Ignoring the conditions of almost 900 million people in overcrowded informal settlements is a “global human rights scandal”, a United Nations report has said. In her report to the United Nations General Assembly, special rapporteur Leilani Farha called on states to stop “stigmatising and criminalising” such people, and offered 31 directives to help governments upgrade these settlements to comply with the right to housing.

“The conditions that many suffer are inhumane – overcrowding, lack of basic services like toilets and running water, and complete insecurity,” Farha said in the report, which was published on Thursday. “Many are in constant fear of having their homes bulldozed or destroyed.”

Farha said the housing challenge in Africa and Asia was serious. “In many cities in Africa, more than half of the population lives in informal settlements,” she said. “In Asia, there are 520 million residents of informal settlements, often in areas that are vulnerable to floods, landslides or contamination.”

Urging governments to recognise the link between housing and livelihood, the report cited the context of the Kathputli Colony in Delhi, which is inhabited by street performers such as musicians, puppeteers and magicians. “They relied on spaces within their informal settlement to perform, but were relocated to apartment blocks,” the report said. “They had unsuccessfully challenged the relocation in court, asking for an assurance that the project would be executed in such a manner that sufficient space would be made available for them to undertake the unique character of their vocation and display their skills for earning a livelihood.”