Tag Archives: Informality

What we’re reading: Refugee Cities

By Anya Brickman Raredon, Global Associate

A few weeks ago, the New York Times published a front-page article by Michael Kimmelman about the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, naming it as a “Do-It-Yourself City”.  Here at AHI, we’ve spent part of the spring and summer speaking at conferences and raising a related set of questions to humanitarians and global housing finance experts:

What is the nature of long-term humanitarian settlements? Can we continue to see refugee camps as “camps” or are they actually “instant cities”?


Four years after the earthquake this IDP camp is now a thriving community. Port-au-Prince, Haiti 2014. Photos by author.

UNHCR recently reported that the number of refugees wordwide exceeds 50 million.  This number is only likely to increase as cities and countries face increasing instability and environmental risk, making the question of where refugees live and what the conditions of those places are an ever more pressing question.  Furthermore, when entire cities are displaced, the demographics of refugee populations cut across economic lines, and new 2013-11-08 15.05.39settlements (camps) include tradesmen, entrepreneurs, educators, and a whole range of professionals – challenging our preconceptions of camps filled with the poor, unskilled, and helpless.
Individuals, even when displaced from their homes, will shape the spaces in which they live – whether that be through planting vegetables in pots by their door, hooking up their tent to electricity, or working with their neighbors to pave the road and reduce dust.

As the NYT article points out in the case of Zaatari, “There is even a travel agency that will provide pick-up service at the airport, and pizza delivery, with an address system for refugees that camp officials are scrambling to copy.”

This sure sounds like the beginning of a city to me.  So how do we shift humanitarian thinking, actions, and systems to acknowledge this reality and redirect the expenditures of supporting these settlements into investments in long-term development which can benefit both the current refugee families and the surrounding host communities? How do we shift the paradigm from seeing refugees as ‘beneficiaries’, and instead view them as proactive and able to contribute to the environments in which they live?

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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 3 – Capabilities and Informality

By: Surili Sheth, Analyst

 These observations led me on a journey to investigate service delivery in Indian slums, and more broadly, to recognize that understanding slums is about much more than about understanding the physical shelters in which slum dwellers live. The informal systems that regulate multiple aspects of their lives – such as financial services, incentives for home improvement (renting and owning property in the slum), water provision, electrical connections, infrastructure and connectivity, solid and liquid sanitation, and safety – highly affected people’s capabilities in being able to access tools to improve each of these dimensions, and hence, in their abilities to invest in themselves and their community.

The issue of needing to address different facets of community and informal life in order to assess poverty can be characterized theoretically to the capabilities approach, created by Nobel-winning economist Amartya Sen. The approach theorizes that deprivation, or poverty, should be measured not by a lack of income or utility– but rather by the lack of real capabilities that a person possesses. The emphasis is placed not only on how human beings actually function but also on their having the capability, which is a practical choice based on freedom, materials, socioeconomic standing, and a variety of other factors, to function in important ways if they want to. Having these sorts of “capabilities” enables people to “lead the lives they wish to live”.

Though slum dwellers technically live in a certain country, in a certain state, in a certain locality and under the laws and regulations of those various jurisdictions, their real capabilities often do not intersect at all with these formal systems of order. Slums (see twelve definitions of a slum here) are informal – and the economic, social, institutional, even law enforcement systems within them in them are informal. People move around a lot, so the informal systems are ones that are function efficiently at the community level even in a constant state of flux.

Examples of how informal systems and processes can differ frastically from formal ones are shown in the tables below.

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In a slum, the capabilities that residents have affect level of informality, and informality, in turn, affects the capabilities that slum dwellers possess. This approach has interesting, and I think, meaningful, implications for how policymakers view people in slums and the importance of participatory planning. It ties together why inclusive development should include and understanding of all three aspects of slums described in Part 1. The capabilities people possess – the tools slum dwellers have to be able to live the lives they want to – affect their livelihoods and levels of poverty, their abilities to contribute to different markets and economies, and the place they and their community hold within the larger context of the society they live within.

Some questions policymakers can ask when addressing slum settlements in their localities are:

·         Who builds the slum housing structures? How? Where do they get materials and technical assistance?

·         Who owns the land? Who actually leases slum homes, who buys or rents them, through what process, and for how long?

·         How do people access and save money? Where do they and send their money?

·         Where do people work? What technical, economic, and social capacities do they have?

·         How much do they move around, within the slum and outside of it? How long do people stay in the same home? What kinds of homes do people stay in (those that they are renting? From whom? Those that they own?)

·         How is the infrastructure (paths, garbage, toilets, electricity, water) for the community built and maintained? What is the process, and who is in charge of each step of it? Who maintains it?

·         Who is in charge of security in the slum? Who resolves disputes?

·         How is the community organized – to whom do people go when they have problems? Where do their loyalties and trust lie?

·         What do people value most about their lives in the slum?

Obtaining answers to these questions can help policymakers to ascertain how a particular slum functions, its level of informality, how the systems and capacities of the people in it can be incorporated into a development policy to integrate the slum into the city efficiently, and what tools people need to improve their quality of life so that they can invest more permanently in themselves and their communities. I argue, then, that inclusive slum policy addresses slum development through this lens, enabling policymakers to assess where the public and private sectors can fit into a strategy that realistically and efficiently addresses the needs of the slum dwellers and the society they live in – to increase their productivity and quality of life, become an accessible market for formal industries, and create more assets (improving and maintaining their own housing, etc.) to contribute to their locality, state, and country.