Technologies can help solve the problems people face in poor urban communities. These include cheaper building materials such as stabilised soil blocks and micro-concrete roofing tiles for building secure homes.In Kassala, Sudan, flood-resistant, affordable designs have been successful. To address the sanitation crisis in many countries, Practical Action has promoted a wide range of different types of toilets, some designed for individual households, and others for community use. Some produce clean, safe, compost, and others biogas for cooking or lighting. Practical Action has also developed carts for rubbish collection, machines to wash or process plastics, and appropriate techniques for composting. In all of these we have trained local people and others as technicians and managers to run and maintain the technologies.
Planning with people: from dreams to reality
Practical Action is aware that building latrines and training local artisans is one piece in the jigsaw puzzle. However, such practical answers will only be successful if they are developed and put into action with the communities themselves. Likewise, technology will only serve to be effective in the long term if local authorities recognise the needs and rights of slum dwellers and support the provision of services and infrastructure as well as granting land tenure within slum settlements. By taking time to work with communities Practical Action is helping people to understand and agree on their priorities; encouraging community members to come together with one voice and helping communities ensure their voice is heard and acted upon by local authorities.
Integrated solutions: bringing it all together
Many years of experience has shown Practical Action that there is no single answer to the problems associated with living in urban poverty. Some services can only be made available at a price as there are costs involved in construction and ongoing maintenance. But life in a slum is often associated with a severe lack of income. For the majority, what little money is available is needed to meet the most basic of needs, including feeding the family or purchasing water or fuel.
The informal economy in most towns and cities is extremely crowded and it can be difficult to find opportunities for income generation. Most business sectors with low barriers to entry are already saturated and casual work can be irregular and low paid. Potential exists however for work to be found within the settlements in which people live. With Practical Action focusing on the service delivery that is vitally lacking within the slums themselves, such as waste collection and recycling, selling water, or running community sanitation facilities, the problem can actually prove to be an income generating solution. In Nairobi, Kenya, Mathew is part of a growing group collecting plastics from his neighbourhood and selling them to the cooperative for further bulking and processing. He said “people didn’t want to associate with me but now they see our activities as noble, and we are making a reliable income from it”.
With no capital and little security, obtaining credit to support the development of a small business or the building of a permanent, safe home is not easy. Savings and credit schemes are also important, Practical Action is helping people invest in small businesses and borrow money towards land and housing.