"The market usually decides the fate of slum-dwellers"

NIDHI JAMWAL discusses approaches to slum upgradation in developing countries with FAROUK TEBBAL, chief, Shelter Branch, United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat)

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

What are your views on the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on human settlements?
Everybody is happy with the target that we have set: achieving significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million slum-dwellers, by 2020. At present, there are about one billion slum- dwellers and their numbers are growing very fast. If nothing changes, then there will be about 1.6 billion slum-dwellers by 2020. And the 100 million target that we have set is roughly seven per cent of the number of people who are expected to live in slums by 2020. So, not only do we have to bring significant improvement in the lives of 100 million, but also have policies to prevent new slum creation. And we need partners -- local communities, civic bodies, non-governmental organisations (ngos) and private sector organisations -- if this two-pronged approach has to succeed.

Slum-dwellers are pushed out of cities because market forces want prime land for shopping malls, as is happening in India. Sometimes, they are resettled in saltpan land as in the case of Mumbai's slum-dwellers. At other times they are moved to areas with good groundwater reserves. Are these not ingredients of ecological disaster?
The market usually decides the fate of slum-dwellers and I am not being nave. Poverty alleviation, livelihood and access to income are important issues. In Mumbai, the National Slum Dwellers Federation is negotiating to secure lands from mills that have closed down. This would be used to relocate people from Dharavi. There are some organisations which have pioneered work on sanitation and developed updated norms. In colonies where they work, wastewater is treated properly and not allowed to pollute groundwater. This is the way to resettle slum-dwellers. Shifting people is no solution.

In-situ slum upgradation, promoted by UN-Habitat, has failed in India: it has turned kuccha (temporary) slums into pucca (permanent) slums. In Delhi it ignores the city master plan's provision of 25 square metre plots for people from economically weaker sections. This approach takes away the legal rights of the poor
We have to look at this phenomenon in a dynamic and progressive way. As much as I would like slum-dwellers to have enough space, it cannot be achieved tomorrow. We calculated the actual cost of attaining the mdg. And found that already we are exceeding our means by billions of dollars. This means that we have to go step by step.

un-Habitat has developed five indicators for slum upgradation: security of tenure, access to water and proper sanitation, enough space for everyone to live and houses made of durable material. If you have made even these changes, then you have significantly changed the living conditions of slum-dwellers. And I have seen this in Dharavi, where upgraded slums look much better than other shanties.

But why only one approach (slum upgradation) to human settlements? No one at the recent Commission on Sustainable Development meet talked of anything else.
Let me state the slum-dwellers' view on this. They would rather live where they are, if you lower the population density of slums and improve services. Most slums are located close to labour markets and they should not be shifted as long as there is no huge environmental problem, technological or physical risk. Old towns were not planned the way planners plan cities now. They were created under somewhat similar conditions to that of slums, but at a slower pace.

Having said that, there is always a need to relocate some slum-dwellers to provide public service facilities such as schools, or to lower the population density of slums -- such as those in Nairobi, where about 1,000 people live in 0.4 hectare land. If there is any situation where slum-dwellers are at risk, we would be happy to seek remedies from them. But then the solution has to go through an accepted pattern.

But there is no involvement of planners when issues of slum upgradation are discussed. It is left to some donor agencies or NGOs, who do not understand planning.
Bureaucrats, who are involved in urban planning, have so far ignored slum-upgradation. At present slum-dwellers are out of the information system, and need to be brought into the process. Governments need to open cities to all citizens and not just to the wealthy. But the core problem is that if you do not have participation, then you are only creating an illusion of democracy.

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