Reflections from SDI at WUF

This year, a delegation from SDI’s network attended the World Urban Forum (WUF), here are our reflections from SDI at WUF.

Katowice, Poland hosted this year’s event from Sunday the 26th of June to Thursday the 30th of June. 

Established in 2001 by the United Nations, WUF is the premier global conference on sustainable urbanisation. The event aims to examine one of the world’s most pressing issues today: rapid urbanisation and its impact on communities, cities, economies, climate change and policies. 

Day 1 – 26th of June 2022

WUF11 Day 1 Line up

We attended UN Habitat‘s session focusing on ‘Grassroots Assembly’. The session highlighted the value and importance of localising Sustainable Development Goals, post-Covid-19 recovery and resilience, and building and maintaining partnerships.


Day 2 – 27th June 2022

Kickstarting the day, “Building a Cities4Children alliance” and a “Global Action Plan” dialogue were the first events to start the day for SDI. The WUF11 opening ceremony presented the perfect opportunity for a display of culture meets insightful dialogue. Delegates mingled with local and international officials, presenting the perfect networking opportunities.

A panel hosted by UN-Habitat tackled the issue of “Tackling the Slum Challenge” with housing ministers from South Africa, Malawi and Zimbabwe in attendance. The session saw interesting insights and informative yet challenging inputs from the Chair of SDI’s Board Joseph Muturi.

Delegates also met with Euan Crispin about their work with UCLG. The session presented a fresh perspective on some of the work, UCLG is producing.

We hosted a session entitled, ‘Recovery and Resilience: Community-led Strategies to Build Back Better in Informal Settlements.’ The session drew attention to the need to work with organised urban poor communities to address basic needs and services such as secure tenure, housing, food security, water and sanitation to build the resilience necessary to withstand future natural and manmade shocks and stressors. SDI at WUF

Day 3 – 28th of June 2022

The day was jam-packed, ranging from events with the World Health Organisation, Cities Alliance, DreamTown NGO, Habitat Village and The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

SDI’s Youth & Media Programme Coordinator, James Tayler, shared SDI’s role in the systemising of community-led housing in Africa.

Insights from the event highlighted the importance of the diversification of knowledge products. This may help to ensure active participation and communication between academia and communities.


Day 4  – 29th of June 2022

The delegates from SDI at WUF attended an amazing session with Plan International, Dream Town, World Vision and SDI co-presentation on the Inter-generational dialogue. The session consisted of video commitments collected by cell phone video across the world with youth speaking their truth. Shared by youth in person and online, in conversations with key professionals at the host institutions. This session was very interactive and the youth rose to the occasion and had a lot to contribute. 


A good exchange of ideas followed, with a number of new potential thematic collaboration points. 

It is clear that grassroots organisations are perhaps less well-represented at this year’s world urban forum than is ideal. Due to this, there was a lot of dialogue and exchange specifically facilitated by the co-habitat network around how to remedy this and raise the voices of grassroots CBOs.

Final Day – 30th of June 2022


Key Messaging


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What women want – part two: to map vulnerability to climate change


This article was originally published by IIED. 

By Sheela Patel, founder director of SPARC India and co-founder of SDI

This blog draws mostly on the experiences of SDI’s federations, (usually) formed by women’s savings groups. For members of these groups and their federations, exchange visits within their city or between cities – and internationally – have long been a key part of learning. This would include visits to cities where groups were mapping and collecting data on risk and vulnerability.

But when pandemic-related travel bans made in-person visits no longer possible, women learnt how to have digital conversations over the internet.

Five priority areas emerged. The four described in part one of this blog were: a roof over their heads; greens in their meals; women taking care of their own health; and ‘wheels and wages’, or the difficulties navigating increasingly unaffordabe transport options.

This blog discusses the fifth request from women – to be able to use their own knowledge and skills to map vulnerability to climate change.


Mapping benefits for everyone

Mapping and profiling informal settlements brings great benefits by guiding and informing responses to climate change risks. But just as importantly it benefits city government – if they support, engage and work with these women and their federations, both in mapping and data collection, and in developing responses. It also allows women to devise and agree their own strategies for change.

Examples of community-led mapping and profiling informal settlements include:

  • Across Kenya, within a 20-year history of the Kenyan federation of slum dwellers (Muungano wa Wanavijiji)
  • In Cuttack (India), mapping flood risks at city level
  • In Kisumu (Kenya), enumerating and mapping all informal settlements, and
  • In Epworth (Zimbabwe) using a geographic information system (GIS) for informal settlement upgrading.

Engaging the people who know best

Slum mapping and profiling is not easy. Residents often distrust the reasons given for collecting data, and the people who collect them. But this can be overcome by engaging residents from the start, including in the data collection.

SDI’s Know Your City campaign has engaged and supported slum profiling in thousands of informal settlements in 450 cities. The information gathered is added to SDI’s database.

In the last two years of working on climate change issues, SDI has tried to understand what brought women to the city, the challenges they face and where they live. An underlying driver of women moving to cities is their vulnerability to climate change, and being unable to find work in rural areas because of climate change’s negative impacts on agriculture and on rural populations.

In urban areas, the location where women squat is usually on land that was not in use because it was either next to a river or a dumping ground, or in some other way not suitable for habitation. Riverside settlements risked flooding while high-density informal settlements lacking public space created urban heat islands.

Now we must unpack the challenges that women face, understand how these are linked to climate vulnerability and build capacity, so women can deal with these challenges themselves. And we must address the ‘leaking bucket syndrome’ of constantly existing in survival mode to address these ever-present challenges.

So when women heard about the Race to Resilience campaign, it was something they understood very well. If they were supported to come up with robust solutions, it could help save their city, their families, and their communities.

It would also limit the depletion of valuable resources destroyed by disasters. It would improve their ability to climb out of the difficult conditions in which they were living, towards a better quality of life.

Communication is key

Women also realised that most city governments and communities were not in regular touch with each other. When disaster struck, there was no mutual, trusting relationship between them and the city, and urgent issues were not addressed.

But having a detailed vulnerability map of informal settlements is an effective way of grabbing the attention of local government. With a map, training communities and city officials, it was possible to develop a plan together to address different problems.

This would prove invaluable when identifying measures for disaster prevention and preparedness. Women immediately saw the benefits and are keen to explore this with other groups and federations across their networks.

Knowledge is power

The SDI network starts by exploring what women themselves can do. What are the simple questions they can ask themselves and each other to build up responses to help define the challenges and develop action plans. This revealed practices they are already doing, but which may have some frailties, and identified the actions they could do for themselves.

In the second phase, SDI approaches external partners for technical and financial support. Each federation presents their plan to their city government representatives to explore whether they can partner with them in the process.

But the most exciting aspect of these processes is that if communities outside SDI actively engage with these campaigns, they open up ways for grassroots advocacy to inform resilience.

Listening to those who are excluded and vulnerable, and trusting in their ability to define what they need, leads to solutions that are built around them. The outcome is new ways to engage a range of actors and stakeholders who can contribute to solutions that become the new normal.

My two blogs reflect on what women want, and we invite social movements, other networks and people who design solutions in health, housing, habitat, and data management, to join us.

Together we can develop capacities and skills to engage community networks to define areas of investigation. Solutions that deliver the needs and priorities of poor communities, neighbourhoods and especially for women – as identified by them – are possible.

SDI at CBA14: Claiming Space for Communities



From 21 – 24 September, a delegation of SDI slum dweller leaders and support professionals will participate in the 14th International Conference on Community-based Adaptation to Climate Change (CBA14) – “From local solutions to global action.” The conference brings together practitioners, grassroots representatives, local and national government planners, policymakers and donors working at all levels and scales to discuss how we can drive ambition for a climate-resilient future.

SDI federations and other grassroots groups use innovative approaches to address climate change in their communities, yet their unique experiences, needs, and priorities continue to be overlooked — or they are seen as the consumers or beneficiaries of other stakeholders’ planning and development, rather than important partners in the planning and development of their own communities, cities, and futures. SDI believes – and our work at all levels reflects – that effective interventions must involve representative organisations of these communities as stakeholders that lead the design, planning, implementation, evaluation and learning from the changes that are needed so urgently.

We hope that those of you planning to attend CBA14 will join SDI at some of the events listed below, where you will be sure to find community representatives speaking directly to their own needs, priorities, strategies and solutions.

CBA14 Opening Plenary | 21 September, 13:00 CET : In this opening session, the LDC Chair – Bhutan, will welcome participants to the CBA14th Virtual conference. We will use this opportunity to take stock of progress on the Global Commission on Adaptation’s Locally-Led Action track – first introduced at CBA13, asking the CBA community to help shape future milestones for locally led action. These milestones will frame discussions at CBA14 and set the stage for an engaging, interactive conference.

COVID-19 and Grassroots Responses from the Frontline| 22 September, 08:00 CET: The dialogue style session will provide an interactive platform for grassroot speakers/leaders to exchange lived experiences of responding to an immediate crisis such as COVID-19 given existing capabilities, resources and knowledge. It will create a learning opportunity to identify the patterns of community actions; navigate the challenges faced and determine ways of scaling up such locally-led responses to build a future that is more resilient to shocks and uncertainty. Through capturing their response and drawing lessons from their practices, grassroots organisations and social networks can enhance community resilience in the face of future disruptions, disasters and emergencies such as those driven by climate change. Session is capped at 35. Sign up here. 

Listening to Grassroots Voices / Voices from the Ground | 22 September, 13:00 CET: This session will showcase grassroots leaders’ experiences and insights gained over years of organising to build community resilience and influence policy. Urban and rural grassroots leaders will describe how they have transferred and scaled up their efforts, claiming resources and recognition from local, national, regional and global institutions. They will share effective organising skills for addressing climate change issues through community based adaptation, including key challenges and successes in resilience-building work. Leaders will showcase the power of community data collection and mapping to negotiate with local level stakeholders to strengthen local plans and service delivery of programs. Finally, leaders will highlight the critical role of collaborative partnership to champion community-based solutions to climate change will be another key point of discussion. Session is capped at 35. Sign up here. 

Preparing the next generation of youth leaders to accelerate Climate Adaptation in cities | 22 September, 16:30 CET: Climate change science requires the assessment of complex nexus issues at the intersection of natural, built and human environments. Resilience planning requires collaboration across disciplines, political boundaries and sectors to address gaps and respond to emerging and current risks from climate change. There is considerable need to support knowledge development and capacity building at all levels from science to practice in order to support scaled action on urban resilience, while addressing the divide in the educational system itself. Universities are uniquely positioned to mobilize talent, develop knowledge and experience across disciplines and continental divides. Partnerships between universities, community organizations, city governments and the private sector can drive inclusive and resilient urban development. Session is capped at 35. Sign up here. 

Impacting Policies – perspectives, trends, challenges and success factors | 23 September, 08:00 CET: Grassroots movement building and leadership in community based adaptations have played a significant role in shaping policy debates on climate change adaptation. Despite this, barriers remain in the decentralisation of power and decision making, flow of financial resources, and policy support towards community based adaptation efforts. This session will bring together grassroots leaders and policy makers, calling attention to the influence of social movements on global policies, highlighting the current policy trends, shifts in local and national budgets, accomplishments, and roadblocks experienced in attempting to bring more policy incentives and financial resources to urban and rural grassroots communities. Session is capped at 35. Sign up here. 

Putting Money Where It Matters | 24 September, 08:00 CET: Financing for climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction (DRR) is not getting where it matters, neither to the countries nor communities that need it most. This session first presents findings from new research showing donor funding for adaptation and DRR financing has not targeted the most climate vulnerable countries, and when funding does reach the countries that need it most, local actors are currently unlikely to access it. The session then looks forward, offering an opportunity to collaborate around advocating for greater adaptation financing and co-develop practical principles for better climate adaptation and DRR financing with the CBA community – so that it is more effectively helping the most vulnerable countries and communities. Session is capped at 35. Sign up here. 


Looking Ahead — Opportunities for Fundamental Change

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By Joel Bolnick, Robert M. Buckley, Sarah Colenbrander, Achilles Kallergis, Nancy MacPherson, Diana Mitlin, and David Satterthwaite

SDI has been inspired by the vision of socially and economically integrated slum settlements with security of tenure, universal access to affordable basic services, and adequate housing. To that end, SDI has demonstrated over many decades that constructive dialogue, collaborative data gathering, and knowledge sharing among informal settlements, communities, and local government authorities can contribute significantly to inclusive and sustainable urban development. Our societies face mounting global risk, characterized by profound inequality and rising wealth disparities, social instability, disruptive technological advancements, large-scale involuntary migration, and climate change. Many of these challenges are concentrated in cities.

Fundamental changes are needed to:

  • shift the approaches to urban development and informal settlements so that the poor are recognized as assets and partners, not problems;
  • support the essential partnerships required to deliver inclusive, resilient, and sustainable urban development;
  • reimagine data and information systems so they support shared knowledge, trust, and collective action;
  • develop innovative instruments and frameworks to monitor and report on poverty that shape more inclusive policies, programs, and investments.

✸ ✸ ✸

The successful realization of KYC in 103 cities and 1,238 settlements demonstrates the power and potential of an expanded KYC campaign. KYC is capable of reorienting the way that urban planning and development happens. It can guide local governments, national and international policies, and programs and investments at scale. As such, it can contribute significantly to managing the persistent social, economic, and political risks facing cities and nations.

A scaled-up KYC campaign presents opportunities for SDI and partners to transform existing urban development practice and policies by catalyzing new thinking and solutions in: monitoring for local action; advancing urban resilience and inclusion; redefining and managing risk; and securing new finance for the urban poor.

Monitoring That Enables Local Action

As noted in Rose Molokoane’s introduction, there is a need to move from talk to action. KYC has much to offer the SDG and city monitoring processes in moving to achieve inclusive, resilient, and sustainable urban development.

KYC profiling and enumeration processes provide the detailed information needed to reframe issues from a local perspective and identify practical solutions for informal settlements. The central role of slum dwellers in collecting and processing data ensures a focus on the poor and on operational knowledge for local actors working to implement global commitments.

Universal generalized indicators fail to capture the complex and locally specific conditions of slums. They therefore lead to policies and programs that do not respond to the most pressing needs of the urban poor, and can direct investments away from realistic and affordable improvements. Without accurate information and a deeper understanding of the needs and priorities of informal settlements, slum dwellers remain invisible, and efforts to reduce urban poverty and inequality will fail.

KYC fills a crucial gap in efforts to localize global development monitoring agendas in the following ways:

It generates operational local knowledge. A commitment to disaggregated, local data on the most vulnerable populations is essential to ensure we understand the reality of life for the majority of residents living in cities characterized by informality. It is staggering to see the exclusion of slum households and informal settlements in national censuses, household surveys, and other data that form the basis of poverty measures. Through their design, such surveys miss millions of poor individuals, particularly those residing in informal areas. KYC is designed to measure what matters to the urban poor and cities concerned with inclusive development.

KYC offers systematic, rich, contextual information across low-income neighborhoods in cities of the Global South. The information generated through KYC profiling and mapping is operational. It informs local action by clearly showing what the priorities, capacities, and preferences of slum dweller communities are, and how those preferences vary by local context, city, neighborhood, or  even household. This level of detail is necessary to realize pragmatic improvements, set appropriate standards, and create adequate solutions from the urban poor perspective.

It generates collaborative local action. KYC has tremendous potential to develop a shared understanding of local conditions and build the relationships needed for collective action by slum dwellers and local governments. It demonstrates the critical role that community groups play in framing problems, identifying issues, and addressing priorities. The power of KYC extends well beyond the data it produces and is transformative because it serves as a mechanism for communities to use this rich information to broaden understanding and accountability, both in horizontal relations (within a community) and vertically (among communities, the state, local governments, and the private sector).

Concrete examples of KYC’s potential are found wherever there are active SDI federations. The impact is strongest where KYC is embedded in national urban policy and programming. In the Cites Alliance–funded Country Programs, for example, the role of community profiling and mapping is a core element recognized by government, local partners, and international support agencies. In Uganda, Ghana, and Liberia in particular, SDI federation profiling data set baselines from which program achievements were measured, informed the development of city development strategies and urban policy, and grounded the identification, by communities, of priority slum upgrading projects funded by municipal Community Upgrading Funds.

To “leave no one behind,” we need better tools to measure change in the most vulnerable populations. For those seeking to convert information into action, KYC offers tremendous opportunity for monitoring progress toward global agendas and catalyzing dialogue and action at local, city, and national levels.

Advancing Urban Resilience and Inclusion

Inequality and climate change are two of the defining challenges of the contemporary era. Increasingly, developing cities find themselves at the very heart of these challenges. Over the past decade, the global development community and investors have seen promising results from investments that seek to build the resilient capacity of individuals, communities, and systems, including the most vulnerable. Significant conceptual, technical, and operational advances have been made using a resilience lens to reframe problems, solutions, and investments to respond better to incremental, chronic, and catastrophic shocks and stresses. The KYC campaign has been essential in advancing new ways of analyzing and understanding the role that informal settlements can play in achieving resilient and sustainable cities, reframing problems and solutions, and managing and mitigating risks. As a groundbreaking civic initiative for urban resilience, KYC offers unparalleled insights into the risks facing urban residents, as well as the means to transform relationships within settlements and cities in ways that tackle the driver of vulnerability: exclusion.

While investments in resilient, “smart,” sustainable, green, and livable cities have proliferated, many of these initiatives fail to address persistent poverty, exclusion, and lack of opportunity. Instead they often focus on technological fixes to infrastructure while remaining relatively silent on inclusion and equity.

SDI’s membership includes some of the most vulnerable populations in the world. These people frequently live in parts of the city that are exposed to hazards—for example, in low-lying coastal areas and floodplains, or on steep slopes. Environmental threats are exacerbated by the absence of risk-reducing infrastructure, such as water supply, sanitation, drains, and durable housing. As a result, slum dwellers bear the brunt of major disasters, while living with a range of everyday hazards that middle and high-income households are often able to avoid. By proactively engaging with initiatives designed to achieve resilient and sustainable cities, such as 100 Resilient Cities (100RC), and C40, SDI seeks to bring the urban poor to the center of strategy development and implementation.

As part of the 100RC effort, Durban, South Africa developed a city Resilience Strategy that identifies two critical priority areas for resilience building—one of which is, Collaborative Informal Settlement Action. This priority emerged from a highly participatory strategy development process driven by the city. Implementation of the strategy will be informed and monitored by “consolidated quantitative and qualitative community and municipal-collected data, information and knowledge on all informal settlements [that] is accessible to all and updated regularly.” Other 100RC cities are already looking to Durban for lessons on developing strategies that address informality. SDI federations in Accra, Nairobi, Lagos, Paynesville, and Cape Town are strategizing with their city government partners about how the KYC campaign can add value to the formulation and implementation of their resilience strategies. In partnership with the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and Inclusive Climate Action Program, SDI seeks to deepen the use of KYC by city mayors to make the case for inclusive climate action.

Redefining and Managing Risk

Much needs to be done to translate our understanding of the linkages between risks, human vulnerability, and poverty into robust risk management and investment strategies. Deepening inequality and poverty, compounded by the catastrophic effects of extreme weather events, violence, migration, and discrimination, have catalyzed new efforts to redress inadequate risk management strategies and instruments.

Over decades, SDI has implemented proven approaches to risk reduction through collective power, data, and savings. These strategies reduce everyday risks for urban poor families and help to secure assets, such as their homes. What is seldom taken into account is how these strategies also reduce the risk that voices of the urban poor will be silenced.

The KYC Campaign brings the power of community data and local Urban Poor Funds together in order to identify and reduce risks for the most vulnerable. This underpins collective efforts to negotiate and deliver community-managed public goods and services (tenure security, water, sanitation, drainage). Investments in these public goods address collectively experienced risks and help to strengthen awareness within the community of the significance of reducing and managing risk.

KYC also provides the basis for building relations that enable organized slum dwellers to challenge adverse political outcomes and reduce the risk of political exclusion. Politicians and officials appreciate the detailed information provided by KYC and recognize the potential of the organizations that produce this data. This makes them more likely to listen to SDI federations. In Namibia, for example, using the relationships enhanced by KYC, the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia successfully argued for inclusive upgrading solutions that now have the support of city and provincial government.

In the face of outmoded risk management instruments and strategies, innovators and early adopters in the urban field are experimenting with advancements in insurance products, credit rating systems, pro-poor safeguards in protocols for city investment, and the acquisition of risk-reducing assets through finance and social networks. SDI is also helping public and private partners to rethink the assumptions and processes that underpin decisions about banking systems, basic services, and municipal finance.

Innovation in New Finance for the Urban Poor

The United Nations estimates that it will cost almost USD $4 trillion a year to achieve the SDGs in developing countries alone, with an annual shortfall of an estimated USD $2.5 trillion. A significant portion of this funding is required for critical infrastructure to reduce urban vulnerability, but the share of public funds for these developments is diminishing. This realization, along with the emergence of impact investing and innovative finance, has spurred SDI to explore the potential for the urban poor of new experimental financing mechanisms including resilience bonds, social impact bonds, diaspora bonds, insurance-based instruments, crowd-funding, peer-to-peer lending, and outcome-based contracting.

Lessons from SDI’s experience in urban poor finance can help to inform and ground the design and innovation of these and other much-needed new financial strategies and instruments in the realities of informal settlements. The Urban Poor Fund International (UPFI) is a self-governed, self-managed, and expanding financial facility that provides capital to national Urban Poor Funds. These in turn provide low-cost loans and grants to savings collectives undertaking important urban improvement and housing projects. It puts capital directly into the hands of slum dwellers undertaking urban improvement schemes that they have negotiated with local and municipal government. Giving federations direct control of capital enables them to negotiate as an acknowledged potential partner with formal bodies such as governments, investors, and banks. These interventions have been anchored by the same local knowledge and partnerships that guide KYC and have thus produced practical interventions for affordable and scalable finance in support of the urban poor.

Climate-Compatible Informal Settlement Investments

In the face of new environmental threats (such as floods and sea level rise) investments must, to the extent possible, be designed in ways that support low-carbon development. There is far too little work done with respect to informal settlement upgrading in the context of climate change. Particularly among city governments and investors, few appreciate the extent to which good-quality upgrading could build resilience to climate risk. Throughout the SDI network, federations are building housing structures that are better able to withstand storms and floods; installing piped water supplies; making provisions for sanitation and drainage; constructing all-weather roads and paths that are resilient to extreme weather; and creating house and neighborhood designs that help populations cope with heat waves and flooding. In partnership with Global Infrastructure Basel (GIB), SDI seeks to increase investment in climate-friendly infrastructure in informal settlements by producing business cases guided by KYC data and SuRe® Standard sustainability and resilience assessments.

Risk is all about protecting the bottom line. In the case of slum upgrading in an increasingly dangerous environment, the bottom line is to change the political and economic climate. The first step is to recognize that risks associated with leaving millions of people behind will be equally shared, not borne only by those who can least afford to carry them. And to appreciate that including the urban poor in development plans will generate economic, social, and environmental benefits for all residents.

In February, SDI launched a landmark publication titled “Know Your City: Slum Dwellers Count,” showcasing the extraordinary contribution of the Know Your City (KYC) campaign to creating understanding and taking action to reduce urban poverty and exclusion. We are posting a new chapter from the book every week. Enjoy! 

Download the full publication here:

Climate Change Renaissance: The bottom-up city approach











**This article was cross posted from the Muungano wa Wanavijiji blog**

Similarly to local governments, federations of the urban poor globally are equally concerned about the strong impacts of climate change they continue to experience. Urban poor communities living in global cities believe that COP21 in Paris is an opportunity to state loud and clear that local communities are major players in finding lasting solutions in the struggle against climate change.

Anastasia Wairimu Maina is one of the founders of Muungano wa Wanavijiji, Kenyan Alliance and its National Chairlady since it was formed in 1996. Wairimu was one of the delegates representing Slum Dwellers International (SDI) at the COP21 summit in Paris. She views the Climate Summit as “an opportunity to voice up that we, the slum dwellers within the SDI network and beyond are major players in the struggle against climate change.”

“Cities can make a difference, our collective actions as a network of the urban poor globally ought to be recognized on the international platform of which our achievements may be built onto the climate agenda. This would encourage a more ambitious and inclusive international climate agreement in Paris.”

Anastasia Presenting on the need of partnerships between communities and local governments to address climate change

Anastasia highlighted how urban poor communities at the local and city levels are directly affected by climate change. “The floods, air pollution by medium and large industries and factories- which directly affects air quality in informal residential areas and settlement-fires. This intimates two things: Climate change is real and is here with us and local governments and authorities cannot address this on their own.”

Awareness Creation

In its urban agenda, Kenya’s federation of the urban poor, Muungano wa Wanavijiji, has begun to address challenges posed by climate change through awareness creation among the masses. The awareness is built on the Climatic Change Awareness Creation and Adaptation for Improved Livelihoods among urban poor Communities. Another aspect of this awareness is pegged on the improvement of food security for small holder city farmers and food vendors in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, through creating awareness about causes and effects of climate change while motivating them to mitigate and adapt to the changing climatic conditions.

Although climate change and its effects have taken root in most parts of Kenya, there is general lack of knowledge by the policy makers, private sector and urban communities about its causes, effects, mitigation and adaptation measures.

“The consequences of climate change are felt locally, often by slum dwellers living in degraded environments, and have to be dealt with at local and city levels. It is therefore crucial that the voices of the urban poor are taken into consideration by and wholly represented to the local authorities be heard at the Climate Summit. Then we can locally and influence change globally,” asserts Anastasia .

Inclusive participatory Planning of Public spaces

A Public Space in Kibera Photo Credits.

Urban planning and development remains to be an important aspect of rapid urbanization. This therefore makes it important for city authorities to innovate and plan for public spaces in a manner that would incorporate city demands, thus enabling city residents to feel part of the city. Public spaces are typically having the mandate of the people to develop, manage and maintain such spaces on behalf of the people.

Slum-dwellers play a significant civic role in the utilization and maintenance of public spaces. It is therefore equally important for city authorities to involve urban dwellers to model an inclusive, connected, safe, and accessible city. Public participatory processes give the urban poor the opportunity to help plan and design their city and its public spaces.

Anastasia emphasized the importance of (local) government and business partnering with organised slum dwellers, because “we are many, we have something to offer, and you cannot do without us to do something about climate issues.”

Cohesion and coordination between members of the public, community, and civic, charitable and private entities do commonly have different approaches and capacities to safeguard, utilise and improve public spaces. However, it is important to note that such spaces ought to bring all actors on board to enhance better planning, design and maintenance of public spaces.

The sustainability of our cities is enhanced by compact, mixed-use development, and dense centres served by a safe, well-connected network for pedestrians, bicycles and motorised vehicles. Renewable energy and waste recycling systems, native trees and vegetation, clean air, water, soil and sanitary systems all serve to sustain and benefit public spaces.

Governments often lead the way in taking ambitious action to mitigate and adapt to climate change. As the level of government closest to the people and the one responsible for actually implementing climate action on the ground, it is essential that they not only be heard, but also help shape the climate change discussions.

The SDI network is calling on national, European and international policy makers to recognise the role and efforts of local urban poor communities in climate mitigation and adaptation in the Paris agreement and to adapt both financial and legal framework conditions in partnership with local actors.

Well-Run Cities Are Resilient: The Importance of Responsive Relationships Between Local Governments & Slum Communities


By Caroline Walker, SDI Secretariat 

“Time and again, those who have the least lose the most”[1]

Solutions to major challenges that have become exacerbated by climate change are often found in the hands of communities at the coalface of such disasters. In a recent New York Times article Tim Hanstad and Roy Prosterman discuss Typhoon Haiyan’s impact on the Philippines last November and the importance of allocating the poor land rights.  They highlight the lack of collateral for the majority of Haiyan’s victims: slum residents.  Hanstad and Prosterman emphasize that it is in the best economic and social interests of a country to address the issue of landlessness. 

Natural disasters are not “equal-opportunity destroyers”.[2]  The urban poor are the most badly hit. They have poorer quality housing and insufficient “risk-reducing” infrastructure (piped water, sewers, electricity and good roads).[3] David Satterthwaitedefines resilience as “…the capacity of a city to absorb climate change-related disturbances/shocks while retaining the same basic structure and ways of functioning”.[4] Satterthwaite and Dodman explain that an oft neglected aspect of resilience is political, further defining resilience in low and middle income cities as local government extending political representation to slum residents through addressing their needs.[5] Additionally, institutional competence is needed in order for cities to generate resilience. Low resilience in cities is shown both by the effects of disasters and subsequent disaster relief.  Typhoon Haiyan is testament to this.  Many of Haiyan’s 4 million displaced occupied low-lying coastal zones.The city of Tacloban (in the Leyte province), home to a large slum population and one of the worst hit, displays what Satterthwaite terms “accumulated vulnerability” – a failure to develop the necessary infrastructure to be resilient to climate change.[6] After the storm, government embarked on a plan to use a large portion of previously slum land to expand Tacloban City Airport.  Such land insecurity is why many slum dwellers remain in their structures amid natural disasters, fearing a loss of their land – increasing mortality.  Hanstad and Prosterman cite land reforms in South Korea, Vietnam and Rwanda to support their solution of addressing this and the issue of landlessness in the Philippines.  Giving the poor land rights is one way to strengthen a city’s structures and increase resilience.

Well-run cities are resilient cities; resilient cities are adaptive cities

The most resilient cities are associated with high-income and strong local and national governments. Such cities are characterized by strong physical, social, political and financial structures. These structures allow cities to adapt to changing conditions and withstand and recover from various stresses.[7] Historically, poor service provision by local governments in the global south has been marked by deficiencies in infrastructure and institutions.[8] Satterthwaite draws attention to this by comparing the devastation wrought by typhoons of the same strength in Japan and the Philippines.  The latter saw higher mortality rates.  Many high-income cities’ resilience “…is independent of any climate change adaptation measures because it was built [responding] to risks that are (or were) present independent of climate change but that climate change will exacerbate”.[9]  This highlights the importance of local and national authorities.

The need for bottom-up development

“Resilience to climate change is often the result of low-income citizens getting responses to everyday needs”.[10] In order for the urban poor to be incorporated in cities, local authorities need to increase engagement with community members.  Local governments are often reluctant to work with slum residents.[11]This requires action from communities and a change in government attitude.  The Philippine’s Homeless People’s Federation supported by Philippine Action for Community-led Shelter Initiatives Inc (PACSII) has been engaging government on housing since its inception.  Stronger housing structures would have curbed the death toll in the Philippines.  Federations across the global south are and can be a channel for the government to understand the needs of the urban poor and plan responses accordingly.  At the time of the disaster the Philippines Alliance was planning to mobilize affected community members in the Bohol and Cebu provinces to conduct damage assessments as well as profile, map and enumerate affected communities.  Such activities can direct local authorities to where the need is greatest.  Without this data funds are often misdirected or misspent, if that.  Community savings can also be used by Federations to invest in measures to increase resilience. After Typhoon Frank in Illoilo, Philippines, the Federation used community savings to leverage funds from the government in order to build transit housing accommodating 293 people.

Innovation is needed in developing resistance to and dealing with the effects of climate change.  Local authorities need to work with slum communities to improve the quality of housing structures and develop early warning systems in order to lessen the impact of typhoons like Haiyan.  Each group cannot do so effectively on its own.  Poor communities “…cannot build much-needed citywide trunk infrastructure, [thus] they have to demonstrate to government agencies their capacities as potential partners”.[12]  Local authorities and poor communities are the nexus for improving resilience. Whether systems developed are effective or not depends on whether they are supported by the poor. 

The impact of Typhoon Haiyan is one of many examples of the effects of climate change on the urban poor. Dual efforts need to be made to improve relationships between local authorities and the urban poor and to strengthen physical, social, political and financial structures.  Doing so will increase resilience, decreasing negative effects of disasters.  Hanstad and Prosterman write about the need for the international community to pressurize the Filipino government (as well as many others) to address land security.  This should be the start of a global discussion on land security, extending to how to increase resilience of slum communities – aiming towards achieving more inclusive cities. 

[1]Hanstad, T and Prosterman, R. The New York Times, “How the Poor Get Washed Away, ” 14 January 2014,

[2]Hanstad, T and Prosterman, R. The New York Times, “How the Poor Get Washed Away, ” 14 January 2014,

[3]Satterthwaite, D. 2013. The political underpinnings of cities’ accumulated resilience to climate change, Environment and Urbanization 25(2): 382. Available online at:

[4]Satterthwaite, D. 2013. The political underpinnings of cities’ accumulated resilience to climate change, Environment and Urbanization 25(2): 381. Available online at:

[5]Satterthwaite, D and Dodman, D. 2013. Towards resilience and transformation for cities within a finite planet, Environment and Urbanization 25(2): 291. Available online at:

[6]Satterthwaite, D. 2013. The political underpinnings of cities’ accumulated resilience to climate change, Environment and Urbanization 25(2): 387. Available online at:

[7]Satterthwaite, D and Dodman, D. 2013. Towards resilience and transformation for cities within a finite planet, Environment and Urbanization 25(2): 295. Available online at: 

[8][8]Moser, C and Satterthwaite, D. 2008. Climate Change and Cities Discussion Paper 3: Towards pro-poor adaptation to climate change in the urban centres of low- and middle-income countries. v. Available online at:

[9]Satterthwaite, D. 2013. The political underpinnings of cities’ accumulated resilience to climate change, Environment and Urbanization 25(2): 383. Available online at:

[10]Satterthwaite, D. 2013. The political underpinnings of cities’ accumulated resilience to climate change, Environment and Urbanization 25(2): 388. Available online at:

[11][11]Moser, C and Satterthwaite, D. 2008. Climate Change and Cities Discussion Paper 3: Towards pro-poor adaptation to climate change in the urban centres of low- and middle-income countries. v. Available online at:

[12]Satterthwaite, D. 2013. The political underpinnings of cities’ accumulated resilience to climate change, Environment and Urbanization 25(2): 389. Available online at:

Community-Driven Solutions to Climate Change

Local Solutions to Climate Change

Edith Samia of the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda being interviewed at the Local Climate Solutions for Africa (LOCS) conference. 

By Mara Forbes, SDI Secretariat 

“Climate change is improving on what we have so we can sustain in what we are doing.” Edith Samia, National Slum Dwellers of Federation of Uganda

A delegation from South Africa, Uganda, and Tanzania attended the second biannual Local Climate Solutions for Africa (LOCS) conference from October 30 to November 1 in Dar es Salaam hosted by ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability). Over 440 delegates attended the conference from 25 African countries. Of those, 300 were local government representatives, and of that 170 were heads of local governments (Mayors, Governors and Chairpersons). LOCS is a platform that brings together local government officials, academics, NGOs, private sector, and development partners to learn from each other and understand how local solutions can address the global climate change agenda.

Climate change is most frequently discussed in terms of a larger global issue rather then than a topic of national or local concern. More frequently this view has shifted to try and understand how climate change related issues are experienced at the local level and what resilience and adaptation efforts communities can provide to combat these effects. Those hit hardest by climate change live in countries that have low carbon footprints and have not created many of problems the world is facing. The global south, and particularly the urban poor in these countries, will be affected most from its negative impacts. They live in low-lying areas that suffer from heavy flooding, frequent landslides, droughts, and the like. Climate related risks are adding to the already existing challenges faced by the poor.

How do we take these global issues of climate change that are most often looked at from the large scale and understand how local initiatives can mitigate the effects? SDI took this opportunity to showcase how communities of the urban poor are addressing issues of climate change. Edith Samia of the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda shared how communities in Uganda are creating and implementing innovative methods to mitigate climate change. For example, solid waste is being used to make charcoal briquettes. Briquettes are created by compacting loose biomass into solid blocks that can replace fossil fuels, charcoal, and firewood for cooking and heating. The community is able to collect and reuse the waste that accumulates in settlements and turn it into a form of energy, at the same time using this activity as an incoming generating project for community members. In Bwaise, an area that is prone to flooding from heavy rains, the community built a sanitation unit that also harvests rainwater. This water can be used for the flush toilets or can be sold by the jerry can, also an income-generating project. 

For most, these measures are not understood as climate change but rather everyday activities that provide services, generate income, and improve their livelihoods. As Edith noted, “most of the communities don’t know about climate change and need capacity building and sensitization around this.” For communities of the urban poor these everyday practices demonstrate the innovative methods being used to make the urban poor more resilient to climate change impacts. 

The LOCS platform opened a space that allowed local governments, academics, and NGO’s to come together to discuss how impacts of climate change can be addressed together. Spaces such as LOCS that aim to bring together various partners need to be cognizant of who is and is not included in these conversations. Communities that are affected most by the impacts of climate change need to be involved in the co-production of mitigation efforts. As Edith stated, “With such a big gathering we need to speak out, they [local government officials] sit too much and think about what to do for us, but we should be able to tell them what we need. Although community was at least given some time to talk, it was not enough. We are part of the problem but also the solution.”

Leadership in Philippines’ Urban Areas


By Celine d’Cruz, SDI

 Celine d’Cruz describes how strong leadership from the Philippines Homeless People’s Federation is helping the urban poor cope with climatic disasters

Main points

  • The author describes how federations of the urban poor in the Philippines are helping families affected by floods rebuild their lives after Typhoon Durian.
  • Helping poor people save, acquire land and build homes are key components of this work.
  • Committed local leadership has secured community trust, established good working relations with local government and explored long-term sustainable solutions.


The lack of affordable land and housing options for the poor in most cities in the Philippines means that between a third and a half of the urban population live in informal illegal settlements. These lack access to toilets, water supplies and electricity and the danger of eviction is constant. Without secure access to land and safe housing communities place more and more of their scanty resources into just surviving. They are caught in a hopeless cycle of squatting and eviction, which leads to further impoverishment. Such communities are particularly vulnerable to disasters such as Typhoon Durian, which struck at the end of 2006.

The Philippines Homeless People’s Federation brings together poor community organizations in cities across the Philippines, all engaged with finding solutions to problems they face with secure land, housing, income, infrastructure, health, welfare and access to affordable credit. The Federation has a number of new leaders who are focused, confident and support the communities with elegance and sensitivity. This article describes how these leaders, and the activities they are involved with, are helping the urban poor recover from Typhoon Durian in the Bicol Region and reduce their vulnerability to other similar disasters in the future.

Mayon Volcano and Typhoon Durian

Bicol is one of 17 regions in the Philippines. It occupies the Bicol Peninsula at the southeastern end of Luzon Island and some other islands. Mayon Volcano, in Albay Province, is a major landmark, rising 2462 metres above the gulf. It is the Philippines’ most active volcano. Its sides are layers of lava and other volcanic material. It has had 47 eruptions in recorded history; the first in 1616 and the latest in November 2006.

Typhoon Durian followed shortly after the November 2006 eruption, leading to floods that created mayhem in surrounding settlements and took many lives. Mudslides of volcanic ash and boulders from Mayon Volcano killed hundreds and covered a large portion of the village of Padang (an outer suburb of Legazpi City) in mud up to roof level. The death toll was estimated at 1000, which is either equal to or surpasses the death toll from the major 1814 Mayon Volcano eruption.

After November 2006, the federation of the urban poor in Bicol needed to redefine its strategy. Two leaders from the Philippines Homeless People’s Federation, Jossie and Rollie, went to provide support.

Following the disaster, all foreign aid was routed through local government. At such times corruption is commonplace and there is no one to demand accountability from government. Despite this, people were not ready to trust the federation until it organized exposure visits to Manila where people met with other urban poor federation communities.

Helping people save money

Some of the communities had been saving as part of the federation before the disaster struck, but in March 2007, the federation started helping people save in all the evacuation centers. As the men slowly started returning to work on construction sites, in the handicrafts industry and elsewhere they had money to put aside. The federation helped them manage their own money by explaining that savings are like drops of water that slowly fill a bucket.

The federation had to first get permission from the Municipal Social Service Department to enter the evacuation centers. It had to explain its objectives to the municipality and only started working with those municipalities which were interested. 

The government said it did not have enough land to relocate all the families. It worked out a set of criteria for selecting affected families but many were left out. Families who could not prove they had land title were of lower priority. This also encouraged people to save as most families who were seriously affected understood that they had to work hard to secure their own safety.

In the year that followed, 1036 people saved a total of 600,000 pesos (US$14,634). Some saved daily while others saved weekly.

Relocating families to new land

As soon as the savings groups were created, conversations began about land. This was the main preoccupation of affected families who had lost their land. The local community chose some suitable and affordable land and the federation helped them purchase this land with a loan. In government relocation packages, the flood victims only get a certificate of occupancy from the municipality. Borrowing money from the federation, however, allowed people to get land in their name. With title to the land and a safe house, families felt more secure about their children’s future. 

The federation has since purchased three pieces of land in three different municipalities after checking with disaster experts that the land was acceptable for relocation. The aim was to move beyond the ‘doling out’ mentality to finding a long-term solution and a ‘self-help’ approach to coping with disasters. This is in line with a key federation principle of working with communities affected by disasters: moving them from being victims to victors. The federation understands that living free of cost comes with no security. People can be evicted or houses demolished at any time, whereas buying their own land gives people security. Under the federation there are no free houses, so people borrow money, then pay it back into the fund allowing others to borrow. In the long-term many more people benefit.

Floods due to typhoons regularly affect some families, but the government’s immediate response is to keep them in evacuation camps with very poor living conditions. Local schools are used and when school starts, families have to wait until the end of the school day to occupy the buildings. This creates conditions of stress and anxiety for families who want to return home. The infrastructure is also appalling and toilets overflow because they cannot cope with such high levels of use. Headmasters also complain that families vandalize the school premises. The solution is far from perfect for all concerned, but it is the only one the government has found to date.

Relocation process followed by families in Camalig and Ginubatan

  1. Identify affordable and suitable land
  2. Secure a loan to purchase the land
  3. Sub-divide the land between families, including roads and infrastructure, and mark the location of each plot
  4. Collect and store water from the local springs for construction
  5. Provide land allocation certificates for each family
  6. Start constructing housing, beginning with temporary houses and moving on to construct permanent houses when resources are available
  7. Secure loans from the Urban Poor Development Fund for those who cannot afford construction

The three pieces of land are in the municipalities of Daraga, Camalig and Ginubata (see table below/above). In Daraga, the federation needs government permission to use this agricultural land as a relocation site. The Mayors have to collectively declare and reclassify the agricultural land and permission is needed from the Daraga Agrarian Reforms Department, the Mines and Geo-science Bureau and the Philippines Volcanology Center, which needs to confirm that the land is safe for relocation. There are three landowners in Ginubatan but most of the land formalities are completed. The plot is also agricultural land, and special permission from the Ministry of Agriculture is needed to begin construction. It may be that every single tree removed during construction will need replacing.

Municipality in which land has been purchased

Number of families to be relocated there

Land area (hectares)

Cost of land (US$)

Repayment time

Amount of repayment per family per month (US$)

Funding source


72 families, each getting 100 square metres of land to grow fruit and vegetables



2 years

7 US$

The Latin American, African and Asian Social Housing Service (SELAVIP)





1 year and 6 months

7 US$






3 years

7 US$

SELAVIP funds are insufficient so the Urban Poor Development Fund is being explored

Land for relocating families affected by floods

Building leadership

Rollie and Jossie work as a team in Bicol. Jossie is one of the victims of the Payatas landslides in 2000. She lives in Quezon City in Manila, in the relocation site for the affected families of the Payatas landslides. She was born in the Bicol Region and currently spends at least ten to 15 days there a month, working with Rollie to support the federation building process.

Rollie was a trade union leader in the transport sector in Manila from between 1975 and 1990. He lives in Montelupa – the settlement along the rail tracks in Manila where he met the Homeless People’s Federation survey team in 2003. He tried to find out more about the Federation and realized it ran very differently to the trade union where leadership was authoritarian and power hungry and misused funds. He detached himself from the trade union leaders because of this.

Rollie and Jossie have earned the trust of the local communities. It took time for the local communities to see that the federation was not a non-government organization or a funding agency but a people’s organization. It was only when the community was walked through all the following steps that they understood that the federation was different and began to trust it: 1) registration of their local organization, 2) surveys, 3) meetings, 4) savings, and 5) exposure to other city federations.

Rollie and Jossie learnt that there were three categories of affected people: those completely washed out who lost their land, left, moved to Manila City or moved in with relatives, those who half lost out, and those who were not washed out but continued to live in the danger zone. The municipality prioritized the first category even though the latter two categories of people also needed attention. The government identified land for those they prioritized, but built homes without people’s participation using international funding. Foolishly, they built in places that were still in the danger zone.

In the very beginning, after meeting with the communities, Rollie and Josie also met the mayor and the elected municipal councilors who make up the policy making body of the city. Most disaster management is done by the Social Services Center under the Mayor although some government officials understand what the federation is trying to do and have been supportive. The Mayor and the city have their resources but the community also now has its own savings. So they decided to work together to find a more lasting solution.

Leadership has not been without is challenges. Rollie and Josie described how sometimes those with bad experiences had dissuaded others from trusting the federation. Likewise, traditional leaders sometimes forced communities to raise money for their own interests.

Learning from exposure trips

Rollie and Jossie invited the Mayor of Camalig and his team on an exposure trip to Iluilu to meet with the Mayor and the federation there, and to better understand the work of the federation at the city level. The City of Iluilu has one of the more mature federations. It has been involved with various city slum upgrading projects and has developed a very good working relationship with the city council. The federation and the city work together with other federations and citizen groups to create a city level strategy.

This began following a small project providing loans for families to construct houses in a flood relocation area. Resources were only available, however, for a fraction of the families who needed loans. Selecting which families would benefit was difficult. The federation, therefore, created a multi-task team of different federations, professionals and businesses at the city level. This team will help the federations find long-term, sustainable city-level solutions, supporting all families affected by floods. Ultimately, the federation hopes that the team will help make Iluilu a city where every poor family has a secure home.

This process is forcing the federation to refine its own skills and to work with different citizen groups and articulate their interests to find city-level solutions. In doing so, the federation hopes to find answers to a problem that is too complex for it to tackle alone.

Organizing relocation

The federation has created different committees to manage relocation:

  • construction,
  • peace and order,
  • health,
  • livelihoods,
  • culture,
  • audit and inventory,
  • land and housing, and
  • sanitation.

Crucially, files need moving, permissions need to be obtained and large amounts of paperwork and documentation needs to be in place. Cito, a local leader, is in charge of the land and housing committee and conducts this role. He works with Jossie and Rollie who have given him the space to work without much interference. Although untrained in this area, he has learnt on the job and is now ready to mentor others.

Through this work, Cito says he has learnt patience, self control, how to negotiate with people and officials to secure permissions and how to get the work done without paying bribes. He is motivated and values the principles of the federation. He stresses that members must attend all meetings regularly because if not they will not have accurate information and may misunderstand what is going on. All families who are part of the federation relocation project therefore meet every month. Besides this, leaders like Cito who have taken on responsibility for different tasks also meet once a month to review progress.

Funds to help the poor

Discussions about a City Urban Poor Fund are underway amongst the federation leadership. The Urban Poor Development Fund already exists but an additional fund could facilitate further change. A national fund would also provide different options for accessing and dispersing funds. This national fund could be led by senior government officials, chaired by a local pastor and have federation members on the board. Consultative meetings are underway to determine what kind of institutional mechanism is needed for this to work.

Climate-related disasters occur on a regular basis and the federation is also talking about establishing a Disaster Fund. SELAVIP and more recently Misereor money has been used for this purpose but funding needs scaling up. Such a fund would be used for:

  • immediate crisis intervention,
  • providing businesses with small loans to help communities get back on their feet,
  • providing long-term loans for buying land and for housing,
  • long-term investment in collecting information such as family and settlement surveys and family photo identification in all danger zones, and
  • a satellite survey along the ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’ to locate all cities in the danger zone, identify communities under threat and begin thinking about long- term city solutions rather than waiting until disaster strikes.

About the author

Celine d’Cruz was one of the founding members of the Indian Society for the Promotion of Area Resources (SPARC) in1984. She is currently one of the global coordinators of Slum/Shack Dwellers International, an umbrella organization formed by 15 national slum/shack/homeless people’s federations to support each other and new emerging federations.


  • Celine d’Cruz, Slum/Shack Dwellers International, please insert postal address in here
  • Email:

Further information