Category Archives: Personal

The Historical Evolution of South Africa’s Housing Policy, Exemplified in Cato Manor

By Ellie Leaning, Analyst

This is the first of a series of blog posts on the historical evolution and uniqueness of South Africa’s housing policy as seen in Cato Manor. This initial post aims to provide a historical overview of the political, economic, and cultural factors at play in Cato Manor.

Cato Manor is one of South Africa’s most historically significant townships. It sits on Durban’s periphery, tucked out of the public eye amongst the hillside, about a ten minute drive from the waterfront. I have a particular affinity to Cato Manor because I lived there for eight-weeks in 2013 with a Zulu family. This was where I had my first exposure to affordable housing projects and became acutely aware of the significance of my family’s Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) house in their quest for opportunity in a world of pervasive inequality (tune into the next post in this series for a discussion of RDP houses!).

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Gardens Drive in Cato Manor with RDP houses as far as the eye can see and a mini-bus taxi parked along the street, waiting for customers. These taxis are constantly running back and forth, honking and blasting music, trying to attract a new client. While perhaps intimidating for a foreigner, these taxis are very inexpensive and very efficient (although perhaps not very safe), connecting the township to the greater Durban area.

 Fun fact: As the buses do not have signs indicating their destination, the drivers (or a driver’s assistant who sometimes rides along) and passengers use hand signals to indicate where the bus is going. For instance, lifting your index finger in a circular motion will get you a ride to South Beach. This stems from Apartheid-era innovation when the government did not supply any public services to these areas – yet another example of a creative response to a market failure! 

Cato Manor’s role in the monumental political, economic, and cultural changes of 20th century South Africa make it a useful and relevant case study. It was one of the main areas where the African National Congress (ANC) focused re-development efforts post-1994, and today it is frequently considered Durban’s equivalent to District Six in Cape Town. While this is a specific township with its own history, the lessons learned and the complexity of that history are representative of the rest of South Africa.

Cato Manor has a unique history that is deeply rooted and very important in its culture today. The Nqondo clan occupied the area as early as 1650, until the Ntuli clan took over about a century later. It is unclear what happened to these tribes, but in 1815 the British established Port Natal (the Portuguese word for Christmas, as Natal was first found by a Portuguese explorer on Christmas Day 1497). The Brits lived primarily on the coast, while the Zulu King Shaka controlled the interior. In 1845, George Cato became the first mayor of Durban and was given the land of Cato Manor, which he subdivided and sold to Indian market gardeners (Durban is also home to the world’s largest Indian population outside of India) who decided to remain in South Africa after their terms as indentured slaves ended. Africans began to set up shacks and informal settlements along the periphery of the area, and as more and more Africans settled in, a unique mixture of vibrant Indian and African culture appeared. These Africans were primarily Zulus, who previously ruled large parts of present-day KwaZulu Natal (KZN) and had an incredibly strong empire. The long-lasting periods of conflicts and consequent colonization were brutal and oppressive, but resulted in a strong sense of identity and pride in the Zulu Kingdom, one that is still evident today in Cato Manor and elsewhere in KZN.

In 1932, Cato Manor was officially brought into the Durban municipality, and the (mostly native African) shack-dwellers were declared illegal occupants. Regardless, Africans continued to rent homes and land from Indians (under the law at this time, Africans were not allowed to own land or build homes in urban areas), with established tenure and amicable relationships for a time. Around 1945, historians estimate that Cato Manor was home to over 50,000 Africans, who began accusing Indians of rent-hikes and overcrowding. This occurred simultaneously with the rise of the Afrikaaner National Party in 1948, which imposed a legalized racial segregation system, infamously known as Apartheid. Racial tensions exacerbated existing divides, leading to a brutal “anti-Indian war” on 13 January 1949 that left 137 dead and thousands injured.

After this, Indians began to leave Cato Manor, returning only to collect rent from Africans, who were busy building more shacks and sub-letting to more Africans. Indian landowners then sold a large portion of their land to the Durban City Council, which then developed the land as a largely unregulated and overcrowded emergency center for homeless people. This became one of the main points of unregulated production of shimeyane, a homemade distilled liqueur, and consequent chaos.

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Cato Manor forced removals and police brutality in mid-1950s.

In 1950, National Party passed the Group Areas Act, the Population Registration Act, the Immorality Act, and the Suppression of Communism Act – the infamous laws of Apartheid. The 1950s marked significant increases in brutal legalized segregation and horrific race-based violence. Apartheid’s opposition, the ANC, was gaining immense power when it was forced to go underground by laws prohibiting political groups and defining anti-apartheid sentiments as equal to treason. The ANC had various underground hubs in the different provinces, and Durban’s branch was based in Cato Manor. The ANC women’s league was also largely prominent in Cato Manor around this time.

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Cato Manor: October 1959.

The apartheid regime responded to this by attempting forced removals (within the law, under the Group Areas Act) to place residents in racially exclusive Indian and Black townships, such as KwaMashu and Chatsworth. These efforts were met with massive resistance and violent conflicts, but eventually the bulldozers and police forces won.

Cato Manor was mostly vacant from the late 1960s, aside from a few Hindu temples and avocado trees, a sad ghost of its vibrant history. As the anti-apartheid movements gained strength in the later 1970s, people began trying to move back, but violence plagued the region again in the 1980s. Soon after, people began proactively reclaiming their land and returning to Cato Manor. The first area which people resettled was along the ridge of Cato Manor, an area called Cato Crest.  In 1994, the ANC won the national elections in a remarkably peaceful power transfer. The Zulu Kingdom was incorporated in the Province of Natal in a deal which recognized the power and presence of the Zulus in Natal while stably bringing them into the Republic of South Africa. Natal was renamed as KwaZulu Natal, in which “Kwa” denotes ownership-of or possession: the Zulu’s Natal.

The ANC, left with a broken country, attempted to implement broad changes, including a brand new constitution containing Section 26: the Right to Housing, where “Everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing”. A unique aspect of the South African constitution is that is does not only apply to South African nationals; anyone living in the country is entitled to the same rights as a citizen. In this unique aspect of the constitution, the state took on the responsibility of providing access to adequate housing for both its citizens and permanent residents. In a country of legally enforced geographic segregation of races and consequent socio-economic divides, this was no easy task. Accordingly, since 1994, South Africa has devoted a lot of time and resources to pro-poor housing initiatives, most of which were implemented in Cato Manor with varying levels of success.

Residents of Cato Manor and the larger eThekweni (Durban) municipality established the Cato Manor Development Association to upgrade and redevelop the area. Soon following this, Cato Manor was identified as a Presidential Lead Project of the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), which awarded R130 million ($11.2 million) for specific upgrading schemes to be explained in the next South Africa post.

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The RDP house that I lived in for eight weeks with my homestay family (my little sister is at the front door)!

Today, Cato Manor is a very large and partially well developed area, yet is still plagued with violent crime, unemployment, and poor health. Cato Crest, one of the six informal settlements on the outskirts (the ‘crest’) of Cato Manor, is a place of extreme poverty and violence. Parts of Cato Manor are formally owned by their dwellers, with homes attached to the grid with relatively steady electricity and functional plumbing, while others, as in Cato Crest, are completely informal with no legal land ownership, no financial mechanisms for home improvement, no connection to grids, no sanitation, etc. The different mechanisms of housing are at play in Cato Manor, from the 1994 RDP houses, to “green streets” of solar power and efficiency upgrades, to basic slum upgrading schemes attempting to solve the dilemmas of the informal settlements.

South Africa’s, and Cato Manor’s, unique history has led to a regeneration process that is both very difficult and vitally important to get right as the country struggles for socio-economic equality. As we stress here at AHI, there is not one sector of life that housing does not touch. Housing is the keystone species of development, and Cato Manor has been a guinea pig for a lot of these initiatives.

The next blog post in this series will discuss the different regeneration and redevelopment programs at the national level and the local level – stay tuned!  

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The race against winter in the slums of Ulaanbaatar

By: Noel Sampson, AHI Nicaragua Regional Analyst

“There are so many new rich people and there is no place for them to spend their money” said Rob, a French- American investor I met on the flight from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (UB). He told me he was building a new club and Irish pub – “the biggest in UB” he promised. I gave a dry smile.  The thought of yet another Irish pub is hard for me to get excited about because they all look the same to me. 

 

Hours later I discovered the city is already full of Irish pubs, crammed in amongst the office towers under a skyline cluttered with cranes. Up in the surrounding hills, beyond the cranes and city lights, the slums are populated by gers (traditional Mongolian tents) exhaling thick coal smoke. The khashaas (individual fenced plots) highlight the organic pattern of the informal urban fabric.

 

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Overview of Ulaanbaatar and its slums far in the back

 

More than 50% of Ulaanbaatar’s population lives in ger-areas and around 47% of ger residents live in poverty. Ger-areas have limited infrastructure and services such as heating, water and sanitation. Residents use coal-fired stoves to survive extremely harsh winters with temperatures below -40°C. Domestic coal fires are the main cause for air pollution in Ulaanbaatar where individual households cannot afford to connect to the city’s power grid. Improving access to services would help to upgrade these areas and improve the quality of life.

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Ger-areas in the district of Selbe

 

A major cause of the growth of slums in Ulaanbaatar is immigration to the city related to dzud – a concurrent natural disaster characterized by summer drought followed by particularly harsh winter with extremely low temperatures and heavy snow. The 2010 dzud affected an estimated 769,106 people (28% of total population) and has resulted in 8.4 million livestock deaths. Many were forced to move to the capital. Other causative factors for the increase of slums include high poverty levels in rural areas, the inexperience of local institutions in dealing with urban issues, natural population growth and the Free Mobility Law. This law, approved by the Supreme Court in 2003, grants every Mongolian the right to freely own a plot of land in the capital.

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View of one family Khashaa

 

The challenge in Ulaanbaatar is therefore a matter of land management and affordability of services and adequate housing. The extreme temperatures  and the spread  of slums make services difficult and expensive to implement. To address these issues, the most viable strategy is to densify ger-areas. Residents can not afford individual connections to services and grouping residents together could reduce the cost for such services.

 

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Lack of access to infrastructure and services are remarkable in Ger-areas

 

The question lies in how to implement such efforts, in particular how slum dwellers will participate in the development strategies of the city.  Another important challenge is how to create a financial flux that integrates private sector, residents and government. It is important to remark there is not small effort towards slum upgrading of ger-areas, any small improvement can create a flow-on effect on service provision to the surrounding slums that continue growing. Thus, opportunities for both residents and private sector, and the city’s development future lie in the provision of adequate housing and the improvement of ger-areas.

 

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Despite construction industry is booming, building season is just five months in a year due to the harsh winter

 

Perhaps, the creation of an entity to act as fair broker between private, residents and government can contribute to fill this gap. Under the support of a new created public-private entity residents could create community builders associations, or similar schemes of housing co-ops as an alternative for affordable housing construction. Residents can start a guided and progressive land pooling process, making land available for public facilities at the time they can have optimums living conditions. This process can allow to lease part of the land to the private sector and obtain in return the finance for the construction of housing buildings and improved urban spaces.

 

Moreover, the creation of such entity can address potential future concerns such as how to work out compensation systems, how to prevent land speculation and rise in land prices after the first residents gain access to services and, more importantly, how to guarantee that residents who take part in eventual slum upgrading strategies will get fair benefits for pooling or trading their land. Additionally, this entity can stimulate private sector investments in areas that have higher profitable potential such as the land along the primary roads.

 

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Formation of slums in the peri-urban areas of the city

 

As the opportunities rise in Ulaanbaatar, the private sector is ready to push forward with urban development, the national economy is booming due to rich mining resources, and the Mayor, Bat-Uul, has outlined a vision of creating urban corridors on the model of Los Angeles’ Wilshire Boulevard in the middle of the slums. Empowered residents stand to gain through improved housing and lives will be saved from the harsh Mongolian winter while contributing to the city’s economy. Perhaps Rob, my co-passenger from the flight in, would stand to benefit also by making a wiser choice and investing in the community.

The Mongolian urban challenge: A matter of growth, land management and the race against winter in the slums of Ulaanbaatar

By: Noel Sampson, Nicaragua Regional Analyst

 

“There are so many new rich people and there is no place for them to spend their money” said Rob, a French- American investor I met on the flight from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (UB). He told me he was building a new club and Irish pub – “the biggest in UB” he promised. I gave a dry smile.  The thought of yet another Irish pub is hard for me to get excited about because they all look the same to me. 

 

Hours later I discovered the city is already full of Irish pubs, crammed in amongst the office towers under a skyline cluttered with cranes. Up in the surrounding hills, beyond the cranes and city lights, the slums are populated by gers (traditional Mongolian tents) exhaling thick coal smoke. The khashaas (individual fenced plots) highlight the organic pattern of the informal urban fabric.

 

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Overview of Ulaanbaatar and its slums far in the back

 

More than 50% of Ulaanbaatar’s population lives in ger-areas and around 47% of ger residents live in poverty. Ger-areas have limited infrastructure and services such as heating, water and sanitation. Residents use coal-fired stoves to survive extremely harsh winters with temperatures below -40°C. Domestic coal fires are the main cause for air pollution in Ulaanbaatar where individual households cannot afford to connect to the city’s power grid. Improving access to services would help to upgrade these areas. Creating service hubs and promoting increased population density whilst simultaneously making services more affordable will improve the quality of life.

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Ger-areas in district-subcenter of Byankhoshu

 

In order to address these issues the Municipality of Ulaanbaatar (MUB) has requested the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to plan and finance a service and infrastructure provision strategy. This strategy is intended to increase population density and provide public utilities for the two ger district sub-centers of Byankhoshuu and Selbe.  It is hoped that a flow-on effect will be seen on service provision to the surrounding slums that continue to grow.

 

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Lack of access to infrastructure and services are remarkable in Ger-areas in Selbe sub-district

 

A major cause of the growth of slums in Ulaanbaatar is immigration to the city related to dzud – a concurrent natural disaster characterized by summer drought followed by particularly harsh winter with extremely low temperatures and heavy snow. The 2010 dzud affected an estimated 769,106 people (28% of total population) and has resulted in 8.4 million livestock deaths. Many were forced to move to the capital. Other factors include high poverty levels in rural areas, the inexperience of local institutions in dealing with urban issues, natural population growth and the Free Mobility Law. This law, approved by the Supreme Court in 2003, grants every Mongolian the right to freely own a plot of land in the capital.

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Formation of slums in the peri-urban areas of the city

 

However, there is reason to be optimistic about the potential success of the program. The political will exists, Ger-residents have expressed interest and there are business opportunities for the private sector at a time when the country is experiencing strong economic growth.

The challenges lie in how to implement the program, in particular how slum dwellers will participate in the development strategies. A balance needs to be sought between any benefits and costs of such a program.

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Despite construction industry is booming, building season is just five months in a year due to the harsh winter

 

One option is for residents to pay directly for their connections. This way they need only sacrifice a section of land for road and infrastructure developments of their individual sub-district. However, the monetary cost of such a method would be high, and it would be unlikely to be financially viable for residents. Each heating technical room costs between 15 to 25 Million MNT ($17K USD). A variant of this option is for neighborhood residents to group together to build townhouses and share the costs of connections, but this adds the challenge of financing the construction of the buildings.

 

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View of one family Khashaa in Selbe

 

An alternative is a land trading process, whereby residents trade a portion of their land to the private sector in exchange for financing of connection costs. The private sector will therefore redevelop the land – building residential or mix-use buildings to be sold on the open market.  However, implementation would be a complicated, long process, and might prove unattractive to the private sector and residents. Success would depend on how much land needs to be sacrificed for low to middle density residential construction.

A third option is community land pooling, where neighborhoods from 10 to 20 Khashaas give up the land owned in its entirety to be redeveloped into multi-use compounds including residential, commercial and social service facilities. The private sector would compensate landowners with a “purchasing credit” that can be used to buy an apartment in the new redeveloped area. This alternative is risky because it puts residents at a disadvantage by making them dependent on the private sector. The main advantage lies in the provision of more land for complete service hubs.

 

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Many Ger-areas have consolidated to more permanent houses but still lack of access to services

 

In any of the alternatives there are several questions that need to be addressed, such as how to work out the compensation system, and how to prevent land speculation and a rise in land prices after infrastructure provision. Gentrification of these areas could further marginalise the city’s poorest residents.

To address all these concerns a Sub-Center Redevelopment Agency (SRA) will be established to implement the investment program  in a fair, stable and efficient manner for both citizens and private sector interests. The SRA will have a key role in the implementation of the program along with MUB and ADB’s partners such as UN-HABITAT, which is currently working on community mapping and consultation to address citizens’ preferences.

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Community consultation in Byankhoshu sub-district

 

In Ulaanbaatar the private sector is ready to push forward with urban development, the national economy is booming due to rich mining resources, and the Mayor, Bat-Uul, has outlined a vision of creating urban corridors on the model of Los Angeles’ Wilshire Boulevard in the middle of the slums. Citizens need to be empowered to participate in the city’s upgrading and redevelopment strategy. Residents stand to gain through improved housing and quality of life, and lives will be saved from the harsh Mongolian winter. Perhaps Rob, my co-passenger from the flight in, would stand to benefit also by making a wiser choice and investing in the community.

Understanding Slum Dwellers: Part 4 – Some Promising Models

By:  Surili Sheth, Analyst

1)     Gujarat – The Parivartan Program

Parivartan, or “transformation” – also called the Slum Networking Project (SNP)- in Gujarat takes an important step in the direction of inclusive development. Initiated in 1995, its slum upgrading model is structured not only as a public-private partnership model, but also as a demand-based, participatory model. In this way, the SNP directly incorporates the existing informal processes of slums – through the community-driven approach – into the process of development and formalization. Its main idea is to integrate slum dwellers into the city.

While the design of the program is malleable to institutional, social, and technical strategies that respond to the needs and changing circumstances of each specific community, the basic model for the provision of essential components and facilities includes improvements in the physical environment (e.g. infrastructure, water and sanitation) of the slum as well as community development (e.g. health, resources, community groups and empowerment). The public (Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC)), private (e.g. Mahila Housing SEWA Trust (MHT)), local NGO (e.g. SAATH), and community (Community Based Organizations (CBOs)) sectors all contribute to the finance, design, and maintenance processes of all assets created through the program – and the community is empowered to do so through direct financial stakes as well as mechanisms built into the program such as the mobilization and formation of CBOs, access to financial products, and a no-eviction guarantee of 10 years from the government.

An example of an SNP-upgraded slum is the Pravinnagar-Guptanagar (PG) slum in Ahmedabad, where I conducted some household visits. Below are some of the outcomes of the program that I observed:

Community empowerment and resources for self-investment. SAATH, a local NGO, mobilized the PG community. Mahila Housing Trust provided savings and loans. And an Urban Resource Center (URC), run by a SAATH staff and PG community member in partnership with the AMC, provides resources to link community members to services that they want or need. Each of these resources levels of access made the household members I spoke to feel, in many ways,empowered and part of the process of the development of their community.

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[Devuben, a SAATH –run Urban Resource Center employee as well as a member of the PG slum, conducts daily household visits. She leads many of the community mobilization, savings group, loan collection, and CBO activities in the PG slum.]

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[Inside the PG URC – an example of community empowerment. A group of angry community woman came into the URC to complain about the gutter water coming out of their pipes. Devuben (purple saree) explained the process of lodging a formal complaint to the proper government office, to which she provided directions. She wrote a formal complaint from the URC, and told the women to take it, along with two bottles of dirty water to the office.]

Physical infrastructure improvements. Multi-tiered structures and paved alleys show that the slum has undergone some of the stages of the process of infrastructural formalization.

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[An entrance to the upgraded PG slum, lined with two-storied homes and places of business, which are largely operated by the people living in the PG community.]

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[Paved chawls (alley-ways) inside the PG community]

Tenure. The process of formalization, especially the 10 year tenure security guarantee from the local government, creates incentives for slum dwellers to invest in themselves and in building assets

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[External home improvements and asset investment. Seen in the photograph is: 1) verticalization and incremental housing (building up and customized terrace), 2) satellite dish, 3) electricity meter, 4) bike for transportation, and 5) furniture inside the home]

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[Internal home improvements]

Overall, the Parivartan program is a powerful, inclusive strategy formed to respond to slum habitations in Gujarat; however, the requirements of complex partnership arrangements and pre-program characteristics of the habitation (e.g. that the land the slum is built on is level – many slum communities are formed, by nature, on sub-optimal land) are rigorous and may leave many areas out of consideration for the program.

 

2)     Nagpur, India – Slum Rehabilitation Authority

In Nagpur, the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) utilizes a dual-pronged approach to slums and land use, through slum rehabilitation and prevention. The rehabilitation portion of the approach includes leasing and regularizing land, improving infrastructure and housing through public funding, and relocating slums by utilizing public-private partnerships and transferable development rights, which allows for higher density development. The prevention portion of the approach involves building more affordable housing, regulating urbanization, encouraging decentralization, and improving public transport.

The SRA was created to implement these approaches through various strategies. The SRA employs inclusive strategies when it incorporates informality and participatory planning through its decentralization approach, brings public, private, and NGO sectors into the process of slum upgrading, and structures its strategies based on specific community needs. It also allows for scale – a total of 391 slums in Nagpur were deemed to be “regularized” under this particular approach.

However, critiques of the SRA approach as it is currently implemented follow two of the major criticisms of public housing approaches utilized in India: eviction and slum demolition are utilized as part of certain strategies, and the affordable housing units built under the SRA may not necessarily be targeted toward the poorest sectors of the population (Times of India)

 

3)      Solid Waste Management Hybrid Value Chain in Asia – Waste-2-Resource

Inadequate, top-down systems for solid-waste management (SWM) are byproducts of exclusive development strategies adopted by many cities  in Asia. They often fail to reach the nooks and crannies of slum developments, where informal systems (waste-picking and recycling) handle much of the community solid waste disposal needs; alternatively, formal systems, if they do reach these areas, dispose of waste in open landfills – creating social, health, and environmental hazards that disproportionately affect slum dwellers.

The Waste-2-Resource (W2R) program, initiated by UNESCAP and in partnership with the Gates Foundation, local NGOs (such as Waste Concern in Bangladesh), the private sector, and communities, turns SWM into a local entrepreneurial venture with an integrated, inclusive delivery model with revenue generation at the community level. It relies on innovative partnerships within the waste management chain:

·         Local governments partner with local NGOs that have connections to waste-pickers – hence incorporating a very important informal system into a larger-scale, formalized system – to start up a waste center with community involvement.

·         A social investor or donor (such as the Gates Foundation) commits to start-up costs to capitalize a Waste-2-Resource revolving fund to provide the start-up costs of building decentralized waste centers in localities with poor SWM systems. The initial waste centers would pay back the Fund, which could then be used to provide seed money to build other centers.

·         Technological innovations by the local private sector that focuses on environment and sanitation issues are assimilated into the waste collection and processing system, further tailoring the approach to the local context.

·         Waste-pickers – generally placed on one of the lowest socioeconomic rungs of a community – are empowered through formal jobs at the waste centers. They receive a regular salary and more bargaining power when selling to junk dealers.

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[Workers collecting solid waste in Cambodia. Source]

·         Local vendors and households are taught how to segregate their trash

·         After establishment and repayment to the Waste-2-Resource Fund, the waste centers can pay operational costs and generate profits through their composting and recycling activities. The centers can be sustained through user and membership fees as well as through profits from selling “assets” created in the waste management process – selling carbon credits (gained by composting waste instead of sending biodegradable matter to open landfills, and hence mitigating methane production) through the Clean Development Mechanism established in the Kyoto Protocol, selling electricity generated through composting back to the grid, or using climate finance.

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[Composting. Source]

The HVC model has been successfully replicated in a few cities in Bangladesh, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and Pakistan. It currently has 10 projects operating. Though it is a strong model, it again involves the negotiation of complex partnerships across many different levels and sectors and hence needs mechanisms to encourage local stakeholders to participate. It may also be prone to unsustainable financing mechanisms (such as when the value of carbon credits decreases significantly) – so other, more “evergreen” mechanisms must be found. W2R is a promising, inclusive model of development that has the potential for larger scale.

In the end, many issues remain in the formation and maintenance of public-private-community partnerships and inclusive models of development. Incentive alignment between institutional partners, and between institutions and communities, is often hard to achieve, as is finding financing mechanisms that deliver solutions at scale without compromising on participatory methods and empowerment. However, inclusive development includes people. That means understanding how they live and how they want to live – incorporating informal systems into formal ones, giving people the capabilities to live the lives they want, and the resources to invest in themselves. The programs outlined above provide innovate avenues to further develop promising, inclusive approaches to slums and urban development.

Understanding Slum Dwellers: Part 2 – Observations of an Indian Slum

By: Surili Sheth, Analyst

I first began to build an understanding of slums while working for an NGO, called Manav Sadhna, in Ahmedabad, India. The NGO primarily works on education, nutrition, and community-building projects with one of the largest slum populations in the city – the Tekro slum, which houses a population of more than 150,000 (unofficial estimates) in approximately 2-3 square kilometers.

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[Tekro means “hill” –  the slum is located on top of a heap of trash. This is one of its many entrances.]

 

In the process of working with children at the NGO and in the Tekro slum every day, I began asking some simple questions – what did they do when they went home from school/the NGO? How long had them and their families lived in the Tekro? How many times had the children moved in their lives? What did they plan to do in the future? What did they want to do? I made some simple observations – I saw what the slum looked like, watched what people were doing, and listened to what they talked about when I went to their homes.

Community. The answers to these questions – from the children, their parents, NGO staff, and from my observations when I visited their homes, were far more complex than I imagined. When they went home, the ten-year-olds I worked with at the NGO had many tasks. These included collecting water for their families, cooking dinner, fixing leaks in their (and their neighbors’) tin roofs during monsoon, helping their mothers sew, working at their father’s road-side carts, and babysitting their younger siblings. When time permitted, they played or did some homework. Most of them had been moving around for most of their lives and had families and homes in villages and other slums around the city. However, many families also had ties from generations within the slum, which has been around for more than 40 years.

Most slum dwellers knew everything about their neighbors, and had a strong sense of community. The slum habitation patterns were organized by caste and region from which the residents had migrated –they were day-laborers from around Gujarat and artisans and migrants from Rajasthan who specialized in pottery. Walking from one alley to an adjacent one often entailed a complete change in clothing, language, and mannerisms of the people that lived there. Loyalties within each micro-community ran deep, and crimes, both petty and large, occurred generally without any police interference – they were settled within the community. The slum dwellers’ livelihoods centered in the economies existing in and around the slum – some were rickshaw drivers, some had shops that sold tobacco to the other slum dwellers, and still others were rag/waste-pickers (scavengers). Many of the children simply looked bewildered, or amused, when I asked them about their futures. They generally gave me an entertained or confused look, followed a nonchalant “I don’t know”, “get married”, or “work with my dad at his shop.”

Manav Sadhna had established community and health centers in the middle of the slum, providing many services to the slum community – including medical camps, education, pre-school nutrition centers, women’s savings groups, and a place for community celebrations.


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[Pre-school nutrition center, or Anganwadi, run by Manav Sadhna from inside a slum home, in partnership with government program.]

 

Door-to-door visits were conducted by the NGO staff members (using a hand-drawn map of the slum and chalk to mark the homes that were visited) to raise awareness about malaria and TB, alcoholism, individual medical issues, and community-related challenges on an ongoing basis. However, while impacting many is very individualized ways, the NGO did not necessarily cover the residents of the entire slum in a scaled or uniform manner, so major social and physical infrastructural changes often only happened when the local government or a local politician decided to make a certain portion of the slum a place to upgrade as part of his or her agenda (generally to attract a vote bank).

Physical infrastructure.

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[The “Gutter Ganga”]

 

The entire Tekro community was surrounded by a river of sewage, satirically referred to as the “Gutter Ganga” by residents and NGO staff.

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[Alleys in the Tekro]

 

While street lights and paved paths existed in some parts of the slum, many paths were unpaved or semi-paved and had open or over-flowing gutters.

Water was generally procured through public taps, which had running water coming out of them for only one to two hours in the morning and evening. One tap often served more than fifty households, causing daily fights to break out in long lines that formed in front of the taps. Some households opted to procure their own illegal water connections instead of facing the lines, and many also obtained their own illegal connections to the electricity grid. Recently, a government initiative had installed meters for subsidized electricity in many parts of the Tekro slum, but residents complained that they had to pay too much for their electricity (some were still stealing from the grid).

Parts of the slum were entirely comprised of dirt paths, litter, animal carcasses, and people living beneath tarps. These were the poorest portions of the settlement, often comprised of elderly people without family support, those employed in “low-caste” or “impure” work (e.g. collecting waste, making leather or selling meat, etc.), or those with no employed workers in the household who sometimes sustained by begging.

Image 8 Image 9

[A poorer section of the slum]

 

Other portions of the slum had people living in homes with plastered walls, tin roofs, fans, tiles, household toilets, TVs, and electricity meters. These were generally the households that had multiple employed family members and had made improvements to their homes over time.

These observations illuminated a lot I hadn’t thought about – and led to more questions. They showed that the lives led by the children I worked with and their families were lived in highly transient phases. Slum dwellers had many responsibilities in their homes and communities; because of a lack of large-scale and widespread service provision, they were almost always involved in some part of the informal economy (e.g. building parts of their own homes, repairing overflowing gutters near their homes, selling products to other people in the slum, running a small-scale compost center where rag/waste-pickers turned in their days’ collections, etc.), even if they were also part of the formal economy (e.g. as servants, day laborers, construction workers, rickshaw drivers, etc.). Many sent money back to their families in their ancestral rural villages. Their living situation and quality of life was highly correlated to their bonds with their neighbors, their standing in the slum community (which often meant that families spent large amounts of money on cultural activities or events associated with their reputation, such as religious festivals, marriages, and funerals, as well as on medical bills from private doctors), and their family’s ties with local authorities.

The idea of investing in themselves for the future or in permanent situations (their homes, lives, etc.) did not seem to be of the highest priority – investing in how to keep their lives going in the most current context, in a reputable way (within the community) was the priority of primacy. Families often took off to their villages for months at a time (often pulling their children out of school for long periods of time), or moved to different areas of the city for new jobs, packing up and leaving their Tekro homes for new ones as rapidly as they had moved in.

The Power of Community Involvement

By Janaki Kibe, AHI South Asia Associate

The power of community leadership was particularly evident during my recent visit to the Parivartan Slum Upgrading Project in Ahmedabad.  The “Parivartan” or “transformation” project is a public-private-community partnership to bring basic services and infrastructure to slums. Each actor contributes 1/3 of the total on-site capital costs of services provided. While much has been written on public-private partnerships, community participation is often overlooked, despite being an essential piece of the slum upgrading puzzle.

Vishwas Nagar

Vishwas Nagar

As I entered the Vishwas Nagar slum in Ahmedabad, I was greeted by Meenaben, a local community organizer and member of the Mahila Housing SEWA Trust (MHT). As one of the earliest residents to Vishwas Nagar, Meenaben had lived there for over 20 years. She is a mother to one child, and her maternal instincts and ever ready smile made me immediately feel welcome. She was extremely easy to talk to and very knowledgeable, qualities that have helped her become a well respected community leader and MHT staff person.

It was easy to understand Meenaben’s initial skepticism towards MHT. Before MHT and Meenaben worked in Vishwas Nagar, it had dirt roads and no sewer or indoor water connections for individual houses. Many NGOs and MFIs had come to Vishwas Nagar before MHT. Most had failed to engender community support and deliver on their promises, and the lives of slumdwellers remained largely unchanged. But MHT was different.

Rather than talking down to community residents, it actively involved local residents. It worked to empower poor women through capacity building into leadership positions. MHT recognized the power that local residents had to mobilize community members, engender support for programs, and communicate residents’ demands, so MHT was persistent in its approach in Vishwas Nagar. Staff held multiple community meetings, explaining residents’ rights and ways to access different government services. In a final attempt to appease skeptical residents, MHT told residents, “If you really want things to improve, come with us and we’ll take you to the municipal corporation.” Despite hearing a lot about the municipal corporation none of the slumdwellers had actually been there. Meenaben was one the residents who took up MHT’s offer. Going to Municipal Corporation was a turning point for her: for the first time she felt empowered to change her surroundings.

Meenaben began to work closely with MHT, leveraging her role within Vishwas Nagar to mobilize community members and facilitate access to basic services and infrastructure. She went door-to-door, speaking with neighbors, collecting contributions for various government initiatives, and helping organize community meetings. Since Meenaben was from the community, it was easier for her to gain her neighbors’ trust and support than it would have been for an outsider. Today, Vishwas Nagar has paved roads, street lighting, a sewage system, individual toilets, and private water connections. There is also a health insurance scheme which helps slumdwellers pay for visits to the doctor.

Meenaben

Meenaben’s experience highlighted the following points:

(1)   There is great value in selecting good community-based leaders. Meenaben was an integral player in the transformation of Vishwas Nagar. She was well-known, liked, and respected within her neighborhood. Most importantly, community members trusted her. Once Meenaben was convinced of MHT’s positive work she became a strong voice of support for MHT in the neighborhood. She also helped convey residents’ demands to MHT.

(2)   The actions of local community leaders can spur neighborhood-wide support. Meenaben gave an example of a time when her actions helped spur community-wide action. In order to pave the road in Vishwas Nagar residents were instructed to demolish a few meters from their homes. No one wanted to be the first one to demolish their house in fear that they would be the lone acting agent and the road would never be paved. Meenaben decided to be the first person to demolish part of her house, which included a newly built toilet. Her action showed slum dwellers that they needed to work together for the greater good of the community. It also demonstrated her faith in MHT. Her action catalyzed other residents to follow suit, which allowed for eventual street paving. It’s not enough to simply tell others what to do, action can engender greater action.

(3)   Selecting community leaders who are good communicators is important in achieving sustained community support. Meenaben was extremely knowledgable of the different government programs and schemes available to slumdwellers. She was able to distill complex programs into easy to understand ideas. Being able to answer questions (and even admitting “I don’t know the answer, but I will find out and tell you”) has helped her to maintain trust within her community.

Regardless of MHT’s good intentions, without  making Meenaben and other women like her leaders and an integral part of the slum upgrading process this project would have failed. Working together, MHT and Meenaben were able to completely transform the landscape of Vishwas Nagar.

‘Africa Incorporated’ – AHI at Harvard Business school

‘Africa Incorporated’: first thoughts on the HBS Africa Business Conference

Evans Essienyi, AHI West Africa Associate

Left: The auditorium starts to fill.
Right: Evans and David

This past weekend, March 2-4, it was exciting to be at the Spangler, Burden and Aldrich Halls of the Harvard Business School (HBS) for the 14th edition of the annual African Business conference. The theme was “Africa Incorporated”.

More than 1,300 participants came from countries across the globe. When I first met a student from Stanford, I was impressed they had come from such a distance. Then I met others from Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa and felt the true intensity and commitment of attendees. While some were Harvard students, many were Africans with actual businesses and initiatives in Africa.

The participants comprised students, industry practitioners, and academics from various fields including social entrepreneurship, banking, agribusiness, entertainment, real estate, mass media, health care, education and telecommunications.

I attended three panel discussions – ‘How I did it’, ‘Real estate investing’, for which AHI’s Founder David Smith was a panel leader and ‘Social Entrepreneurship.’ At these sessions, experts shared their insight into how social issues can be addressed with for-profit and non-profit business models, how Africans and non-Africans from the Diaspora have gone back to Africa, and have surmounted all the seemingly-insurmountable challenges the continent presents to building thriving businesses. Finally, real estate experts, including David, shared their thoughts on the metrics they use for evaluating deals of various kinds in Africa, and the pleasant surprise that await all who dare to invest in real estate in Africa.

To me, the conference was exciting, the learning and insights were helpful, but nothing compares with the warmth and thrill of meeting so many Africans, in one location – Boston. I couldn’t make it to the banquet and after party, but I am reliably informed that they were the real climax to all that had happened during the day. I cannot wait for the next HBS African Business Conference, and am sure there will be much to report.