Giving voices to slum dwellers – a step towards reducing inequality


October 17th, 2014

The rapid urbanisation over the past decade does not go unnoticed in a developing country like Nepal.  As a result of fact, it not only brings economic instability but also a reasonable rise in slums and squatter settlements which needs a proper attention.  By 2030, about 3 billion people will need proper housing and access to water and sanitation systems, states UN-Habitat.  According to a study conducted in 2008 by the United Nations, 47 settlements were identified on the banks of different rivers in the Kathmandu Valley with a precarious living condition which were prone to landslides and flood.  The majority of people living in slums are mostly affected by a decade long conflict which forced them to flee their homes and enter the city hoping for a better job opportunity. While rest of Kathmanduites live in concrete houses, the slum dwellers have to spend their entire lives in shanties along the ever-bad-smelling river sides. And they have nowhere to go, to put forth their voices. They have no access to the facilities provided by the municipality like drinking water connection. That’s a case of sheer inequality.

iud2On the occasion of World Habitat Day, a one day national workshop on “Voices from slums” was organised jointly by Ministry of Urban Development, UN-Habitat and Lumanti in Jawalakhel on 10 October 2014.  Representatives from different slum/ squatter areas, municipalities and government offices participated in the workshop. The objective of the workshop was to give a platform for the slum dwellers to voice their experiences, knowledge and ideas on improving their living conditions.  “In Nepal, the voices of slums are often unheard by the municipalities and the government officials, hence the workshop aims to serve as a bridge between slum dwellers and the concerned parties,” said Mr. Padma Sundar Joshi, Habitat Program Manager- UN Habitat.

In addition, Practical Action is also actively involved in promoting systems of decentralised urban governance in Butwal and Bharatpur municipalities through “Delivering Decentralisation- Slum Dwellers’ Access to Decision-making for Pro-poor Infrastructure Services”.  The project aims to empower slum dwellers so that they are engaged effectively in decision-making and delivering improved urban services.  The cases of Butwal and Bharatpur municipalities are also not different from that of Kathmandu slum dwellers.  The slum/ squatter areas are on the river banks and on the foot of a hill which can be easily struck by natural disasters, such as landslides and floods.

“Slum dwellers who are from marginalised community cannot afford to buy land and also the ones who are living in squatters have not received any legal land certificates,” claimed Ms. Durga Shakya, a representative for Butwal slum dwellers.  Ms. Shakya urged the government to take an immediate action on the issue.  Likewise, Mr. Binod G.C, a representative for Bharatpur slum dwellers shared, “In 2011, the government distributed a temporary land certificate to some of us and more than 50 percent are yet to receive the certificates.  On top of that, with the temporary land certificates, we are unable to apply for loans and credits from banks.”  Mr. G.C voiced his frustration and sought justice from the government.

In spite of the burgeoning urbanisation, ensuring a proper living condition, water and sanitation is one’s rights.  Therefore, if we are to achieve the Millennium Development Goal, it is “Our” responsibility too.  I pledge we all join hands together and listen to their voices.  I hope the voices of slums will be heard and justice be served.  It will be a major step towards reducing the inequality faced by them. Hallelujah!

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