Diary from Mumbai: Part I

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By: Ariana K MacPherson, SDI Secretariat

Mumbai has a constant buzz. That is the best way to put it. The city is always moving, coming and going in all directions And full of light. I arrived in Mumbai three days ago, and immediately was taken aback by the vibrancy of it. Even as I made my way from the bustling airport at 1am to my hotel, taxi cabs lined the streets and pavement dwellers sit in front of their tin shacks, eating around fires.

I am here to visit the Indian SDI alliance, an impressive trio of organizations consisting of Mahila Milan (the women’s savings collectives, which are federated citywide as well as nationwide), the National Slum Dwellers Federation (a network of male-dominated slum dweller federations operating at the same scale as MM) and the support NGO, SPARC. I have heard tales of the dynamism, innovation and success of MM-SPARC-NSDF, but truly there is nothing like seeing it for yourself. The same goes for Mumbai, for Dharavi, for all of it: you can read all the books, see the movies, read the newspaper and taste the food abroad, but there is nothing like coming face-to-face with the life of the city, of the people, to make you really understand.

Yesterday was my first day in the field. Alongside a colleague from SPARC, I visited three of Alliance’s projects in Greater Mumbai. First we stopped at a housing project in Dharavi called Rajiv Indira, designed by the women of Mahila Milan. The building is light and airy, with children playing and riding small bicycles in the wide corridor. On the ground floor there is an open courtyard, where women congregate with their kids, chatting about the day. All but the top two floors of the building have been constructed with 14-foot ceilings so that families can build a mezzanine floor to maximize the 225 sq ft space.

The women make this happen through financing from various sources, but savings is a big part of it. Not only does money collected through daily savings go towards financing the actual housing projects, but it also serves as a means to organize, mobilize and unify the group around a common vision for the community. Even after moving into the building, the women continue to save in order to pay for maintenance and further improvements to their homes. It is not a project-based activity, but instead becomes the very core of their activities.

I have read so much about Dharavi. How residential and commercial uses co-exist. How many millions of dollars are generated there. How high the population density is. How poor some of the living conditions. How vibrant, and dynamic a place it is. But again, nothing compares to reality. It is not simply a slum – Dharavi is a town. The true essence of an informal city, existing right in the centre of the formal city, feeding into it minute to minute and day by day. We make our way to a community toilet project, turning off the main (4-lane) road and onto a crowded, winding side street. We pass a Hindu temple, painted bright with garlands and incense adorning the entrance, and are shaded by green canopies of tall, old trees. A white cow passes us on the right.

We arrive at the community toilet and it is bright, airy and clean. My colleague explains that it is used by 226 families (roughly 1,300 people), each of whom pays 20 rupees per month (about USD .40). Others pay 2 rupees per use. There is a caretaker who looks after the facility daily, closing it only from 1am – 5am. He has a room upstairs that he shares with his family, and there is a lovely roof terrace with a mosaic tiled floor that can be used by the 226 families for community events and meetings. There are basically two other options for toilets in Dharavi: 1) shit wherever you can find a hole, which often means holding it in until it is safe (especially for women), and of course causes numerous health risks; or 2) use one of the government-provided communal toilets, which tend not to be well looked after, and are often dark, smelly and unpleasant to use. By making this a community project, it has kept the toilet clean and pleasant to use. One of us even stopped to pay the 2 rupees to use it during our visit!

The last site we visit is a housing project called Milan Nagar, also designed by the women of Mahila Milan, located in Mankhurd settlement quite a ways from the centre of Mumbai. This group of women were pavement dwellers, perhaps Mumbai’s poorest population, and some of Mahila Milan’s oldest members. They lived in shacks along the sidewalks, crowding the streets near Bombay Central station. The women tell us that one of the biggest differences in their lives today is that they are no longer called “pavement dwellers” – that they are respected by others because they now live in formal housing. But pavement dwellers chose their spots on the streets to be close to economic activity, and the women say this is one of the challenges of their new home. It is further to go to work, and they cannot come home between jobs to spend time with their children. There are three different design options within the building, each one consisting of a mezzanine floor like the building in Dharavi. The homes are modest but beautifully maintained, with sparkling pots and pans and spotless floors. Children play in the hallways, and music pours down the stairwells as a family upstairs prepares for an upcoming wedding.

After spending the afternoon at the SPARC offices, housed in a beautiful old municipal building in South Bombay, another colleague whisks me off to a Mahila Milan function in honor of a Hindu holiday celebrating the beginning of spring. This is the real thing. There are hundreds of women, all dressed in colorful saris and their best gold jewelry. We are asked to come on stage, and are honored with flowers, and decorated with saffron and turmeric on our foreheads. We eat sesame sweets and listen to the women speak about their daily realities, from the importance of daily savings to their struggles with crime. Before the close of the evening, traditional music comes on and the women begin to dance. We are drawn into the crowd and a young women smiles and grabs my hand. We dance together, laughing and I doing my best to imitate her every move. It is infectious – the vibrant soul of this community. Empowered and real, dancing under the scaffolding of 900 new homes.

South African SDI Alliance Sets Strategic Goals for 2012

By: Walter Fieuw, CORC 

Leaders of the South African SDI Alliance congregated between 16 – 18 January 2012 to follow up on progress made since the strategic meeting held at Kopling House in January 2011. At last year’s meeting, the Alliance agreed to a shift of focus towards upgrading of informal settlements. Despite one of the world’s largest housing delivery programmes, the South African government has failed to curb the demand for housing and the improvement of basic living conditions for millions of poor people. The Alliance has pledged ‘to strengthen the voice of the urban and rural poor in order to improve quality of life in informal settlements and backyard dwellings’. This we will accomplish by supporting communities who are willing and able to help themselves. 

At the Kopling House strategic meeting, the following four broad strategies were decided upon to define the work of the network:

  1. Building communities through the Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP) and Informal Settlement Network (ISN) using SDI social tools;
  2. Building partnerships with government at all tiers;
  3. Implementing partnerships through projects; and
  4. Keep record of learning, monitoring and evaluation.

Upgrading informal settlements is an inherently complex endeavor considering the various socio-political realities connected to harsh living conditions and illegality. However, across South Africa the urban poor are mobilizing and building institutional capacity to engage local governments around community-initiated upgrading agendas. As the Alliance’s saying goes, “Nothing for us without us”. Dialogues and outcomes of this year’s strategic meeting focused on meeting the development indicators, which the Alliance set for itself at Kopling House. This year will see a renewed focus on the following:

  • Capacitating regional leadership structures, and the creation of a national ISN coordinating team
  • Recommitment to the spirit of daily savings, daily mobilization and daily exchanges of learning
  • Deepening the quality of selected settlement upgrading, while growing the ISN network
  • Developing relevant and sensitive indicators, guidelines and protocols for the Alliance’s core activities to spur self-monitoring and evaluation.
  • Resourcing the Alliance through effective partnerships with local governments, universities and other development agencies such as the National Upgrading Support Programme (NUSP, Dept of Human Settlements) and the promotion of establishing Urban Poor Funds, similar to the Stellenbosch experience.

Building coalitions of the urban poor with capacity to capture the imaginations of city builders, both from the top-down and the bottom-up, is not often highly regarded or understood when upgrading strategies are devised. The Alliance is committed to strengthening the voices of the urban poor through building effective, pro-poor partnerships and platforms with local government, and implementing these partnerships at project level.

As the process to understand the discrepancies and commonalities between the agendas of communities and the municipality get underway, work must begin. Communities and the municipality develop, in partnership, a mix of “quick wins” that can build trust and show real change for communities. At the same time, the Alliance is geared towards challenging many of the assumptions that lie behind planning for the urban poor throughout cities in South Africa. Other projects that get chosen for implementation are difficult cases designed to influence the way the municipality operates so that its methods come closer to the planning priorities of communities.

All the project types also influence communities. At these interfaces of bottom-up agency and top-down city management, new ways of seeing, grappling with and undestanding informality emerge, and shack dwellers are no longer passive by-standers to the development enterprise, but active partners and innovators, finding workable, affordable and scalable solutions to urban poverty. 

 

Negotiating the Right to Stay: A Community-Led Process in Old Fadama

By: Ariana K. MacPherson, SDI Secretariat 

The air in Accra is humid and full of dust. After spending days inside heavily air-conditioned conference centers and nearby hotels, you start to forget the realities of city life.  Luckily, I got a reminder.

I spent my last day in Accra in the centrally located settlement of Old Fadama. Old Fadama is an informal settlement occupying 31.3 hectares of land along the Odaw River and Korle Lagoon in central Accra. Established in 1981, its population of roughly 80,000 inhabitants is made up of traders and migrants from across Ghana as well as other neighboring West African countries.

The community has resisted threats of eviction for nearly a decade through use of tools such as enumerations, mapping and lengthy negotiations with the Accra Municipal Authority (AMA).  Most recently, the Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor (GHAFUP) and the Old Fadama Development Association (OFADA) have been in negotiation with the AMA around the clearing of structures from land around the Korle Lagoon in preparation for a large-scale de-silting project, funded by the Netherlands Government. Korle Lagoon has experienced decades of pollution serving as the main runoff for the entire city of Accra and its shores as dumping ground for much the city’s solid waste.

Initially, the AMA requested that 100 feet of land be cleared to make way for the project. GHAFUP and OFADA members estimated that clearance of 100 feet would mean demolition of nearly 3,000 structures and eviction for roughly 7,000 inhabitants. They quickly entered into negotiations, proposing that the amount of land be reduced to 50 feet. Immediately, the community went to work enumerating the 50-foot area. Reducing the amount of cleared land to 50 feet meant a reduction to 1,192 residential and commercial structures and 3,000 people. Still not ideal, but certainly a marked difference.

Armed with their enumeration data, GHAFUP and OFADA met with city authorities at the AMA and succeded in negotiating for their proposed 50-foot area instead of original 100 feet, reducing the number of people affected significantly. 

The next step was a community led demolition and realignment of structures on right of access identified and negotiated jointly between the residents and the City Authorities. Members of GHAFUP and OFADA led this process, first meeting with community members to explain the demolition and relocation process.

A federation member in Old Fadama

Getting the wider community on board has been key to the success of the process. I spoke with a woman whose structure is waiting to be demolished. She has been a member of GHAFUP since 2008. However, she says she doesn’t know where she will go when her structure is demolished – that she will simply have to find a piece of vacant land and erect her structure there. Sadly, this means she will likely have to live on the edges of Old Fadama, where the dirt paths are riddled with rubbish and the harmattan hits harder against the shack walls.    

Despite these inevitable hardships characteristic of any relocation, resettlement of displaced peoples to other locations within Old Fadama is a success story in and of itself. Most tales of relocation involve displacement to many kilometers outside of the city, far from social ties, employment, and opportunity. Thanks to the successful negotiations of GHAFUP, OFADA and People’s Dialogue Ghana, this is not the case in Old Fadama.

In our discussions with GHAFUP and OFADA, it became clear that a waste management plan will be crucial to the success of the imminent de-silting project in order to prevent continued pollution of the lagoon. This is a key time for GHAFUP, OFADA and People’s Dialogue to put their negotiation skills to use. Waste remains a major issue in greater Accra, and the creation of a community-led waste management program for Old Fadama could serve as a key tool for income generation, community upgrading and negotiation with local authorities around the community’s capacity to engage in the upgrading process.

Farouk Braimah, director of the Ghanaian support NGO People’s Dialogue, stresses, “This whole exercise promises huge benefits and leverages. We anticipate capitalizing on this exercise to strengthen our hitherto weak relationship with the city authorities of Accra and to feed into [other projects] in Accra and Ashaiman.”

Bearing witness to the reality and determination of this community, alongside some of its key leaders, was certainly an experience no conference could compete with.

For more photographs of Old Fadama, check out SDI’s albums on Flickr and Facebook

In South Africa, Ms. Mandela Learns from the Community at Sheffield Road

Winnie Mandela visits Sheffield Road, Cape Town

**Cross-posted from the CORC Blog**

By Ariana K. MacPherson, SDI Secretariat

In July 2011, a national leader of the South African Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP), Patrick Magebhula Hunsley, was appointed to serve on the Ministerial Task Team on Water and Sanitation headed by Ms. Winnie Madikizela Mandela. The Team came into being in response to the Makhaza toilet scandal earlier this year, and was tasked with addressing the issue of open-air, incomplete and dilapidated toilets in poor communities across South Africa. 

By early 2012, the team is meant to report back to Minister Sexwale of the Department of Human Settlements with recommendations based on their findings on the scale and geographic spread of the problem, as well as any “irregularities or malpractices,” of which quite a few have already been unearthed.

In early December, Ms. Mandela was in Cape Town for a National Task Team forum, where community leaders, task teams and members of social movements such as the Informal Settlement Network, one of the members of the South African SDI alliance, presented reports on the state of sanitation in their communities. Following these reports, the SA SDI Alliance made recommendations on upgrading of urban informal settlements based on their experiences of re-blocking at Sheffield Road.

They shared how this process has led to many positive outcomes, including the incorporation of sanitation within the re-blocked clusters, rather than on the periphery of the settlement as is usually the case. Where toilets have been incorporated into clusters, community members reported a marked difference in levels of vandalism and blockages, both of which are problems that can cause the State huge costs in informal settlements.

Upon hearing about Sheffield Rd., Ms. Mandela was eager to visit the community. She spent time meeting with women who have mobilized to turn what was not long ago a maze of dark alleyways with few safe or functioning toilets nearby into a vibrant community working together to bring about permanent change.

Winnie Mandela visits Sheffield Road, Cape Town        Winnie Mandela visits Sheffield Road, Cape Town