Monthly Archives: July 2012

Slum Mechanics!

What are slums?

Since it first appeared in the 1820s, the word slum has been used to identify the poorest quality housing, and the most unsanitary conditions; a refuge for marginal activities including crime, ‘vice’ and drug abuse; a likely source for many epidemics that ravaged urban areas; a place apart from all that was decent and wholesome. Today, the catch all term “slum” is loose and deprecatory. It has many connotations and meanings and is seldom used by the more sensitive, politically correct, and academically rigorous. But in developing countries, the word lacks the pejorative and divisive original connotation, and simply refers to lower quality or informal housing.


Simple definition of a slum would be “a heavily populated urban area characterised by substandard housing and squalor”. This straightforward description reflects the essential physical and social features of slums, but more meat needs to be put on these bones.

Slums in the traditional sense are housing areas that were once respectable – even desirable – but which deteriorated after the original dwellers moved on to new and better parts of the city. The condition of the old homes declined as they were progressively subdivided and rented out to lower income people.


Today, slums have come to include the vast informal settlements that are quickly becoming the most visible manifestation of urban poverty in developing world cities. Such settlements are known by many different names and are characterized by a variety of tenure arrangements. In all cases, however, the buildings found there vary from the simplest shack to permanent and sometimes surprisingly well-maintained structures, but what most slums share in common is a lack of clean water, electricity, sanitation and other basic services.

Slums can be divided into two broad types: “slums of hope” and “slums of despair”. The first are settlements on an upward trend, largely made up of newer, usually self-built structures, and those are in or have recently been through a process of development, consolidation and improvement. The second group comprise “declining” neighbourhoods in which environmental conditions and services are in a process of seemingly inevitable decay. Unfortunately, the history of slums in Europe, North America and Australia has demonstrated that, without appropriate interventions, slums of hope can all too easily yield to despair, a self-reinforcing condition that can continue for a very long time.


According to UN Expert Group slum is an area that combines to various extents the following characteristics:

  • Inadequate access to safe water;
  • Inadequate access to sanitation and other infrastructure;
  • Poor structural quality of housing;
  • Overcrowding; and
  • Insecure residential status.

These characteristics are being proposed because they are largely quantifiable and can be used to measure progress toward the Millennium Development Goal to significantly improve the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.

Why do slums exist?

However slums are defined, the question remains “why do they exist?” Slums come about because of, and are perpetuated by, a number of forces. Among these are

  • Rapid rural-to-urban migration
  • Increasing urban poverty
  • Inequality
  • Insecure tenure
  • Globalisation
  • Failed policies
  • Bad governance
  • Corruption
  • Inappropriate regulations
  • Dysfunctional land markets
  • Unresponsive financial systems
  • Fundamental lack of political will


Source: UNHABITAT Report and other sources


Learning from Shack Dwellers International model: Slum-dweller power

Rio de Janeiro – Seven years after the Zimbabwean government tried to wipe out informal urban settlements in a campaign known as Operation Murambatsvina (“getting rid of the filth”), the scales have tipped in favour of the homeless, who are helping the capital city, Harare, develop a protocol to upgrade their living spaces.

“The government is broke, so they have no choice but to listen to us,” said Patience Mudimu, of the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation.

More than luck has changed the fortunes of the slum dwellers not only in Zimbabwe but also in many other developing countries, where informal settlements do not often feature in the government’s growth plans.

The Federation and other members of Shack Dwellers International, a network of urban poor associations in 33 countries, have come up with a winning formula of using micro-finance or savings schemes to develop their own plans to upgrade or purchase land for housing projects, which they then present to their local authorities.

“The first issue is to secure community-led land tenure,” Mudimu said. The Zimbabwean federation comprises 635 saving schemes.

Their rationale is simple. Informal settlements are seen as a development nightmare and an eyesore. “The instant response of any local authority is to find ways to bulldoze them,” said Ruby Papeleras of the Homeless People’s Federation of the Philippines, a network of 161 urban poor associations. “So when we come in with alternatives and money to develop us, then they are willing to listen to us.”

But getting there has been neither quick nor easy. In the Philippines it took 10 years of constant engagement and rising to a position of some influence to get the local authorities to listen to them. “Many of us tried the rights-based approach – protests for our right to housing – but it did not get us anywhere,” said Sonia Cadornigara of the Federation in the Philippines.

The proactive or participatory approach, as it is known in development circles, has helped place the Federation on local housing boards and in government structures. “We are now in a position that we know a lot more about government’s housing policy than often the officials themselves, and are called in to advise them,” said Cadornigara.

“The world is undergoing the largest wave of urban growth in history,” according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). It expects the number of people living in urban areas to swell to almost 5 billion by 2030, with urban growth concentrated in Africa and Asia.

UN Habitat estimates that one in every six human beings is a slum dweller, and by 2030 the number could grow to two billion. The growth of slums has been prompted by rural-to-urban migration, a rapid increase in urban poverty, and the lack of access to affordable housing and secure land tenure.

Focus on future

Questions have been raised about these projections, and UNFPA does go on to say that “most of the new growth will occur in smaller towns and cities, which have fewer resources to respond to the magnitude of the change.”

Evidence of this is emerging in countries affected by frequent droughts, for instance, in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel. Diana Mitlin, a UK government economist and acting head of the human settlements group at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), agrees that smaller urban centres are expanding.

Participatory approaches, where people assume a self-help and developmental role, designing their own projects and negotiating the support they require directly from the state and donors, become all the more relevant, Mitlin noted.

“These [new] institutions have also attracted interest for their role as political agents that can also help make the state more accountable, especially when groups of these institutions form coalitions or federations, as in the National Federation of Slum Dwellers in India, or the South African Homeless People’s Federation,” she wrote in a paper co-authored with John Thompson, who is also at the IIED. 

Thinking climate change

Mitlin said the IIED has been working with the associations of slum dwellers in developing countries to help them realize their potential to negotiate. The researchers have also uncovered the ability of the groups to think strategically, taking into account disaster risk reduction and other long-term necessities.

In July 2000 a trash-slide at a dump-site in Payatas, a local government ward in Manila, killed more than 200 people. Volunteers from a savings-based community paramedics programme were one of the first groups to respond to the crisis, Mitlin pointed out in a paper she co-authored.

Money from the scheme was used to provide for the people who had been affected. “It was feared that the tragedy would have a negative impact on the savings programme but instead, savings rose to record levels,” she said. “This showed the Federation leaders that they had something of value to offer. Since 2006 the Federation has expanded its capacity to organize and mobilize disaster-affected communities to post-disaster reconstruction of temporary and permanent housing and relocation.”

The Federation was forced to shift its focus from short-term relief to long-term projects such as relocation to safer areas, which was in line with their work on achieving community-led secure tenure.

With erratic weather and the often related pressure on water and other resources, Mitlin said the Shack Dwellers International model is an example of how an empowered process could help ensure “pro-poor outcomes to climate change adaptation, integrating protection from adverse climate change with other community development needs.”

India, Botswana to collaborate on slum redevelopment

The Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Botswana, Mokgwetsi Masisi (extreme left) calls on the Union Minister for Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, Kumari Selja (extreme right)

 India and Botswana have agreed to actively team up and share experiences in the area of human settlements, including slum development. The decision was taken at a meeting between Botswana’s Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Mokgwetsi Masisi and Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation Minister Kumari Selja. During the half-hour meeting, the ministers talked about common areas of interest, such as slum improvement, reasonable housing, skill development and monitoring of training programmes for the beneficiaries through biometrics tracking system and community involvement in government programmes.

Source: Urban News Digest (UND), June 2012

State, markets and civil society have failed migrant workers

India’s growth story rides on the distress migration of the poor and yet this large and growing segment of our population is completely overlooked, says Rajiv Khandelwal, founder of Aajeevika Bureau. In this interview Khandelwal suggests a possible course of civil society action and state policy for migrant workers
aajeevika bureau
Rajiv Khandelwal is the founder and director of Aajeevika Bureau, a specialised public initiative based in Udaipur that provides services to thousands of migrant workers from impoverished rural areas who enter urban labour markets for seasonal employment. Aajeevika Bureau is an attempt to address the problems associated with exhaustion of rural resources and the inevitability of migration among rural youth. 

Khandelwal’s team at the Bureau has designed a number of innovative solutions for migrants, including registration and photo ID services, vocational training, employment counselling, legal aid, financial services, and destination support. The Bureau also actively seeks to influence policy around rural migration and has presented strong alternatives to the government, donors and research agencies. 

Aajeevika Bureau’s work has been picked up by a number of organisations in high-migration states like Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Bihar and Maharashtra.

In this interview with Infochange, Khandelwal explains what India’s growth story means for internal migrants who have both fuelled and fed off the country’s development. He suggests a possible course of civil society action and state policy for this large, growing, yet overlooked segment of our population.

Some highlights of the interview are: 

How have the state, markets and civil society shaped the discourse on internal migration?

I would say that migrant workers are neglected by all three major columns of society.

The state has largely ignored migrant workers, mainly because it perceives internal migration, or the relentless shift of people from villages to cities, as a problem. In fact, a lot of the state’s programmes are driven by the agenda to keep people in villages. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, for example, is built around the need to help people find local employment. Little is said about the fact that the NREGS does not fully answer people’s need to migrate.

NGOs have divided their work into rural, urban, farmers, artisans, women, children, and so on. Very few NGOs actually define migrant workers as a segment requiring attention. NGOs’ work with unorganised sector workers in the labour market is actually very limited. Even NGOs based in urban areas that receive large waves of migrant workers barely recognise these groups as candidates for support — they are seen as mobile or unavailable. Large trade unions too have left out unorganised sector workers because they are difficult to bring together and mobilise and do not represent significant political gains for them.

Large corporations and the urban industrial economy, I think, are enjoying the benefits of this neglect of migrant workers. In the scenario of deregulation and lax labour laws, they reap the dubious and short-term benefits of a casual and informal workforce.

On whom does the onus lie to ensure that internal migrant workers are not excluded from policy responses and protective measures?

I think the onus has to mainly lie with the state. There is a strong argument, and I agree with it, that in the case of workers in the informal economy, where the relationship between employer and worker is not very clearly established, the state should be seen as the principal employer. It is the state’s responsibility that workers in the informal economy are protected and given services and social security benefits.

With increasing numbers of migrant workers, I also see a significant role for trade unions and NGOs. Large numbers of rural people now live in cities, even if seasonally. India will be poor in its cities, not just in its rural areas anymore. The focus of civil society attention has to start shifting similarly. They have to start seeing migrants as major candidates for services, support and advocacy.

Read the entire article at

Cluster development: more necessary after FSI land grants to private hotels


In today’s Hindustan Times, Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan announced that the government is looking into cluster development as a way to rehabilitate Mumbai slum-dwellers.  In the article Chavan expressed his fears at being able to accommodate all 14.5 lakh hutments of slumdwellers in the cluster plans, even if they manage to build housing projects as dense as 500 homes for square kilometer.  At the same time, though, Chavan spoke openly about FSI land that has recently been granted to five star hotels in the coastal regulatory zone.  Despite this practice being legal, it makes the housing crisis even more severe for Mumbai’s urban poor.

Chavan’s defense of the FSI hotel land transfer demonstrates that allotting land to the urban poor is not a current government priority.  Chavan himself says that “the only way out, as I see it, can be cluster development,” but 500 homes for square kilometer is an ambitious goal for even the most densely populated clusters.  Furthermore, while cluster development will provide shelter to those who need it this development strategy does not address the consumer needs of the urban poor; the poor need to buy food and water and also work for themselves in order to survive, but cluster development will geographically separate these people from business and market areas and make day-to-day shopping and bread-winning more difficult for them. 

Clusters can be effective community layouts, but they need to be integrated with commercial areas so that families can take care of their other basic needs like food, water, and an income.  The less land that the government gives to commercial developers for hotels and other elite attractions, the more land will be available to service the basic needs of the urban poor even as they live in a cluster arrangement.  The government needs to look beyond what they are legally able to do in giving away land to private developers and think more critically about what is the best use of the land for the greatest number of people.  If they take collective good and the urban poor into account in their decision-making process, they will find that the available land can and will stretch to accommodate the urban poor who need living space.

Mapping Toilets in a Mumbai Slum Yields Unexpected Results!!!-Advocacy Tool


Dozen students from the Harvard School of Public Health  traveled to Mumbai in January to research life in the city’s slums. The mishmash of variables in high density city life make urban public health one of the most pressing and yet least understood aspects of global health. This is especially true in Mumbai, with over half the city’s population of more than 12 million living in slums. The site was Cheetah Camp- a planned slum in Mumbai.

Cheeta Camp is an Indian oddity — a planned slum. It was formed in northeastern Mumbai when an impoverished community was moved to make way for a government atomic research station. The displaced residents were given plots of land on which to settle, but no provision was made for basic infrastructure like sewers.

The residents of Cheetah Camp help up their  toilet facility membership card and stated the tale of the perpetually about-to-open toilet. Apparently, for the last 15 years or so, the toilet had been built, demolished and rebuilt three times.Each time, local politicians claimed that the lavatory facility would open “after the elections,” but that never happened. Instead, the residents told  the government workers would just tear it down and start to build a new one next time the elections rolled around.

The students thereafter decided to create a map of Cheeta Camp’s toilets (the interactive map can be found here). That meant two weeks tromping around the slum, figuring out where the toilets were located, who had put them up, how they functioned, and if they were even operational.

The students saw toilets as a way to delve into the inner workings of the community, to see what worked and what did not.

See the interactive map at

So toilets were built ad hoc. The first thing the students found was that nobody really knew how many toilets were in the camp: the local authorities said one thing, local nongovernmental organizations another. So the students counted and mapped. They found 46 toilet facilities, containing 701 toilets, to serve Cheetah Camp’s 117,000-person population. Of these 46 facilities, 38 were functional. That means roughly one toilet per 170 people.

While a recent movement has sprung up over getting the government to provide more free public toilets, in Cheeta Camp, the Harvard students found that most people preferred the pay toilets. Unlike the free public toilets, the pay ones, which were generally provided by a nongovernmental organization, had water, electric light and were kept cleaner than government-run facilities — well worth their 1 or 2 rupee (2 or 3 U.S. cents) cost.

The fact that poor people are willing to pay for cleaner, safer toilets belies the typical portrait of the poor as helpless victims. The clean pay toilets seem to have made a difference: “Now we don’t have to spend so much on doctors. Previously we had to struggle a lot, but now are happier,” said Kanis Sayyed Hashim, a 45-year-old mother who has lived in the slum for 26 years and said her children get sick less now that they use the pay toilets.

By mapping the locations and functionality of the toilets, the students were echoing a process that had been used by slum dwellers organizations in India to force government to act. The act of naming streets, counting citizens and mapping facilities turns information into an advocacy tool.

By mapping the locations and functionality of the toilets, the students were echoing a process that had been used by slum dwellers organizations in India to force government to act. The act of naming streets, counting citizens and mapping facilities turns information into an advocacy tool.

12,000 homes for poor in Jaipur

Jaipur: One more housing scheme is all set to make the homes for poor in the city.

After getting nod from a Supreme Court committee government has decided to launch the housing scheme for residents in Sanjay Nagar Bhatta Basti.

The project worth Rs 425 crore will have 12,000 houses. A survey work was conducted for this scheme on Sunday and officials of the UDH department along with principal secretary of the department GS Sandhu discussed on the designs of the houses.

It was informed after the meeting that the project will be completed in 4 phases in 100 hectare making 12,000 houses.

Initially, in the first phase 2,500 houses will be constructed and later on more houses will be constructed in other phases. An investment of Rs 100 crore will be made in this first phase. This housing scheme has been launched under Jawaharlal Nehru National Rural Urban Renewal Mission (JNNRUM) and Central government will contribute 50% of the amount of this housing scheme