At the World Urban Forum, participants are being asked to go online for one minute and talk about what needs to happen to create the urban future we want, and to commit themselves as ‘City Changers’.
Practical Action has committed itself. In the next five years we’re aiming to double the proportion of our work that is in urban areas, and we’ve identified our work on urban services (water, sanitation, hygiene, waste management) as the main focus for that work.
And the needs remain enormous. Well over half the world’s population now live in urban areas, and slums are growing every day. The lack of water, sanitation and waste management deny these populations a decent, healthy and productive life.
But it isn’t us that need to be City Changer. What we must do is help to harness the energy and efforts of the urban poor themselves. As I was reminded this afternoon by the wonderfully inspiring Thai woman Somsook Boonyabancha, it is their energy and dynamism that will force the pace of urban planners, policy makers and NGOs. We need to be there to support them, by bringing them together, introducing them to technical options for water and sanitation, allowing them to make their own choices, and making sure local governments are listening to them and allocating the money which is already allocated to their needs.
It is poor communities who can be empowered to change their cities, benefitting not only their own areas, but the city as a whole.
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If you’ve heard of a ‘slum’ chances are it’s Kibera.
‘Home’ to anywhere between 750,000 – 1 million people, Kibera is the largest informal settlement in East Africa (and yet it covers less than 2 miles).
The Kenyan authorities refuse to recognise Kibera and the people who live there, even though it’s one of the first things the decision-makers see in the morning from their grand houses on the hill over-looking the expanse of tin roofs. To acknowledge Kibera would mean that they have a responsibility to provide basic services; water, sanitation, education and electricity – which they won’t commit to.
And so the people exist without them. I use ‘exist’ purposefully. Kibera is, without question, the most miserable and maddening place I have ever visited.
I’m writing this blog late at night as I can’t sleep. Can’t quite process what I have seen. Can’t quite understand how and why families are forced to try and survive in such circumstances.
How is it possible that on this planet of ours, such poverty can exist alongside such plenty?
All that you have heard about Kibera is true … and ten-fold. Free-flowing faeces, huge mounds of waste, homes made from cardboard. No space, no privacy, no dignity. And, amongst all of this, hundreds and hundreds of children and hundreds and hundreds of ‘howareyou’s – an image I just can’t seem to shake.
And yet, there is also an underlying dynamism, energy and entrepreneurial spirit. It’s not life as we know it (and not, in my opinion, life as anyone should know it), but here businesses are established, families grow and people will fight to improve their lives.
But that’s despite, not because of, their circumstances.
I’m humbled, enraged and overwhelmed by Kibera, but the one thing I’m clear on is the need for solutions, however small.
… and thanks to Practical Action and other NGOs there are some. I’ll share them in my next blog (once I’ve had some sleep).
Helen2 Comments » | Add your comment
Today is International Women’s Day, and more specifically – the 100th International Women’s Day. Having attended an all-girls high school where several inspirational teachers instilled into us the belief that the only barriers facing us were the limits of our own imaginations, I have long believed in the importance of a movement which pushes the agenda for women – for as musician Annie Lennox laments “from India to Illinois women face violence just for being female.”
Yet it is only since working for Practical Action that I have come to realise how vital it is to fight for the rights of women across the world. All too often poverty has a female face – women are far more likely than men to be poor because of the discrimination they face in education, health care and employment. This poverty is not just a shortage of money with which to buy things. It is “the lack of sufficient resources with which to keep body and soul together” – i.e. not only material poverty but poverty of wellbeing.
Practical Action works closely with some of the world’s poorest people helping them to use simple technology to fight poverty and transform their lives for the better. We don’t start with technology, but with people. The tools may be simple or sophisticated but in order to provide long-term, appropriate and practical answers we know that must be firmly in the hands of local people – both women and men. So whether we’re working to establish Women’s Development Associations, strengthening the voices of poor urban women, or improving workplace conditions for women in the Zimbabwean construction industry, we are constantly striving to promote gender equality and empower women. We have done this for the past 45 years and we shall continue to do so – until the world is a place where women are protected from violence, where girls can grow up safe, healthy and educated, where women’s voices are listened to, valued and respected.
 Definition of ‘absolute poverty’ by The House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee 1 Comment » | Add your comment
Torrential rain in Brazil recently led to the country’s worst ever recorded natural disaster with at least 750 people killed by the resulting floods and landslides. This national calamity hit the international news headlines at the same time that Sri Lanka was reeling from the impact of widespread flooding.
Poverty, vulnerability and disasters are linked – it is most often the poorest that are worst affected and suffer most. This was clearly visible in the Brazil landslides where it was the low income settlements built on marginal lands – in particular the steep upper slopes of hills surrounding some urban centres – that suffered most from the landslides triggered by the rain. It is their poverty that makes them more vulnerable in the first place (in this case the only place they have to build their homes is on land that is fundamentally unstable). And their capacity to cope with disasters and recover from the effects are constrained by their lack of resources – there is no insurance company to turn to for most of those effected by the recent events in Sri Lanka and Brazil; no savings put aside for that ‘rainy day’.
Disasters rob the poor of their meagre possessions, their homes and livestock and most importantly, their livelihoods. But it doesn’t have to be so. There are plenty of examples of droughts, floods and even earthquakes that have impacted on people’s lives and livelihoods without being deemed a disaster, when those people were sufficiently prepared and had the capacity to cope and recover quickly.
The Brazilian government is reported to be considering investing in a high tech radar system for detecting approaching storms in the future and allowing for early warnings to be given to those who are vulnerable. Certainly early warning systems can make a huge difference in reducing vulnerability, as the experience of Bangladesh’s system of cyclone early warning system, combined with a network of robust cyclone shelters that people can go to when the warning sounds, has shown. The technology behind early warning systems doesn’t always have to be that sophisticated either.
Practical Action has worked with local communities in the southern Terai area of Nepal, which is susceptible to flash flooding from rivers coming out of the Himalayas in the monsoon. Using mobile phones to link people a few miles up in the hills to those down on the Terai plains is often sufficient to allow a warning to be passed on in time for people downstream to be alerted to rising waters heading their way. Combined with pre-rehearsed emergency procedures this sort of approach can save not just lives but also give people time to move their most precious possessions to high ground and safety. That means, when the flood passes, they still have the sewing machine, rickshaw, agricultural tools or animals so vital to ensuring they can continue to maintain their livelihoods and recover.
Early warning, whilst important, is not sufficient to eliminate needless deaths and losses from natural disasters. In some cases, such as earthquakes, providing an early warning is often very difficult. And, in the case of the Brazil floods, even though having early warning would have reduced the death toll, it would not have reduced the loss to property and infrastructure caused by the landslides. This is where standards play such an important role. Urban planning processes tend to ignore the needs of the poor. Indeed ‘informal’ urban settlements in many countries are often deemed not to ‘officially’ exist, despite the fact that they may house the majority of a city’s population and be the source of its factory workers, cab drivers, market traders and junior civil servants. Not officially existing, leads to not being included in municipal plans and not being provided with safe and regulated building space. As a result, the urban poor are squeezed into settlement in land that is marginal and unsafe, like the steep Brazilian hillsides that suffered so badly two weeks ago. However politically difficult it may appear, planning processes and standards need to accommodate the needs of the poor if these sort of disasters are to be avoided in the future, allowing them to be incorporated safely in urban development rather than exiled to the margins. And what about those unpredictable disasters such as earthquakes? Well, with a little bit of careful design, as Practical Action has shown time and again in Peru, it is possible to provide affordable housing that is resistant to earthquakes. But again, those design approaches need to be enforced in building standards if the benefit they offer is to be widely available.
We will never be able to avoid natural disasters. But there is plenty of evidence to suggest that, with some planning and forethought, their impact on everyone, the poor included, does not itself have to be devastating.No Comments » | Add your comment
10th March, 2010, WEDC, Loughborough University
They are all dressed-up. Some will be acting as the city mayor, some as slum dwellers and some as international investors. We are facilitating a role-play, based on some realities in the context of services and infrastructure for low income countries. This is a three-act play, arranged as three meetings between different actors in development. Slum dwellers are concerned about the poor environmental situation in their areas, municipal officers will be listening to the problems, the mayor is listening to all the parties, consultants and investors are bringing out options. All the young professionals have been preparing their dialogues, which needs to be in-depth, but also funny and lively. Role-playing is great fun but also a very effective way of learning. They did it very well and I remember a lot of sentences from the role-play. But my favourite one was “â€¦ could I see you after the meetingâ€¦”, a government officer asked a waste collection contractor.
Practical Action support debate and discussions among young professionals and in one of our international objectives we are addressing good governance in the context of infrastructure services. Poor governance, corruption and lack of collective decision-making in the choices of technologies and systems is a major cause of poverty, and infrastructure and services financing and related contracts are one of the most common contexts in which corruption takes place. We are working with a number of other NGOs in a BOND group on Governance to advocate and influence policies and practices.
Internationally-known courses at WEDC not only educate and train young professionals but also promote good professional values, leadership and passion. Young professionals on the course picked up very well many real difficulties of development, including corruption – hence this ‘special meeting’ after the official meeting was highlighted in their role play dialogues.
Practical Action, UK
In Nairobi, today we have finished a two-day learning and sharing workshop on a project concerned with providing water and sanitation to urban poor, which was implemented in a slum area called Mukuru.
This slum represents one of the poorest urban slums in Africa, with very little access to services. This project will benefit 75,000 slum dwellers through better quality water and improved sanitation.
There is a strong recognition among water utilities in Nairobi that urban low-income people are an important and large group to provide with services. Urban poor have many abilities to organize themselves, provide labour and negotiate well with the external actors. They are willing to pay for the use of toilet facilities – Ksh 3 per visit and it is free for children. There is also constant attention on hygiene, especially washing hands after using the toilets. Now, the future challenge is to improve the local environment, with better drainage of wastewater and collection of solid waste.No Comments » | Add your comment
Last night I saw on Channel 4, Slumdog Secret Millionaire with my 11-year-old son. Earlier, Channel 4 also showed similar programmes, such as slumming and there was also one on the waste work in slum areas.
While the programme is very well made and brings out some good details, I am not very convinced that it highlights the main causes of such situation in slum areas.
The fact, that millions of people are living in slums in Asia and their number is increasing, is to do mainly with the failure of national and international policies concerned with urban poverty. The main causes may also be to do with the corruption in some countries, poor representation, lack of welfare systems and unequal distribution of powers.
While it is important that Channel 4 viewers are aware of the situation on the ground and motivated to do something directly – such as donate to charity or work for them – it is also important that they understand the links between international development policies, trade policies and the delivery of development programmes. I was expecting that the programme would keep at least five minutes to touch on the larger issues, which may be the causes we need to address in the longer term.
Urban Projects Manager, Practical Action
Well not quite home yet – but back in Dhaka. It’s funny how a city which last week felt so strange, poverty stricken and otherworldly, now feels quite familiar and prosperous.
Of course all these things are relative, but somehow it feels like the people I have met in recent days in rural areas, with no secure income or home are so much more isolated than people in cities. Of course there is great poverty in Dhaka, I haven’t been to the slums on this visit, but I know they are still there. But somehow there is a sense that you are at least connected with the outside world, and so there might be opportunities and communities to protect you.
Maybe its the ever present billboards (promising among other things 100% freedom from dandruff) which contrast with all the handpainted sign boards in the rural areas. Maybe it’s the mobile phones that are everywhere. Or maybe it’s the increased number of motorised vehicles. People are dressed differently – and it might be my imagination, but it feels like a happier place.
But then you could argue that poverty is worse in cities, because poor people tend to me more exposed to those with money than they do in the rural areas. People in Rangpur could go for weeks without coming into contact with people outside their own community, but in Dhaka you have to go through rich areas to get to poor areas and vice versa.
So which is worse? I don’t know and development academics will argue about it for an eternity. To the people at the sharp end it doesn’t matter anyway. The important thing is that we do everything we can to tackle the problem wherever we find it …1 Comment » | Add your comment
5th October is the World Habitat Day and for the first time in history more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. Most of this growth is in developing countries, with an estimated 1 billion people are living in slum areas, without access to basic services such as water, sanitation, waste collection and drainage. Most of them have no legal rights to land and access to decent health and education services. While the UN organisations estimate an investment cost of US $670 per person to overcome this situation, governments in developing countries and slum dwellers see no way out to this appalling situation. We believe that to overcome this deadlock, new thinking and fresh approaches are needed.
In the next 12 weeks, Practical Action is engaging in some key debates on urban development with more than 1,000 practitioners and policy makers. The issues under discussion, include participation, good governance, corruption, standards and technologies. Practical Action likes to influence the discussion, based on its experience of working in slum areas of Bangladesh, Nepal, Kenya and Zimbabwe, where we learnt that any development based on the capabilities and hard work of poor people makes a sustained impact.
This debate will then provide basis of global thinking and agreements in the forthcoming World Urban Forum in March, 2010. For details see forum.unhabitat.org1 Comment » | Add your comment