Improving Living Conditions in Slums

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SEATTLE — According to UN-Habitat, a slum is a household that lacks a durable structure, access to water and sanitation, sufficient space, and secure tenure — that is, the established right of individuals to their home. And as of 2014, hundreds of millions of people live in slums from East and South Asia to sub-Saharan Africa.

A new ODI report, entitled “What works in improving the living conditions of slum dwellers,” examines these sobering facts and presents four programs that have been successful in delivering slums from squalid conditions.

Rio’s Favela Bairro Program

During the 1990s, Rio housed more than a million people in 500 favelas. This was a slum network that needed vast improvement in its infrastructure, social services, community organization, and land titling.

In 1994, Rio set up Favela Bairro to “integrate” favelas, coordinating efforts to improve many sectors at once. The program consisted of three phases. The first, from the year 1994 to 2000, upgraded 52 favelas, improving the water infrastructure. The second, between 2000 and 2007, upgraded 52 more, adding support for child development, adult education, and social services. There was an increase in school attendance and day-care attendance. Finally, the third phase, now being enacted, focuses on safety improvements.

A collaboration between the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and national and municipal governments, Favela Bairro covered about 75 percent of the slums in Rio. In the 1990s, this amounted to about 500 favelas, accounting for 137,000 families: a success that readily involved the community. In fact, in one settlement, a change in leadership allowed for the expulsion of drug traffickers.

Medellin’s PRIMED

Medellin is the second largest city in Colombia. In the 1980s, it was known infamously as the “murder capital of the world.” Drug cartels and guerrilla activity terrorized the area, displacing many rural populations. Having nowhere else to go, these migrants built poor houses in the slums on unregulated land prone to mudslides.

In 1993, the Integrated Programme for Improvement of Slum Settlements, or PRIMED, sought to fix the dangers and the conditions faced by this large community. This collaboration between the Colombian, Medellin and German governments had four goals in mind: improve the environment, secure land tenure, develop the community and resettle families.

Two phases ensued. The first aimed to turn what the government deemed “level 2” settlements into “level 1” settlements, those homes that were determined to have the best conditions in the city. This accounted for 51,000 people. The second phase targeted the poorest people, those living in “level 3” settlements. More than 60,000 people were accounted for in this phase, or about 24 percent of the slum population.

A survey was done in 1999 to evaluate the impact of the program. Ninety-six percent of the slum population indicated a vast improvement in their quality of life. Sixty six percent were satisfied with the improvements of their home. Ninety one percent saw improvements in the infrastructure and roads connecting them to the city. And 84 percent now regularly participated in the community.

The greatest result of this program was that it served as a catalyst for others, spurring on the Proyectus Urbanos Integrales project, which built cable cars and a network of elevators in the city. Moreover, all of Colombia and even parts of Latin America started to enact similar projects. For the city’s efforts, in 2012 the Wall Street Journal named Medellin its “Innovative City of the Year.”

Thailand’s Baan Mankong

In the 1980s, Thailand benefited from an economic boon. But as the urban population grew, there was no longer affordable housing for low-income residents. Soon, slums developed, most notably Bangkok’s Metro Region, 55 percent of which are made up by slum settlements.

Baan Mankong means “secure housing” in Thai, and that is precisely what the program hopes to deliver. Launched in 2003, the program focused on getting the community to participate in planning, implementing and funding housing and infrastructure improvements, so that low-income residents could benefit from better housing and greater ownership of the process.

In the end, 930 Baan Mankong projects were implemented in 320 cities and districts across 42 provinces. The percentage of households that were made of cement, brick, or wood shot up from 66.2 in 2000 to 84.3 in 2010.

Mumbai’s Toilets

In low-income areas of the city, where populations are dense and toilets hard to find, life could be difficult for residents. The Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC), the National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF), and Mahila Milan (Women Together) put their heads together to find a solution.

Because many of the slums are located on land that technically belongs to the government, sanitation investments had been paltry. Surveys indicated that there was one toilet seat for every 1,488 people based on the toilets funded for by the municipality. Only 20 percent actually worked. What’s worse is that it was hard for women and children to use the facilities.

Meanwhile, international agencies thought a solution would be individual toilets, but these proved to be too expensive and large for the small alleyways of the city.

The alliance decided, then, to construct community-managed toilet blocks so that maintenance and ownership would belong to the residents. Families would make monthly payments of between 30 and 60 rupees to use the facility. This would form the maintenance budget, which would pay caretakers appointed by the community. In addition, the new system created separate bathrooms for men, women and children to ensure a stronger sense of security.

Like the efforts conducted in Latin America, the alliance’s success in Mumbai catalyzed other such programs in India, helping to organize communities to address the poor living conditions they face.

Sources: Yes Magazine, ODI, AllAfrica, PLOS, The Star, The Philadelphia Tribune, .Mic
Photo: Flickr

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