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Innovation in the Slums can bring Peace and Prosperity

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 27

Rioting in Kenya has once again reminded people of the volatility of urban slums and the price to be paid if the dreams of those who live there are not met. As documented by urban development expert Jeb Brugmann, “mismanaged urban migrations have been a central part of political revolutions in our world since the 1960s.” In Kenya, “as elsewhere, these slums have effectively become huge, parallel cities, with their own economies, governance and social dynamics. Two-thirds of Nairobi’s slum dwellers eke a living in the underground informal sector. Ninety per cent of them are tenants. The poverty rate in Nairobi doubled, for instance, between 1992 and 1997.”

Slums are usually despised by the local urban authorities around the world. They end up either being totally ignored and seen as an embarrassment, or in more extreme circumstances like Zimbabwe’s slum clearance in 2005 – “Operation Clean Up Trash” – they are swept away (only to pop up somewhere else). Recently in Ghana, slums were cleared with flame-throwers, as residents were quickly cleared out of their homes to make way for a football stadium. Schoolteacher Ibrahim Addalah, who lost his home, said: “My school is gone. The community had bought us a blackboard; we had made a small school. It took us a long time to get all those things: the benches, the books. They gave us no time to leave; they just burnt our homes and our future to the ground. Now we are living in the rubble with nowhere to go.”

Over 900 million people – almost a sixth of the world’s population – now live in urban slums (UN). Improving conditions for these people is a Millennium Development Goal target. And half the world’s population will soon live in cities: already, in developing countries 43 per cent of urban dwellers live in slums – and in the least-developed countries the figure is 78 per cent. The UN has estimated it will take US $18 billion a year to improve living conditions for these people – and most of it will have to come from the people themselves.

An essential route to improving the situation is to give people living in slums the dignity and respect they deserve as human beings. Initiatives across the South seek to do this and turn the situation on its head: seeing slum dwellers as a valuable asset, not an urban blight.

The concept of ‘slum networking’ has been developed by Indian engineer Himanshu Parikh of Ahmedabad , a winner of the Aga Khan award for architecture. He starts from the point of believing there is no need for slum conditions to exist in India, but that slums do not need to be moved, just upgraded; and that good change can happen quickly.

He also sees the residents’ involvement and financial contribution as critical to the sustainability of any improvements. His approach has already helped one million people overall, including 8,703 families (43,515 people) in Ahmedabad in 41 slum communities. Slum networking does not depend on aid funds but is a self-reliant approach, in which residents make a partnership with private suppliers to get access to the most important services first: clean water and hygiene and sanitation.

Parikh’s approach involves providing channels for sewage, water supply and roadways in existing slum areas by exploiting the natural topography and pattern of development to provide the new infrastructure.

Parikh makes a detailed survey plan of the existing houses and divides them into groups based on the quality of construction. If they are of reasonable quality, they are left in place. Where possible, slum dwellers are allowed to buy the land they are squatting on. By buying the land, the owner now has a direct stake in its development.

“Working inside out, i.e. starting with quality infrastructure in the poor areas and working outwards to produce larger networks for the city or village, not only integrates the two levels, but actually produces far cheaper infrastructure at both levels,” Parikh told Architecture Week magazine.

In the slums of the Indian city of Indore, 181 slums were networked, giving the city 360 kilometres of new roads, 300 kilometres of new sewer lines, 240 kilometres of new water lines, 120 community halls and 120,000 trees. This transformed the two local rivers from open sewers back to water. According to the World Bank, fatal water diseases fell by 90 per cent.

“No project for their rehabilitation could be successful until they were involved as the capital partners,” Parikh told India’s The Tribune. Upgrading “the civic amenities, including sewerage, roads and water supply, was the need of the hour for better living conditions of the slum dwellers.” In South Africa, the country’s fast-growing tourism trade is being directed towards its slums, not just its game parks, wineries and cities.

The sprawling Soweto district on the outskirts of Johannesburg – the heart of the struggle against the former apartheid regime – has lured tourists to come and stay with its network of bed and breakfasts (http://www.sowetonights.co.uk/snaccom_vhavenda.htm): home-based places to stay run by families. Like many slums, Soweto is a heady mix of contrasts: from wealthy suburban homes, to makeshift tin shacks to outright squalor and destitution. But the B and Bs ensure tourists stick around and spend more money, creating lasting jobs.

Over 200,000 visitors a year tour Soweto to see where Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu once lived. And as with all success, it attracts more success: the international hotel chain Holiday Inn has just opened a 48-room hotel in Soweto.
Giving dignity to the lives of slum dwellers is the work of a do-it-yourself “TV station” in Kenya. Kenya’s dramatic turn to violence after recent elections has led to a myopic view of the country, according to the young filmmakers and photographers behind Slum TV (http://www.slum-tv.info/). Based deep inside Nairobi’s largest slum, Mathare, they have been seeking out the stories of hope where international media only see violence and gloom.

“We look at what is good and what is bad. We see what is behind the scenes. The international media only shows the negative side,” said Benson Kamau of Slum TV.
Slum TV is a group of young men in Mathare with only a two-week workshop in the basics of film shooting and editing. They pay their bills by doing odd jobs. A grant from Austria paid for their one camera and a computer.

They screen their films every month to the residents of Mathare on a giant white sheet hanging over some vacant land. They illegally tap an overhanging electricity line for power – few can afford electricity. The films document everyday life in the slum – a man selling dougnuts, women frying potatoes – and the locals can see their lives recorded and acknowledged.

Resources 

1. Shelter Associates: established by Indian architect Pratima Joshi, it is an NGO working on slum rehabilitation. http://www.shelter-associates.org

2. SPARC: one of the largest Indian NGOs working on housing and infrastructure issues for slum dwellers. http://www.sparcindia.org

3. Improving the Lives of Slum Dwellers: published by the Millennium Project. http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/reports/tf_slum.htm

4. For local bed and breakfasts in South Africa, click here sa-venues.com, tourist information at http://www.southafrica.net/

5. Slum Networking: Innovative Approach to Urban Development by Diane Diacon (editor). Website: http://www.amazon.co.uk

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This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Envisioning Better Slums

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

More than 900 million people – almost a sixth of the world’s population – now live in urban slums (UN). Improving conditions for these people is a critical Millennium Development Goal target. And the scale of the problem is vast: this year half the world’s population will live in cities, and already in developing countries 43 per cent of urban dwellers live in slums. In the least-developed countries the figure is 78 per cent.

The UN has estimated it will take US$18 billion a year to improve living conditions for these people – and most of it will have to come from the residents themselves.

An essential route to improving the situation is to give people living in slums the dignity and respect they deserve as human beings. Initiatives across the South seek to do this and turn the situation on its head: seeing slum dwellers as a valuable asset, not an urban blight.

The concept of ‘slum networking’ has been developed by Indian engineer Himanshu Parikh of Ahmedabad , a winner of the Aga Khan award for architecture. He starts from the point of believing there is no need for slum conditions to exist in India, but that slums do not need to be moved, just upgraded; and that good change can happen quickly. He also sees the residents’ involvement and financial contribution as critical to the sustainability of any improvements. His approach has already helped one million people overall, including 8,703 families (43,515 people) in Ahmedabad in 41 slum communities.

Slum networking does not depend on aid funds but is a self-reliant approach, in which residents make a partnership with private suppliers to get access to the most important services first: clean water and hygiene and sanitation.

Parikh’s approach involves providing channels for sewage, water supply and roadways in existing slum areas by exploiting the natural topography and pattern of development to provide the new infrastructure.

Parikh makes a detailed survey plan of the existing houses and divides them into groups based on the quality of construction. If they are of reasonable quality, they are left in place. Where possible, slum dwellers are allowed to buy the land they are squatting on. By buying the land, the owner now has a direct stake in its development.

“Working inside out, i.e. starting with quality infrastructure in the poor areas and working outwards to produce larger networks for the city or village, not only integrates the two levels, but actually produces far cheaper infrastructure at both levels,” Parikh told Architecture Week magazine.

In the Indian city of Indore, 181 slums were networked, giving the city 360 kilometres of new roads, 300 kilometres of new sewer lines, 240 kilometres of new water lines, 120 community halls and 120,000 trees. This transformed the two local rivers from open sewers back to water. According to the World Bank, the incidence of fatal water diseases fell by 90 per cent.

“No project for their rehabilitation could be successful until they were involved as the capital partners,” Parikh told India’s The Tribune. Upgrading “the civic amenities, including sewerage, roads and water supply, was the need of the hour for better living conditions of the slum dwellers.”

Another initiative in Bangladesh is bringing first-rate healthcare to the country’s water-logged slum dwellers. They live in areas called ‘chars’ — effectively stranded islands surrounded by rivers, plagued by frequent flooding and physically cut-off from the country’s transport and infrastructure networks. Located in northern Bangladesh’s Jamuna river regions of Gaibandha, Kurigram and Jamalpu, these areas are very poor and overlooked by most government and foreign aid programmes. The fact the islands shift around has made it difficult for much help to reach the people.

Bangladesh also has a severe shortage of doctors: there are 12,500 people per doctor, compared to 2,000 in Pakistan.

But a hospital ship run by the Friendship NGO (funded by private companies and NGOs) now brings healthcare to 4 million people, treating everything from cataracts to skin infections. It sees between 200 to 250 patients a day aboard a converted former river barge. Called the Lifebuoy Friendship Hospital because of its sponsorship by Lever Brothers Bangladesh Ltd. — makers of Lifebuoy soap — it cruises the river Brammaptura, helping 172,000 people since it set sail six years ago.

“People of the area look forward eagerly to our arrival,” said Dr Feroza Khatun, a doctor on the hospital ship. Other doctors and surgeons are provided by NGOs from Sweden, the Netherlands and France.

The ship carries a team of two doctors and four nurses, who live on board. It provides a range of services, from basic healthcare and immunisations to minor surgery. The ship is fully equipped with modern facilities, including clinics, a pharmacy, a treatment room and an operating theatre. There is also a four-bed ward for short-term care, a pathology lab and store, x-ray unit and dark room and an electrocardiogram (ECG).

Stays in the individual ‘chars’ are usually from three weeks to two months. When it leaves, a satellite clinic continues to provide care until the next visit. “In our satellite programmes, we bring in professionals for health and rural social education, provide paramedical care, give special treatment for mother and child health, family planning and pregnancy hazards, child nutrition and identify the needs for secondary care interventions,” said executive director Runa Khan to Bangladesh’s Star Weekend Magazine

Started as a trial in 2001, the ship began full operations in 2002. It has been so successful, it is currently expanding by building new ships paid for by the Emirates Airline Foundation.

Published: February 2012

Resources

  • Shelter Associates: established by Indian architect Pratima Joshi, an NGO working on slum rehabilitation.
  • SPARC: one of the largest Indian NGOs working on housing and infrastructure issues for slum dwellers.
  • Improving the Lives of Slum Dwellers: published by the Millennium Project.
  • Slum TV: Based deep inside Nairobi’s largest slum, Mathare, they have been seeking out the stories of hope where international media only see violence and gloom.
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This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Kenyan Eco-Village Being Built by Slum-Dwellers

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

A Kenyan eco-village is helping slum dwellers to start new lives and increase their wealth. The community, Kaputei, is being built by former slum residents – some of whom used to beg to survive – and is providing new homes with electricity, running water and services like schools and parks. By building their own homes, with the help of affordable mortgage loans, the residents are able to make a big upgrade to their quality of life while acquiring real wealth.

More than 900 million people – almost a sixth of the world’s population – now live in urban slums (UN). This number will double by 2030 as a result of rapid urbanization in developing countries. Already in developing countries 43 per cent of urban dwellers live in slums, and the figure leaps to 78 per cent in the least-developed countries. The UN estimates it will take US $18 billion a year to improve living conditions for these people – and most of it will have to come from the residents themselves.

Kaputei is a project of Kenya’s largest and oldest micro-finance lender, Jamii Bora (www.jamiibora.org). Having enjoyed significant success in making loans to over 225,000 people – after starting out in 1999 with loans to just 50 beggars – it realized something on a larger scale was necessary to permanently transform the lives of poor Kenyans.

Jamii Bora’s founder, Ingrid Munro, saw the whole atmosphere of the slums as the biggest impediment to long-term life changes. “As long as you are living in the slums, you will never climb out of poverty,” she told The Independent newspaper. “Families of course need economic opportunities to rise out of poverty, but what good are they if you are still living in hell?”

Jamii Bora came up with the idea of building an entire community from scratch, and doing it in way that was affordable, ecological and sustainable, while building the wealth of the residents. Since 2007, the project has provided homes for 50 families; the target is to have homes for 2,000.

One former beggar who has built her own home is Clarice Adhiambo. An early client of Jamii Bora, she started to learn how to save, reaching her first goal of saving 1,000 Kenyan shillings (US $12.81). With Jamii Bora’s encouragement, she plowed this money back into buying some fish and selling it in the markets. Over time, she was able to grow her efforts until she was a regular market trader, and was borrowing as much as US $1,900 to fund various slum businesses.

Then came the Kaputei project. It has helped Adhiambo move from a 3 meter by 3 meter tin shack in the Nairobi slum of Soweto to her own home with running water: “So much water,” she told The Independent.

The new home is 50 square metres with two bedrooms, a sitting room and a bathroom.

Adhiambo pays US $36 a month for her mortgage — more than most people, because she wants to pay it off quickly. That compares to about US $20 a month in rent paid by many slum dwellers to live in squalor with poor services and quality of life.

Kaputei is a clever community project. Unlike attempts to build housing for the poor in isolation, Kaputei is based on neighbourhoods of 250 families each, with common community centres, playgrounds, parks and church halls. There is a town centre, and zones for commercial and industrial enterprises. The project was approved by the Kenyan government in 2004 and has planning permission for 119 hectares. Trees are being planted to provide protection from wind, add beauty, and, in time, to be a source of income or firewood. A wetland is being used to recycle waste water and is being run in partnership with Kenyan universities.

Each house costs US $1,875 to build. The homes are so cheap because the building materials are assembled in a factory on site, and the families help with the building.

Three house models are available and the families – from the Kamba, Kikuyu, Luo and Maasai peoples – choose the one they like by viewing show homes on site. Each home has access to roads, water and sewage.

It’s estimated the entire community of 2,000 families will cost US $3,750,000 for the homes, and another US $3,750,000 for infrastructure. Mortgages are offered at between 8.5 percent and 10 percent interest and are estimated to take 10 to 15 years to repay. The average mortgage is about US $32 a month.

Resources

Builders Without Borders: Is an international network of ecological builders who advocate the use of straw, earth and other local, affordable materials in construction. Website: www.builderswithoutborders.org/

World Hands Project: An NGO specialising in simple building techniques for the poor. Website:www.worldhandsproject.org

CIDEM and Ecosur specialize in building low-cost community housing using eco-materials. They have projects around the world and are based in Cuba. Website: www.ecosur.org

The Building and Social Housing Foundation: An independent research organization promoting sustainable development and innovation in housing through collaborative research and knowledge transfer. Website: www.bshf.org

Slum TV: Based deep inside Nairobi’s largest slum, Mathare, they have been seeking out the stories of hope where international media only see violence and gloom. Website: www.slum-tv.org

Published: June 2009

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This work is licensed under a
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2009: Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Decent and Affordable Housing for the Poor

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Urban populations across the South are growing fast: by 2030, some 5 billion people around the world will live in cities. This year will be the first year in which urban dwellers (3.3 billion people) will outnumber rural residents for the first time (UNFPA).

Africa now has a larger urban population than North America and 25 of the world’s fastest growing big cities. Asia and Africa’s cities are growing by an incredible 1 million people a week, with 72 per cent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa living in slum conditions.

How well people dwell is integral to their mental and physical health. Most squatters and slum dwellers – a category that includes half the urban population of Africa, a third in Asia and a fourth in Latin America and the Caribbean – live in makeshift homes made from whatever they can get their hands on. These dwellings are usually unsafe and vulnerable to fire, floods, and earthquakes. On top of this, these sprawling slums can be depressingly grim to look at for those living there.

In Brazil’s Sao Paulo neighbourhood of Heliopolis – the largest of the city’s 400 favelas, or shantytowns – the majority of its dwellings are made from cement and brick. It is stigmatised as the ugliest part of the city, yet a unique initiative has transformed perceptions of the area – and brought pride to its residents. The project offers a model for slum areas looking to make the next leap up the ladder of development. Heliopolis first sprang up in the 1970s, wedged between highways and roads. Plagued by crime, there is a wide spread in incomes and urbanisation among the 120,000 residents packed into the one-and-a-half square mile. Older parts have many services, while newer areas lack basics like plumbing and electricity.

Well-known Sao Paulo-based Brazilian architect Ruy Ohtake (http://www.geocities.com/capitolhill/3836/saopaulo.html) mobilised the 6,000 residents to use a fixed palette of six colours – from bright yellow to deep purples – to create a look described as akin to an Italian hill town.

“Ohtake told a newspaper that Heliopolis was the ugliest part of the city, so we went to him and asked him to figure out how to make it beautiful,” Geronino Barbosa, director of the Heliopolis community group UNAS, told the design magazine Dwell.

Ohtake, famous for his hotel designs and renovating former colonial areas, rose to the challenge: “I believe in beauty as a social function, so what better way to exercise that belief,” he said. To avoid the initiative feeling like something being imposed from on high, the plan did not go ahead until the residents were happy. And to make sure they felt they owned the results, they did all the painting themselves. The result is a river of colour running through a landscape of dreary, unfinished brick homes jammed between streets and factories. The Italian hill town-effect leaves pedestrians experiencing a surprise as they turn through the streets, happening upon hidden plazas and little bars.

“Our dream is to expand this project to the entire favela,” said Barbosa. “People love their painted houses. One of our participants told me that her house has been transformed into a sort of Carnival parade.”

“Who doesn’t want to live in a beautiful house?” said UNAS’ head, Joao Miranda, to Dwell. “We want the same things as everyone else.”

Another architect has tackled the problem of how to create inexpensive but durable and beautiful homes for the poor. Iranian-born architect Nader Khalili (http://www.calearth.org/) has created what he calls ‘super adobe’ dwellings inspired by traditional Iranian rural homes. The cone-shaped homes are made from sandbags piled one on top of the other in a circular pattern. A basic home is three rooms of 400 square feet, and can be built by five people (with only one needing skills), within weeks. Being sandbags, the homes can easily be dismantled and moved or adapted to meet new space needs.

Khalili first fell in love with the sand adobe homes of Iran in the 1970s. He had been on a journey to find a home design that was both environmentally harmonious and could be built anywhere in the world quickly and cheaply. But while the original Iranian sand adobe is easily destroyed by earthquakes and bad weather, the ‘super adobes’ are earthquake, hurricane and flood resistant. They are now being built across the Americas , Asia and Africa.

“You can never build one of these that doesn’t look beautiful,” he said. “Just as you have never seen an ugly tree or an ugly flower.”

Resources

  • Builders Without Borders: Is an international network of ecological builders who advocate the use of straw, earth and other local, affordable materials in construction. Website: http://builderswithoutborders.org/
  • World Hands Project: An NGO specialising in simple building techniques for the poor. Website:http://www.worldhandsproject.org
  • Tsunami-Safe House: A design for Prajnopaya Foundation: a project coordinated by the SENSEable City Laboratory, a new research initiative between the Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. Website:http://senseable.mit.edu/tsunami-prajnopaya/
Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021