SDI Rituals: Profiling & Enumeration through the Vusi Ntsuntsha Project


A piece written by Camila Yanzaguano, Erica Levenson, Manuela Chedjou, with photography by Ana Holschuch. 

Every year SDI hosts students from The New School, as part of their International Field Program. During the internship the students, alongside the SA SDI Alliance and Know Your City youth from the Western Cape, documented the data collection process and community organising of the Vusi Ntsuntsha project. 

Bridging the gap in data surrounding informal settlements is one of the main priorities of SDI. As the profiling process has developed SDI has relied more and more on the community participation of residents of informal settlements. The lack of data on informal settlements is a major issue, and speaks to a larger oversight of informal settlement residents. For this reason, community participation in the data collection process is crucial. Through SDI’s ‘Know Your City’ Campaign (KYC), this profiling and enumeration work is active across 32 different countries, in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, serving as an engine for active community participation. The initiative’s main goal is to produce valuable data on informal settlements so that the data can be used to determine what and where service improvements are needed.

Settlement profiling and enumeration is a process driven by the community for the community. The process helps to organize communities and define the most pressing problems in their settlement, as well as provide a space for communities to discuss priorities while encouraging cross-learning. Through social interaction, residents of informal settlements learn from each other and give helpful suggestions regarding the implementation of development projects.

Informal settlements are typically built by the residents themselves, and the conditions of the construction are not always under local or national codes and regulations. In South Africa in particular, there has been a steady increase in the number and population of informal settlements in the last two decades. The lack of information and data on these settlements has made authorities’ attempts at improvements extremely prolonged. Thus, the KYC initiative aims to expedite slum upgrading projects by compiling crucial data, all the while engaging communities in the process.


photograph taken by Ana Holschuch at Vusi Ntsuntsha meeting.

Enumeration, settlement profiling, and mapping are some of the processes that KYC is involved with and led by slum dwellers. Gathered data has facilitated sanitation improvements as well as the construction of transportation infrastructure, such as the paving of roads within several informal settlements across the SDI affiliated countries. As a result, residents of informal settlements have received improvements in roads, potable water, and sanitation- improvements that they have needed for some time. In some cases, communities have been able to get access to health services, construction of community centers, and schools.  

Enumeration is a community-driven process that has been used by the SA SDI Alliance for years. Enumeration is essential to profiling residents of townships: how many residents per household, what resources they have and do not have, and so on. The data gained by enumeration is then presented to governments and used in requests for resource provisions. In other words, by having an exact number of people residing in each area, it becomes simpler and quicker for the government to budget, plan, and implement upgrading projects at the sites. 

The South African (SA) SDI Alliance has been working in informal settlements for years and has come together with communities to develop the Vusi Ntsuntsha project through community participation. The Vusi Ntsuntsha project was stalled for twenty years, but with leadership commitment and contributions from members of the Vusi Ntsuntsha community, the project was recently re-established. The ultimate goal of the project is to build affordable, proper housing for community members using subsidies from the South African government. With the help of community leaders and the Alliance, the Vusi Ntsuntsha project is making impressive progress. 


photograph taken by Ana Holschuch around profiling and enumeration of the Vusi Ntsuntsha project.

Community members have to be ‘visible’ to the government in order for any project to be planned. Profiling and enumeration create an undeniable visibility of residents and their needs. Through enumeration many important questions are answered: how long respective people have lived in their respective settlements and how they make a living. The data collected is ultimately used to ensure that all residents’ needs are accounted for in planning and service delivery. The data collection work of communities has gained organizations such as SDI and the SA SDI Alliance worldwide recognition. By collecting necessary information, the Western Cape Provincial Government was able to screen all Vusi Ntsuntsha beneficiaries and to provide a response about members who qualify for grants, and set new options for those households who do not qualify. Today, at least half of the 800 beneficiaries have been enumerated and verified, becoming formal members of the Vusi Ntsuntsha project. 

Vusi Ntsuntsha’s process of profiling and enumeration has been crucial to the projects movement and success. Community members not only created valuable data but also gained knowledge during the process. Today, new projects, such as Mossel Bay, are starting with the support of the SA SDI Alliance. Vusi Ntsuntsha leaders and members are exchanging their knowledge on enumeration with Mossel Bay members. Community participation emerges as a key way to give power to the people within informal settlements. Communities are becoming more visible,  capitalizing on their rights as citizens. 


Slum Dwellers as Professors and Planners

Sheffield Road

By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI secretariat

Floods, Fires. Lurking danger while searching for a place to shit. And, above all, the spectre of police and bulldozers waiting outside your door ordering you to leave your home.

To the academics, planners, and policy-makers, such an existence is informal and illegal. To those living in urban slum settlements throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America, it is the stuff of daily life. Recent engagements between slum dweller networks linked to SDI and universities show how this gap between theory and reality is shrinking.

The challenge of developing institutions to adequately address the very immediate issues that slum dwellers face is often a challenge of having the right information at hand. Usually, professional and academic planners use limited — and usually aggregated — information upon which to base their decisions. They envision cities that extend the ways in which they already live their lives. 

But the poor also have visions for their cities. As one South African newspaper headlined a piece by South African Federation president Patrick Magebhula, they are “moving from slum survivors to urban planners.” The SDI network is now developing a range of experiences in which slum dweller communities collect detailed information about themselves in order to organize, plan and impact the ways in which they interact with the formal world.

In Kenya, the Federation, known as Muungano wa wanavijiji, is working with students from the University of Nairobi and University of California—Berkeley in the United States, to develop a zonal plan for the Mathare Valley in Nairobi. The Federation savings schemes in the community work with residents to survey every house, and then use this information to map the settlement jointly using GIS technology. This technology integrates the socio-economic data collected into a visual picture of the way in which the social dimensions of the community exist spatially.

We have often discussed the enumeration, mapping, and profiling activities of SDI federations in this newsletter. Now, federations are using links with planning programs in local universities to build broader understanding of community-led planning activities. In doing so, they are creating new platforms to build political backing for the cities that they envision. These are cities that finally appreciate the contributions of informal organization, and include these contributions in future planning.

The Informal Settlement Network in South Africa is working with two adjacent large informal settlements in Cape Town called Barcelona and Europe. The communities undertook their own processes of enumeration and mapping. Now, they are working with students at the University of Cape Town to translate this information into a vision for the future. The settlements are on top of a landfill site, which is polluting one of the main freshwater reserves in the city. It is clear that this will increasingly come on the radar for city planners, as water resources become scarcer. So the community is getting ahead of the city by developing its own plan.

Here, the role of universities to help translate to the formal world the information that communities collect is vital. The communities use the tools of the academics to articulate their existing social realities and economic contribution to the city as a whole. For instance, economic analysis emerging from the community’s enumeration estimates the community’s economic activity as generating about USD 6 million as yearly expenditure.

A similar case is in a large informal settlement called Langrug in the relatively small municipality of Stellenbosch near Cape Town in South Africa. Residents have enumerated the settlement and, led by two young women without high school education, mapped the information. The community leadership now use this information to negotiate with the municipality for toilets, installation of sewers and water pipes, and to find the space to relocate those members of the community who live in a flood plain next to a small river that runs through the settlement.

Last week, residents of Barcelona and Langrug gave a unique lecture about this work to students in the University of Cape Town’s M.Phil program in Community Development and Planning. Audio of the lecture by Vuyani Mnyango from Barcelona and Kholeka Xuza and Olwethu Mvandaba from Langrug can be found here, as well as an accompanying slideshow here. 

This is not the first time that slum dweller leaders from SDI Federations have become professors to the professionals and academics. Last year, members of the Zimbabwean Federation traveled to the University of Manchester in the UK to teach economics students. And earlier this month, community leaders from Cape Town and Durban in South Africa, traveled to Perth, Australia, to present to the annual World Planning Schools Congress. Listen to an interview on Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Futuretense” radio show with the South African Federation’s Melanie Manuel here. In order to further such engagements, SDI signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Association of African Planning School in November 2010.

University students have learned from the communities how informal settlement dwellers live and work, as well as how they organize themselves. The students have then contributed the tools of planners to articulate this information in a way that serves as a platform for the communities to engage with city officials on future planning for the area. For example, in June, after talking with residents from Barcelona and Europe around the plans they developed with the University of Cape Town students, Cape Town municipal officials were pleasantly surprised. “To get to this level of understanding, it can take us years of working through expensive consultants,” said Natasha Murray, Head of Planning for Informal Settlements at the City of Cape Town.

The linchpins of this work are the information collection of activities of Federations and slum dweller communities. These communities collect information at the household level, leveraging a wealth of data that can be entirely disaggregated. They then plot the information onto maps, and work with highly detailed socio-economic and spatial data to develop future plans. Universities help translate this data using formal tools that create a framework for communities to engage as leading partners to plan with city governments.

This is a striking new role for urban poor communities in city development. Such communities are becoming the professors and planners. They are working to use this information to build stronger internal structures and more effective city-wide networks. They are also challenging their newfound partners. Are the planners, academics, and policy makers ready to listen to these doers? And how can they change their practice to a) provide the necessary platforms for communities to tell their long-suppressed stories, and b) to articulate their compelling visions for the future?


SDI Council affirms program of in situ upgrading, community planning, learning


By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI secretariat

SDI renewed its commitment to a program of community-driven slum upgrading, planning, and learning, at the meeting of its slum dweller governing Council. The gathering of over 40 leaders of urban poor organizations from 13 countries in Africa and Asia, took place on 2 to 4 March in Nairobi, Kenya.

The Council is the governing body of SDI, and is made up entirely of community-based leaders in affiliated “mature” federations. During the meeting, the Council agreed that the SDI network should support a sustained process of action-based learning around in situ slum upgrading.

In many countries in the Global South, much of housing development that is designed for the poor, provides shelter at the periphery of cities, and often uproots communities. Further, these developments tend not to put a dent in the scale of informal housing that accommodates the poor in cities.

SDI’s Urban Poor Fund International (UPFI) provides finance for projects that affiliate poor people’s federations undertake to build a practical set of experiences for community-driven urban development. As a program of SDI, the Council agreed that UPFI must focus on projects that prioritize in situ solutions, including incremental provision of services and shelter improvements.

UPFI funds will also be used to support the emergence of “centers of learning” in seven cities throughout the SDI network. This means that federations will use funds to create a set of projects at sufficient scale to show how people’s organizations can work with their governments to begin addressing the monumental challenges of urban growth, and prevalence of slums.

Methods of community-driven development planning are an integral part of the upgrading projects that SDI-affiliated communities pursue. The Council therefore approved a program of exchanges around large-scale enumeration, self-survey, and mapping activities that are taking place in six cities in Uganda, Lilongwe (Malawi), and in the Philippines.

The Council also approved the induction of its 14th member, the Uganda Slum Dwellers Federation, which is active in 6 cities in the country (Arua, Jinja, Kabale, Kampale, Mbale, and Mbarara). Further, the Sierra Leone Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor will be invited with observer status at the next Council meeting.

The two-day Council meeting included a meeting of the Board to approve the Council resolutions, and was followed by a one day meeting of all the federations to discuss community-driven methodologies for monitoring and evaluation of their work. It was agreed that, in order to reach meaningful scale, federations have to continuously be self-critical of their methods for capturing learning, monitoring work, and then evaluating results.

Enumeration as a tool for effective disaster risk reduction

Philippines enumeration 1


By Stewart Paul Tolosa Torre, PACSII


cross-posted from the blog of Homeless People’s Federation Philippines, Inc. (HPFPI) Western Visayas


The Philippines is particularly at risk to different types of disasters. This is due to (a) its archipelagic feature and location along the typhoon belt of North Pacific basin, and (b) its position within the Pacific belt of fire. The country is frequently devastated by typhoons, storm surges, floods, landslides, volcanic eruptions, and drought, which cause billion worth of damages of property and lives of people. Susceptibility to disaster events and their impacts are also exacerbated by climate change and unsustainable human practices thus, creating an ecological imbalance.


In the context of the Philippines, vulnerability to disasters is often linked with poverty issues. Those who usually reside in relatively high risk areas, such as along railways, under the bridge, riverbanks,  foreshore and dumpsite areas, are low-income groups who cannot afford to live in houses that are both affordable and decent.  In addition, these groups also belong to the informal sector which lacks security in land tenure and access to physical infrastructures and basic services.


In the past decade, the Homeless People’s Federation Philippines Inc. (HPFPI), a national network of urban poor communities originating from small saving groups throughout the country, has integrated disaster response measures into its key rituals. Consequently enumeration has become an important tool.


The Federation’s commitment to work with the most vulnerable communities began after the Payatas trashslide in year 2000. It was a tragic event that killed and displaced hundreds of people after a mountain of solid waste dump in Quezon City collapsed due to heavy downpour.  The initial responses of the government and concerned civic organizations was to gather data on the actual number of casualties and relief operations. However, the accuracy of reported casualties and damage assessment were contested and questioned. For these did not actually reveal the exact number of disaster-affected families and the incurred losses on properties.


The apparent data gap on the number and status of communities in high-risk sites like Payatas, inspired the federation to start its enumeration initiatives. From 2000 onwards, HPFPI has been conducting surveys both in national and city levels to update the figures of informal settlers in disaster-prone areas and those faced with eviction threats. Enumeration data have been very useful to the Federation in terms of data banking and as a prerequisite for slum upgrading and rehabilitation projects. These data likewise aid the government in identifying their potential project beneficiaries and serve as reference for their post-disaster interventions.  One concrete example of how government benefitted from the federation’s enumeration initiative was when they used the data in prioritizing typhoon-affected families for transitory and permanent housing projects in one of the government resettlement sites in Iloilo City.


HPFPI’s most recent survey started in April 2010 and targets high-risk settlements.  This comprehensive community-based data collection primarily aims to come-up with an updated and realistic data about the socio-economic, structural, tenurial and sanitary conditions of disaster-prone communities in the Philippines. Having a clearer picture of the present conditions of these communities through enumeration and accurate reporting is very crucial if we want to deliver appropriate disaster mitigation and post disaster intervention projects.  More importantly, risk factors and existing resources in communities are easily mapped-out that could serve as bases in formulating a strategic and holistic disaster preparedness plan which is also vital in developing disaster resilient communities.


Philippines enumeration 2