A changing environment
A changing landscape
Sprawling slums are now so commonly associated with cities like Nairobi that they have become unremarkable. Similarly, footage on television of children playing in open sewers, or of women picking their way through huge rubbish dumps is no longer shocking. Instead, these images signify a phenomenon that is rapidly becoming one of developing countries’ most complex challenges – Urban Poverty. World population is increasing rapidly with three-quarters of the increase occurring in developing countries. Population growth within cities, and families moving from rural homes in search of a life offering opportunity and hope, means cities in the developing world are growing at over twice the rate of the global population. Unfortunately, development of infrastructure and basic services have not increased at the same rate and in countries where sanitation, roads, water, and other services were already underdeveloped, towns and cities are struggling to accommodate the unprecedented upsurge in urban populations. The result is hundreds of millions of people living in overcrowded, neglected urban slums that pose serious risks to their lives and well being.
• With weak ownership rights to the land, and little money or credit to invest, residents are vulnerable and cannot build safe, sturdy homes, so they become easy victims of weather conditions, fire and crime. • With no voice to change policy decisions or demand essential services, slum dwellers face an enormous challenge in such uncertain and unfair circumstances. • For people with no land, traditional coping mechanisms such as relying on extended family or small-holder farming often falter. The result is that people’s homes and neighbourhoods become both a cause and an effect of poverty a cycle that can be extremely difficult to break out of. Recognition of this growing problem culminated in 2000 when the world’s richest governments pledged through the Millennium Development Goals to improve the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.
Urban Poverty Facts
• Cities in the developing world will absorb 95% of the world’s expected population growth between 2000 and 2030*. • According to recent estimates there are now over 900 million people who can be classified as slum dwellers*. • Based on 2001 estimates, 43% of the urban population in the developing world live in slums. In the least developed countries, this percentage rises to more than 78%*. • If present trends continue, 1.5 billion people out of 3.3 billion urban residents will live in slums by the year 2020*.
Cause and effect
Slums symbolise urban poverty. For the families living in them, they create hazardous and unsafe conditions that compound the poverty which forced them to set up home there in the first place. • With lack of freely available safe clean water in the cities, families living in slums often have no choice but to buy it at high cost from vendors. • With inadequate sanitation, waste disposal or drainage facilities, open sewers are created. As a result of human defecation and rubbish disguarded alongside walkways between the densely packed shelters disease thrives and people, especially children become ill. • In these conditions being ill can have severe implications. It can mean loss of livelihood, leaving families struggling to buy food or water, let alone medicines.
Big problem, big solution
There is no easy solution to urban poverty. However, Practical Action’s experience in shelter and infrastructure development, commitment to working together with communities, and success in demonstrating to governments and authorities how their decisions impact on the lives of the poorest people, have combined to produce a programme of work that is generating results. Today, Practical Action is working with communities across Bangladesh, Kenya, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Zimbabwe helping families find solutions to the problems arising from the environment in which they live.
A practical solution
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 introduced 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.
Mother teaching her child in the doorway of her shack, Bangladesh.
Project in Action
Washing clothes outside ablution block, Kibera slum, Kenya.
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 when 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.
Members of Bashar Mia Slum improvement committee, Faridpur, Bangladesh.
Making voices heard
The problems that characterise urban poverty are all too apparent in Asian slums. Before Practical Action started interventions in the town of Faridpur, Bangladesh, we found an alarming lack of access to basic services. Many of the water points were contaminated with arsenic and iron and over half were unhygienic. Although 65% of people had a latrine (following a big government push on sanitation), most were simple pit latrines which fill up fast and risk polluting the groundwater. Over three-quarters of the houses are corrugated iron sheds that provides limited protection from rain, wind or floods, but many slum dwellers were constantly at risk of eviction, and suffered harassment from local ‘muscle-men’. People’s experiences of those in authority were not positive: “The Ward Commissioner never comes here”. “When we go there [to the Local Authority] they make commitments, but nothing ever happens”. Practical Action began working in eight of the town’s slums in January 2006. We helped to bring people together, select a representative committee, and identify priority issues and an action plan. Those plans are now becoming a reality. We have built simple filter systems to remove arsenic and iron from the water supply; introduced better types of latrines; and established waste collection, recycling and homecomposting systems. Some residents have been trained in income-generation skills. The Municipal Council was involved in all stages of the project, and is now allocating a budget for implementing parts of the plans. The same planning exercise will be done in the town’s other slums. The community commented that “We could express our views without fear of reprisals”, and “Although we are a mix of religions and families here, we came to agreement in the interests of the area”. Pride and respect have returned, evident in the spotlessly maintained toilets and water points, and healthy-looking food plants in home gardens.
Integrated solutions: bringing it all together
Long 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, the little money that is available is used to meet the most basic of needs, including feeding the family or purchasing water or fuel. The informal economy of poor people’s small businesses is extremely crowded, in most towns and cities 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, Matthew Luvindi is part of a growing group collecting plastics from his neighbourhood and selling them to the co-operative 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.
Project in Action
Practical Action’s achievements in reducing the poverty of urban communities over the past decade have not gone unnoticed. Our earlier work on shelter and building materials was recognised in the UN Habitat Scroll of Honour in 1992, and in 2000 UN-Habitat awarded us the Dubai Best Practice Award for our work in urban areas of Sudan. This led to our membership of the UN-Habitat Best Practice Committee. Since 2001 we have been active in networks of other UK-based non-governmental organisations and academics, lobbying the Department for International Development and sharing our experiences. Our work in this area continues to grow from initial projects in Kenya and Zimbabwe to now covering 6 of our 7 offices and reaching 42,000 people in the year 2007/8. It continues to be recognised internationally. For example in 2008 our team in Sri Lanka was among the 12 finalists of the World Habitat Award for their work on post-tsunami housing reconstruction.
House built to new design with money from credit scheme in Wau Nur, Sudan.
To help meet the growing needs of poor urban communities, Practical Action has set itself the goal of benefiting over 600,000 people in slums or settlements on the edge of towns and cities in ten countries between 2007 and 2012. Work will include helping people find ways to participate in decisions that affect their lives and recognising and developing income generation opportunities with them, in particular housing and service provision. This is likely to include understanding better the opportunities that waste collection and recycling offer for slum dwellers, exploring small-scale water delivery and other small business ideas. Of course, practical solutions will always play a part in addressing poverty. From latrines and systems for emptying them to housing designs and low-cost materials for building them, Practical Action will continue to develop innovative and appropriate practical answers to the immediate and long-term needs of families living in urban poverty. To help this work have more impact we will continue to influence national and local policies, and engage with large infrastructure projects and donors to ensure the poorest members of urban society benefit from the development of cities and towns across the developing world.
An estimated 5.4 million internally displaced people live in Sudan, more than in any other country in the world, and 86% of Sudan’s urban population lives in slums. Displaced as a result of drought and the long-running civil war, whole communities of displaced people are living in unplanned settlements in Kassala, eastern Sudan. Initially, there were no organisations bringing the communities together, and the people did not possess the skills or knowledge to prosper in an urban environment. Even after 20 years, the town authorities continued to ignore them, assuming that one day they would return ‘home’. One of the biggest problems was improving people’s housing. Most people live in mud huts (round or rectangular) with thatched roofs. The houses do not offer good protection from the elements for people or their possessions. Every few years, when a flood sweeps down from the Eritrean highlands, many houses are destroyed. However, incomes are low, and no credit is available, so people have been unable to invest in any improvements. As part of Practical Action’s work in Kassala we have helped establish the Sawa Sawa ‘self-help group for housing’. We have developed cheaper building designs and materials which use less wood and are more resistant to flood damage, and we have trained builders in their construction. Through Sawa Sawa, residents are now able to borrow money and make use of these skills and designs, either for a new house or smaller amounts for simple home improvements. People have also received training to boost their incomes from small enterprises, helping them repay the loans. All of this is changing the landscape of the settlements, bringing pride and hope, and helping the residents be not only legally but socially accepted as full citizens of the town. One resident said “My neighbours did not believe this was possible, but now they would like to move into a house like mine.” In 2007, the project won recognition in the form of a World Bank award for local innovation and potential to be replicated.
If you would like to know more about Urban Poverty, or Practical Action’s work in general, please contact: Supporter Services Unit, Practical Action Ltd, The Schumacher Centre for Technology and Development, Bourton on Dunsmore, Rugby, Warwickshire CV23 9QZ T +44 (0) 1926 634400 F +44 (0) 1926 634401 E firstname.lastname@example.org W www.practicalaction.org
Practical Action Ltd | Registered Charity No. 247257 I Company Registration No 871954 I Patron HRH The Prince of Wales, KG, KT, GCB. Whilst stories in this leaflet are true, names and photos have been changed to protect the identity of individuals. *Sources reported in the Millennium Project (2004) ‘Interim Report of the Task force 8 on Improving the lives of slum dwellers’ UNDP. Photography: Karen Robinson, Lucy Stevens, Yasir Yousif, Mansoor Ali, Justine Williams Printed on 100% recycled paper