The struggles of grassroots organizations for livelihoods and shelter have much in common. Organizations explored this common ground at a recent meeting, says Diana Mitlin.
Close to a billion people – one in seven of the world’s population – live in informal settlements in the towns and cities of the global South, where they lack both secure livelihoods with adequate incomes, and secure housing with adequate basic services.
Yet urban development programmes tend to serve these people poorly, in part because they focus either on work and incomes or on shelter, tenure and basic services. These divisions reflect neither the realities of people’s lives nor the inter-connected nature of the challenges they face. Poor housing affects people’s livelihoods, as when shacks burn down and people lose scarce possessions or when people fall ill because of inadequate sanitation provision and are unable to work.
Such realities are encouraging grassroots movements and their support agencies to share ideas about how to address these people’s needs with strategies that target BOTH shelter and livelihoods.
On 22 November representatives from the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights, Red LACRE (the Latin American Network of Recyclers), the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI) and StreetNet International (an alliance of street vendors) met in Bellagio, Italy to share their approaches. The meeting was hosted by the Rockefeller Foundation, with participation from Asiye eTafuleni (Durban), IIED and Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) to support the discussions.
Participants shared a host of ideas:
- Ruby Papeleras from the Philippine Homeless People’s Federation described their savings practices and city-wide mapping to document who was most at risk and to inform interventions to address this.
- Clarisse Gnahoui from USYNVEPID Street Vendors' Union in Benin (and an active market trader) explained the ways in which they had documented the taxes that they have to pay in order to demonstrate their contribution to the city.
- Martha Escobar from the recyclers movement in Colombia (and a member of the Cooperativa de Trabajo Asociado Planeta Verde) spoke about the solitude of those engaged in the recycling industry and the importance of solidarity in challenging the local authorities’ exclusionary practices to keep them from accessing their livelihoods.
- Jockin Arputham (National Slum Dwellers Federation of India) spoke about the ways in which Shack / Slum Dwellers International (SDI) used neighbourhood data to bring all the residents together when they faced threats of eviction or relocations in India.
- Yamini Parikh (from SEWA) explained how cooperatives in Ahmedabad offered a way of all workers coming together to ensure that they had more regular work.
All agreed that they had something to learn – and knowledge to share. Here are some key themes, which were consistently repeated as central to improved livelihoods and shelter.
- Women must lead the way: Women have to lead the process for it to be relevant to the most disadvantaged and to increase the likelihood of collective gains (rather than the self-interest of leaders).
- Visibility is key: When the urban poor are invisible (whether at home or at work), they will not be aware of the many others facing comparable struggles, nor will politicians or civil servants pay them any attention. Accurate data on the contributions of low-income citizens to the city economy and to improving housing helps build a more visible profile.
- Stereotypes must be challenged: A real understanding of the contributions low-income residents make to their cities and which benefit other citizens should be reinforced and defended; inaccurate, negative stereotypes must not be allowed to prevail.
- Savings schemes are critical: Savings schemes protect people from fluctuations in prices and incomes and enable their organizations to be less dependent on the fashions of donor agencies.
[sub] Exclusionary realities
Many of the problems low-income people in urban centres face are the same from city to city. They stem from the same narrow vision about what successful cities should look like, the influence internationally mobile capital has on how city centres and high-income neighbourhoods are formed, and (for many nations) increasing income inequalities and high levels of poverty.
These factors help to exclude the urban poor from basic services and secure livelihoods on a scale that is staggering.
One billion people – close to one in seven of the global population – live in informal urban neighbourhoods that lack at least one basic service and/or have unsafe housing. Even the most basic of services, piped water, is frequently not available – or only at a price. Hundreds of millions of urban dwellers have no toilet in their home.
Perhaps as many as a billion people work in the informal economy. Typically incomes are low and insecure, and working conditions are very poor. Over 60 percent of all urban employment in Africa is estimated to be informal, and in India the figure exceeds 80 percent.
Multiple voices, multiple struggles
Trade unions and associations of informal workers bring together all those working in one industry or trade, identify the laws or practices that need to be changed to protect trading spaces (for example for market vendors) or to access the materials they need (in the case of recyclers). They provide solidarity for those harassed while working alone on the streets or waste dumps, and who face exploitative contractual arrangements. The most successful improve incomes and assets, and may secure safer working conditions – BUT they do little to reduce the costs of rent, water and other essentials, or ensure people have a chance to live close to working opportunities.
Urban social movements work to improve access to water, land and/or housing. Women are often active members as they bear most of the costs of inadequate services. Actions focus on securing homes with basic services and reducing women’s burdens alongside improving living conditions. Local solidarity groups are formed as residents work with their neighbours. Groups frequently undertake their own improvements and lobby their local governments for support.
The representatives from grassroots organisations and networks at the meeting agreed that greater collaboration offered much to their on-going work. They were also excited by the potential broadening of their alliances to strengthen their work and amplify their voices in urban development debates. They also recognised that such collaboration should not be at the expense of weakening their base organisations and day-to-day activities.
They agreed to explore, through international exchanges, the potential value of each other’s practices. Proposals included:
- recyclers that are part of the Red LACRE organisation from Latin America visiting recyclers in Africa and
- women-led street trader associations in West Africa visiting women-led savings schemes seeking to improve shelter, also in West Africa.
They also agreed that they could make a useful contribution to each other’s events at global meetings such as the World Urban Forum to ensure that events seeking to address urban poverty give the urban poor and their representative organizations a voice, and put them at the centre of activities.
Already these networks assert the right to speak and struggle to advance their opportunities and define new choices. They also claim the right to be involved in the policies and programmes supposedly there to support them. Learning from each other, and finding solidarity together, they are better positioned to address the scale of poverty and inequality in towns and cities across the global South. Together, they are stronger.
Nelson Mandela pictured here with Rose Molokoane, national leader of the South African Federation of the Urban Poor.
This week we remember Nelson Mandela for his commitment to the struggle against poverty, racism, and inequality. We remember his commitment to collective action and the power of the poor, of all races, to determine their own destiny. SDI reaffirms its commitment to take up the mantle of Madiba's practice of militant negotiations in order to advance the struggle for a better socio-economic order. This struggle, to which Madiba made such historic contributions, continues.
Hamba kahle, Madiba.
Photo: On the left, the site of an eviction in Kisenyi, Kampala, contrasted with congested living conditions in Kisenyi on the right.
By Skye Dobson, ACTogether Uganda
Images of women and children desperately splashing water on their faces to alleviate the sting of teargas in Kasokoso slum (just outside of Kampala) have been splashed on the front pages of Uganda’s newspapers this month. News broadcasts have been dominated by footage of riot police loading young men into pickups, residents setting up roadblocks of fire, and a Mayor being beaten and eventually having his car set alight by infuriated slum residents. The cause of this chaos? Land disputes: disputes that evoke a passionate and intricate set of political and cultural sentiments in Uganda and have resulted in a seemingly intractable impasse – crippling planning and development initiatives.
In Kampala, Uganda’s capital, land tenure arrangements are among the most complex in the world: intensified by one of the highest rates of urbanization (approaching 6%). Attempts by the Ugandan government to administer land have typically relied upon formal cadastral systems, which have been powerless to disentangle the webs of layered and competing land tenure arrangements. Proposed developments all over the city have stalled, completely crippled by seemingly unresolvable land wrangles.
As Kampala city moves into a new era of administration – as a result of the establishment of the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) in 2010 (which established the Authority to administer Kampala on behalf of the central government, replacing the former Kampala City Council), it remains to be seen how it will address the present impasse. Officials in the KCCA express unwavering commitment to developing the city in accordance with the recently formulated Kampala Master Plan, but – as is common with such city plans – implementation strategies are about as clear as the vision of those doused in teargas.
There is an undeniable need to generate some order in Kampala, where planning dysfunction threatens the livelihoods of the rich and poor alike. And, while the author works for an organization supporting the rights of slum dwellers, this is not a paper that will simply argue the right of slum dwellers to stay and leave it at that. Such arguments cannot and should not be enough to satisfy either the government or the slum dwellers. Posturing on the part of rights groups, planners, and politicians is doing nothing to alleviate the fundamental challenges that perpetuate the acute poverty faced by the majority of Kampala’s residents. Instead, Kampala needs creative implementation strategies based on up-to-date data, authentic and informed citizen participation, and negotiation that accepts compromise will be needed from all sides.
The National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU) has been at the center of a collection of actors – including Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI), Cities Alliance, and UN-Habitat’s Global Land Tools Network (GTLN) – trying to forge such strategies in Uganda. The efforts are only just beginning, but perhaps hold promise for an approach to planning that has a greater grounding in reality and fosters a much higher likelihood of implementation. As a member of the SDI network, slum dwellers in the NSDFU utilize tools such as profiling, enumeration, and mapping to organize their communities and catalyze informed negotiation and partnership with government toward inclusive urban development. Here I focus on three potential components of the strategy being developed.
The first relates to the information required to plan. There has been no census in Uganda since 2002. The budget has not allowed it to take place for the past two years as scheduled. Thus, development plans are formulated on the basis of data that is over 11 years old. Any resident of Kampala can tell you that their city is not the same city it was a decade ago. The prevalence of multiple and overlapping land claims – particularly as it relates to Kibanda occupants (those who have rights to the land, in addition to those of the land owner) mean the majority of land tenure claims are not documented. As a result, many claims to tenure are not visible until threatened residents express these claims through protest – often violently.
The first component of the strategy, therefore, acknowledges that up-to-date data on the city and the tenure claims of its residents is required to understand actual on-the-ground realities. NSDFU has conducted citywide enumerations in 5 municipalities in partnership with the Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development (MoLHUD) with support from Cities Alliance’s Land, Sites, and Citizenship program. It has also piloted the Social Tenure Domain Model tool developed by the Global Land Tools Network (GTLN) and subsequently incorporated the tool into the profiling and enumeration work being rolled out in 14 municipalities. These experiences have informed the Kampala profiling process completed in November 2013, which gathered essential planning data on all 58-slum settlements in the capital.
Currently, the NSDFU and its support NGO, ACTogether, are preparing the preliminary findings from the citywide slum profiling of Kampala conducted by the NSDFU in November 2013. The profiling covered 58 slum settlements covering each of the five divisions of Kampala. Information is gathered through focus group meetings with local leaders and the community in each slum settlement. During these meetings a detailed questionnaire is administered by slum dwellers in the NSDFU. The initial findings are unprecedented, suggesting extreme levels of inequality and exclusion across Kampala. Nearly 70% of slum settlements in the city of Kampala have faced eviction threat, with 1.5 million slum residents currently facing high threat of eviction. More detail on these findings is presented below and includes statistics on land ownership and threat of eviction.
Initial findings suggest that 55% of land in slums is privately owned (Division breakdown: Rubaga 33%, Nakawa 80%, Makindye 30%, Kampala Central 66%, Kawempe 64%); 21% is held under customary ownership (Division breakdown: Rubaga 33%, Nakawa 0%, Makindye 9%, Kampala Central 28%, Kawempe 34%); 12% is owned by the Kingdom (Division breakdown: Rubaga 26%, Nakawa 3%, Makindye 31%, Kampala Central 0%, Kawempe 1%); and 7% is owned by the municipality (Division breakdown: Rubaga 8%, Nakawa 10%, Makindye 10%, Kampala Central 6%, Kawempe less than 1%).
Sixty-nine percent of slum settlements have faced eviction threats, according to residents (Division breakdown: Rubaga 46%, Nakawa 60%, Makindye 88%, Kampala Central 57%, Kawempe 69%). Of the 58 slum settlements surveyed, 52% presently face the threat of eviction (Division breakdown: Rubaga 15%, Nakawa 60%, Makindye 88%, Kampala Central 29%, Kawempe 69%), and 25% of these are report the seriousness of the threat to be high (Division breakdown: Rubaga 15%, Nakawa 60%, Makindye 88%, Kampala Central 29%, Kawempe 69%).
The 32 settlements facing a high eviction threat contain approximately 1.5 million residents (Division breakdown: Rubaga 524,000, Nakawa 148,000, Makindye 633,000, Kampala Central 14,400, Kawempe 171,500).
Once verified, this information will be critical to NSDFU as it seeks to expand implementation of the strategy outlined above in Kampala and for developing a concrete partnership with KCCA – specifically as it relates to the impending formulation of detailed development plans for the capital.
The second component recognizes that this information, this data, should not simply inform a consultant preparing a development plan or the physical planning department of the KCCA. In matters of land, communities need to trust and understand the data available if it is to guide planning. The urban poor have a deep distrust of the information cited by government, which they perceive to have historically been used to crush their rights and demands. Conversely, when communities drive the data gathering process, it sets in motion a discussion with authorities that is based on information the community owns. When they begin the negotiation process, they are able to do more than demand a right to stay: they begin a discussion on strategies for a way forward for upgrading based on concrete information. Politicization and manipulation of urban poor communities by politicians, developers, and even fellow community members has proven an equally significant impediment to urban land management. This component recognizes that equipping a wider base of citizens with actual information can help to counter the tendency for rumor and mistruths to drive the discussion.
The third component, then, relates to negotiation and partnership. It is clear technocrats cannot implement their development plans without community buy-in – unless they plan to use force to evict all those opposed to their plans. The community, likewise, will not benefit from continued haphazard, un-guided developments, which threaten the safety and viability of their settlements. Neither party benefit from the present state of affairs, which is characterized by both sides shouting and neither listening. The technocrats will only – perhaps justifiably – listen to the community if it can answer the question: What is your alternative? The community, meanwhile, will only listen to the technocrats if they agree to listen.
We are already finding that the present requirements for planning approvals will need to be adapted to fit the local land tenure realities if development plans are to have any chance of implementation on the land occupied by the majority of Kampala’s residents. We will keep you updated as the profiling information is analyzed, verified, and utilized by the NSDFU.
Back in April, we posted an article about women and sanitation in Nairobi's slums. ("In A Risky Place: Women & Sanitation in Nairobi's Slums" ). Recently, we revisited the audio recorded interviews with the women of Mukuru kwa Reuben to give you a first-hand account of their experiences and opinions on living conditions in the slums. Below is a short audio recording, followed by a transcription of their words for your convenience.
Doris Museti: "We are here, and then that person after 30, 40, 50 years, they are claiming the land back. Where do we go? We are not trees. You can say that 'I am selling this land, it is 5 acres, it has 20,000 trees, so the cost of the land it is this much, the cost of the trees it is this much,' so now, we are the trees.... When the land value has gone up, they want to develop. When the land value was down, they did not want to develop."
Evelyn Apondi: "It has been very difficult for us, especially when there is a father, brother, big brothers & sisters in the same cube [shack] and there are no toilets. It has been very hard, but when life is like that, sometimes you just bear it because life is a gift from God. So, we have just been surviving."
Doris Museti: "Getting to the toilet at night is very difficult. They are closed, so you have to get an alternative. So it is very risky. You have to get two or three women to escort you. If you do not come with two or three people, it is a rape case and it will never hear it reported."
Edith Samia of the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda being interviewed at the Local Climate Solutions for Africa (LOCS) conference.
By Mara Forbes, SDI Secretariat
“Climate change is improving on what we have so we can sustain in what we are doing.” Edith Samia, National Slum Dwellers of Federation of Uganda
A delegation from South Africa, Uganda, and Tanzania attended the second biannual Local Climate Solutions for Africa (LOCS) conference from October 30 to November 1 in Dar es Salaam hosted by ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability). Over 440 delegates attended the conference from 25 African countries. Of those, 300 were local government representatives, and of that 170 were heads of local governments (Mayors, Governors and Chairpersons). LOCS is a platform that brings together local government officials, academics, NGOs, private sector, and development partners to learn from each other and understand how local solutions can address the global climate change agenda.
Climate change is most frequently discussed in terms of a larger global issue rather then than a topic of national or local concern. More frequently this view has shifted to try and understand how climate change related issues are experienced at the local level and what resilience and adaptation efforts communities can provide to combat these effects. Those hit hardest by climate change live in countries that have low carbon footprints and have not created many of problems the world is facing. The global south, and particularly the urban poor in these countries, will be affected most from its negative impacts. They live in low-lying areas that suffer from heavy flooding, frequent landslides, droughts, and the like. Climate related risks are adding to the already existing challenges faced by the poor.
How do we take these global issues of climate change that are most often looked at from the large scale and understand how local initiatives can mitigate the effects? SDI took this opportunity to showcase how communities of the urban poor are addressing issues of climate change. Edith Samia of the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda shared how communities in Uganda are creating and implementing innovative methods to mitigate climate change. For example, solid waste is being used to make charcoal briquettes. Briquettes are created by compacting loose biomass into solid blocks that can replace fossil fuels, charcoal, and firewood for cooking and heating. The community is able to collect and reuse the waste that accumulates in settlements and turn it into a form of energy, at the same time using this activity as an incoming generating project for community members. In Bwaise, an area that is prone to flooding from heavy rains, the community built a sanitation unit that also harvests rainwater. This water can be used for the flush toilets or can be sold by the jerry can, also an income-generating project.
For most, these measures are not understood as climate change but rather everyday activities that provide services, generate income, and improve their livelihoods. As Edith noted, “most of the communities don’t know about climate change and need capacity building and sensitization around this.” For communities of the urban poor these everyday practices demonstrate the innovative methods being used to make the urban poor more resilient to climate change impacts.
The LOCS platform opened a space that allowed local governments, academics, and NGO’s to come together to discuss how impacts of climate change can be addressed together. Spaces such as LOCS that aim to bring together various partners need to be cognizant of who is and is not included in these conversations. Communities that are affected most by the impacts of climate change need to be involved in the co-production of mitigation efforts. As Edith stated, “With such a big gathering we need to speak out, they [local government officials] sit too much and think about what to do for us, but we should be able to tell them what we need. Although community was at least given some time to talk, it was not enough. We are part of the problem but also the solution.”
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