitions focus on the nature of housing as a physical structure or shelter.
The public health understanding of housing goes beyond this. The World Health Organization uses the term ‘residential environment’, rather than ‘housing’, which they define as:
the physical structure that man uses for shelter and the environs of that structure including all necessary services, facilities, equipment, and devices needed or desired for the physical, mental, and social wellbeing of the family and individual.
Note the key words in this definition. It combines the idea of shelter with the complete development of health and is equivalent to a definition of healthful housing. The definition has three elements:
- The physical structure or building that provides the shelter.
- The necessary services, facilities, equipment and devices that are used by an individual, for example, a bedroom for sleeping or a latrine for human waste excretion.
- The goal of housing is preserving one’s health. This is the purpose of a physical building and its immediate environment.
Do not get confused with different terms such as housing sanitation, housing hygiene, hygiene of housing, residential environment and healthful housing. They mean almost the same thing.
Your role in the provision of healthful housing must be clear. You are an advocator and communicator of appropriate information and advice. You will need partners to help you in the work towards healthful housing; these are members of your local community, elders and local government staff.