Support for Cyclone Freddy Affected Households in Malawi

Campsite Blantyre in Malawi, where residents that were affected by Cyclone Freddy have set up camp.

From Friday, March 10, 2022 Malawi was hit by Cyclone Freddy, which has resulted to over 500 confirmed deaths in the country, loss of livestock and property. Cyclone Freddy was characterized by heavy rains, which led to flooding and mudslides, and storms, which destroyed homes and critical infrastructure. 

The impact of this cyclone has been highly pronounced in Southern Malawi, especially in Blantyre City and the surrounding districts of Phalombe, Chikhwawa, Mulanje Thyolo, Chikwawa and Chiradzulu. Due to the flooding and mudslides, thousands of people have been rendered homeless and have sought shelter in camps. The Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DODMA) has reported that over  19,000 people are living as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPS) in camps that have been erected in the country. The country’s President has described the cyclone’s impact as a national tragedy and has declared a State of Disaster in the Southern Region of Malawi, effectively appealing for local and international support for the affected families. Until Friday, March 17, 2023, the number of households directly affected was more than 50,000

Meanwhile, site visits and media reports indicate that the IDPS are living in dire conditions characterised by poor sanitation and limited access to basic amenities including food and clothes in the camps. This situation is worrisome, especially considering Malawi is still facing a cholera outbreak that has so far claimed hundreds of lives. Cholera is an acute diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine by the Vibrio cholerae bacteria. There are fears that the poor sanitation and hygienic conditions in the camps can lead to an escalation in the number of Cholera cases, which could potentially put thousands of lives in danger. 

Appeal for Support

Currently, IDPs are in need of relief items that would make their lives bearable in these hard times including food, clothes and potable water as well as hygiene products and sanitation. While there are a number of organisations that have moved in to assist with food supplies in camps, there has not been much support around improving access to better sanitation, water, hygiene, food and warmth. Further, due to limitations in resources, many of the IDPs may have to live in the camps for a long time as they have no means to move back to their former settlements that are now in ruins or have been completely razed down by the floods and mudslides. As such, some of them are in dire need of materials to repair their homes so that they are in a habitable state. 

Relief project to secure lives and support households to recover from disasters 

The Centre for Community Organisation and Development and its alliance partner the Federation of the Rural and Urban Poor (the Federation) – the Malawi alliance, intend to roll out a relief programme targeting IDPS who are currently living in camps across the region. In the short term, the alliance will support these camps with sanitation and hygiene solutions in an attempt to curtail any possibility of water-borne diseases and ensure that the IDPs have better access to health services. 

The alliance intends to do this through the provision of water and sanitation solutions, including the construction of temporary sanitation facilities, and the provision of water treatment solutions and utensils. In addition, the alliance will also provide food rations. Currently, the supply of food rations is intermittent and some IDPs are reportedly sleeping on empty stomachs or scampering for whatever food is available. 

Providing a platform for communities to tell their stories and set the rebuilding agenda 

Community-led data collection after disasters is crucial for assessing the impact and identifying the needs of the affected population. In many cases, affected communities may not have the capacity to undertake such assignments due to a number of underlining factors. In this case, we want to use previous knowledge to provide training in data collection and analysis to the affected communities. The alliance will provide tools and equipment to aid data collection and analysis processes. These tools are in the form of cameras and GPS devices etc. The data collection process will employ participatory approaches by ensuring that the process has been consulted widely so that the voices of the voiceless are heard and their needs are included in the rebuilding process. This in turn will help in building trust and ensure that the data collected accurately reflects the experiences and perspectives of the entire community.

Support the rebuilding process 

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, there has been extensive damage to community infrastructure, houses and WASH facilities. Other infrastructures such as power and communications are still down in many areas leaving communities in darkness. Rebuilding infrastructure such as homes, WASH facilities and roads is important for restoring normalcy to the lives of those affected by the disaster. The alliance’s plan is to recapitalise the Mchenga Urban Poor Fund to provide financial support for the rebuilding exercise; targeting the provision of houses, potable water and decent sanitation through ecological sanitation toilets. 

Additionally, Cyclone Freddy will have a significant impact on the local economy. Therefore, the alliance intends to support economic recovery by helping individual households and the community to rebuild their economic lives. This will involve providing start-ups for small businesses and entrepreneurs, as well as creating jobs – through reconstruction jobs, and providing training and education opportunities.

Provide mental health support

This disaster has had a significant impact on mental health and well-being of the affected population – including children that have seen the government extending the suspension of schools until March 31, when the second term was scheduled to end. Schools have been suspended as about 230 schools have been turned into holding camps for IDPs. Thus, providing access to mental health support services, in this case, will help individuals and communities cope with the trauma of the event.

Exit Strategy 

As an exit strategy, the alliance would also want to champion dialogue with authorities and other stakeholders on effective ways of managing these disasters as well as recommending measures that would reduce the vulnerability of the households when such disasters have stricken. Further, we will deploy our KYC.TV Malawi Team to document the situation in the City to champion solutions that address the vulnerabilities of the households in the medium and long terms. 

Nigerian Federation & JEI: Responses to COVID-19

Free food_nigeria

On behalf of the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation and Justice & Empowerment Initiatives (JEI) – SDI presents the work to fight COVID-19 across Nigeria.

Over a month ago, the Nigerian Federation with support of JEI, began rapidly preparing to address the impending spread of COVID-19. Through cancelling all meetings, creating handwashing stations, distributing flyers in multiple languages, Federation tailors sewing 2,500 face masks and producing hand sanitiser – a multi-scale approach was taken to address the critical needs of the most vulnerable while warning communities of the imminent crisis. Over 16,000 informational flyers were printed and distributed in communities across Lagos in English, Hausa, Igbo, Egun and Yoruba, with 7,000 across Port Harcourt.

Assisting those most at risk – older, immune-compromised, homeless, indigent, immigrant/migrant Federation members to clinics to get tested when symptoms appear, while ensuring that there are no barriers to access due to language, cost, nor demographic – remains of utmost priority to the Federation.


At this time, Lagos is three weeks into lockdown, food is still scarce and government programmes remain to be seen for 2/3 of the population living in informal settlements. Mohammed (Vagabond) Zanna reflects on the precarious position of Federations, and more broadly, the urban poor with the lack of plans and proper response.

“We are doing our best as the Federation, in Nigeria, as an affiliate of SDI. We are creating awareness, making face masks, sourcing food donations, but it is not enough. From our side, it is not enough, the government needs to do more. What they give, is not enough for that person, and their family to eat. It is not enough. We are caught between Coronavirus and hunger, if we stay home, we starve, if we go outside, we stand the risk of catching COVID-19, and spreading it to our families, and also our communities. This is the situation, and there is serious tension. Something needs to be done.”


The ongoing work of information dissemination is crucial and focuses on social distancing that is tailored to the realities of living in informal settlements, recognizing symptoms, contacting government hotlines, and pushing back on false & dangerous information that has been simultaneously spreading. The communications includes regular WHO updates & recommendations, health education talks, and WhatsApp information campaign. These information campaigns are crucial to ensure updated and reliable information is reaching those most at risk, and to guarantee Federation experiences are being accurately shared.

Corona Diaries of the Urban Poor (#C19DiariesOfTheUrbanPoor) is a citizen journalism series that details COVID-19 pandemic at the intersection of urban poverty detailing the lived realities of slum communities told by current residents across Nigeria & Benin. With a mix of audio and visual mediums, and data conducted by the Federation in Nigeria & Benin, real-time stories are being developed. To continue following their work please check out the following social handles, Facebook, and Twitter: @vagabonkingdom @NaijaFederation @justempower – all above media can also be found on the JEI website with continued updated on the Corona Diaries page.

Please keep following SDI as we highlight the initiatives of SDI affiliates across Africa, Asia & Latin America in the fight against COVID-19 to support the most vulnerable throughout this pandemic.

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. 


Botswana Know Your City Enumeration Exchange


The federation of Botswana was mobilized by the Zimbabwean federation and established in 2011. Because of the challenges faced in their communities, the Botswana federation identified SDI’s data collection tools to be a necessary weapon for them to ascertain their socio-economic profile, level of services as well as development aspirations.

Botswana Federation and the Francistown City Council signed a MOU on the 19th August 2016 to work together to do development including the Know Your City Campaign (KYC) in Francistown. The exchange undertaken between the 21st and 28th of May 2017 was an opportunity to share information, experience and skills relating to data collection between urban poor communities from four SDI affiliated countries: Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa. The exchange was hosted by the Botswana federation in Francistown with the aim of building capacity for the Botswana Federation to collect their own data. In support of the programme, and fully participating in the process, were various government stakeholders, including: The Ministry of Infrastructure and Housing Development, Statistics Botswana and The Department of Community Development.

Objectives of the Botswana Know Your City programme, as identified by the Botswana federation: 

  • To document informalities that exists in the formal settlements.
  • To empower the community to be able to collect their own data to use to develop their livelihoods.
  • To use the data as a strategic advocacy document in building partnerships and liaising with government and development partners.
  • Mobilise more members to join the Federation to build a strong social capital.


During the exchange planning meeting on the first day, Botswana indicated that Boikhutso Ward – particularly Somerset West settlement – was selected for the KYC learning exchange. Below are some of the reasons that were given as to why the Botswana federation was interested in enriching themselves with knowledge of how to gather information:

  • The federation would like to unearth some of the major community related challenges that their government has not been and is still not paying attention to.
  • They want to use the tool in order to help them in prioritization of projects.
  • They want to showcase their ability of being part of the development of their communities
  • They would like to demonstrate to stakeholders how inclusive the process of development has to be.

The team agreed that profiling should be the starting point for the data collection exercise. It was agreed the same settlement which was going to be enumerated would be profiled first. The next day consisted of presentations by the Namibian, South African and Zimbabwean teams, followed by a review of the profiling and enumeration forms and mapping methodologies.


The following day and a half were spent profiling Somerset West settlement, followed by multiple days of house-to-house enumeration and structure mapping. One of the enumerators reflected the following during the end-of-day reflection session:

“I am proud to be part of the process because I have just realized a lot of things I did not know about my own community.”

Some other reflections from exchange participants are below, and the full exchange report is available here.

Ms Karabo Ramontshonyana, Physical Planner from Francistown City Council: “Wow!!! The exercise is a great benefit to Botswana. We have challenges in our neighbourhoods and therefore this learning exchange will assist the government and the community especially the federation to work together for the common good and to solve challenges together. The inclusion of professionals in this exercise is important as it helps both community and government more on the government side for inclusive development. The selection of the Somerset West is also a good thing since this area is a gate way to the City Centre. The exercise has made us to see that though Government has upgraded the place there is a lot that needs to be done by the professionals and the community. There is lots of informalities or rather the Building acts were not followed when houses were constructed, with that the exercise is very important and of benefit.”

Ms Tamara of the South African SDI affiliate puts it this way: “It is an experience to find out that in Botswana the structures are different from where we come from. But we discovered that the municipality does not understand why we do mapping, enumeration and profiles since they have plots numbers and upgrades but as field workers we found that there are lot of backyarders (people living in informal shacks in backyards) in one plot which is informality in formal settlements.”

Botswana Federation Launches Know Your City Campaign in Francistown

In Francistown, Botswana the Federation has been working hard to establish a working relationship with the local city government in order to scale up their community-driven data collection and slum upgrading work to the citywide scale. This work bore fruit last year with the signing of an MOU and the formalisation of plans to carry out citywide slum profiling and enumeration to be used for collaborative planning and development.

Rose Molokoane, a national coordinator of the South African Federation of the Urban Poor who has been providing support to the Botswana federation, explains how important it is to attach the MoU to implementable projects on the ground. 

In her address to the City Council on 21 November 2016 the Mayor of Francistown, Honourable Sylvia Tabitha Muzila, made specific mention of the deepening relationship between the City Council of Francistown and the Botswana Homeless People’s Federation:

Honourable Councillors, Ladies and Gentlemen, August 19th 2016 saw a new relationship emerge between City of Francistown Council and Botswana Homeless and Poor People’s Federation. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed as a pathway for the two parties to carry community projects together. As the Mayor of City of Francistown Council, I stand here to reaffirm Council’s commitment for a better tomorrow for all our people. In February 2017, the parties will carry out the KNOW YOUR CITY CAMPAIGN project here in Francistown. The campaign is about gathering City wide data for proper planning and development. Every household, every neighbourhood in Francistown will be counted and that will help to create a collective understanding about our City. Clearly, with the signing of this Memorandum of Cooperation, there is more concerted effort to be made by all parties to implement specific projects.

The Know Your City campaign is a call to action communities of the urban poor, local government, and development partners to know all of their city. Community-driven data collection is the first step in collaborative planning in which the urban poor are partners in the urban planning and upgrading process. A Know Your City campaign generates city-wide data on informal settlements to inform inclusive and resilient city planning that is rooted in local realities. It produces scalable implementation strategies that incorporate a broad spectrum of actors – from organised communities of the urban poor to city government to private developers and landowners.

Slum Dwellers & Students Planning Partnership in Kitui, Kenya

Community members helping to locate spatial issues@Baraka MwauBy Baraka Mwau (Studio Facilitator) for CURI / SDI / AAPS


The Kenya partnership of Slum Dwellers International-Kenya Affiliate and Centre of Urban Research and Innovations (CURI)-University of Nairobi (UoN) commenced field activities for the Kitui Learning studio in the first quarter of this year. The studio is part of a broader collaborative programme implemented by Slum Dwellers International and the Association of African Planning Schools under a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the two organizations, “in order to promote initiatives, plans and policies which encourage pro-poor and inclusive cities and towns in Africa.” Through this framework, the partners have previously implemented similar studios in Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Namibia.

The ongoing collaborative studio programme is financed by Cities Alliance through the Catalytic Fund (CATF) of 2014, under the theme “Creating Momentum for Change through Innovative Information Generation and Engagement at the City Level in Africa”.  Besides Kenya, there are other three learning studios running under this fund in Namibia, Zambia, and Uganda. These learning studios are designed to build partnerships between informal settlement residents, local planning schools, and local government.

Drawing from past experiences, the Kenya partnership designs and executes these studios in a way that sets a foundation for future engagement in order to build on the positive outcomes that stakeholders find important to sustain over a longer period, beyond the planned studio period. This is interpreted as a strategy to manage community expectations that arise during the studio process. In doing so, more sustainable platforms of co-production and collaboration among various stakeholders are nurtured.

The Kenya partnership has been working together on similar projects, including a studio in Mathare Valley and undertaking a joint research project in Mukuru informal settlements in Nairobi. Previously, these projects focused on individual informal settlements, and as observed, they also targeted informal settlements located in Nairobi, Kenya’s largest city.

However, following access to the CATF, the Kenya partnership has up-scaled focus to the municipal-wide scale and introduced studio activities to intermediate cities, the first being Kitui. It should be noted that intermediate cities and small towns dominate the geographical distribution of urban centers (in terms of their numbers) in Kenya, and their increasing aggregate population is significant in reducing Nairobi’s primacy-the city accounted for 33 percent of Kenya’s urban population in 2014.  For example, Kitui is the administrative capital and the largest urban centre of Kitui County, with a population reported as 109,568 people.

Kalundu Street@Baraka Mwau

Kenya’s intermediate cities like Kitui face similar challenges, though at a different scale, as those experienced by the large cities. These include: inadequate or total absence of formal urban planning and design, inadequate infrastructure and housing, environmental degradation and urban sprawl, informal settlements, and weak urban economies. Nevertheless, these towns are anticipated to feature prominently in the structural transformation expected due to urbanization across the country, hence the renewed focus on intermediate cities and small towns.

From October to December 2015, the Kenya partnership engaged in preparatory activities for the implementation of the Kitui learning studio. This resulted in a joint work plan for engaging the informal settlement communities and the county government of Kitui. Besides the overarching objectives of training planning students and enhancing community participation in planning, the Kenya studio will also contribute towards generating basic data on informal settlements of Kitui (as a baseline survey); engage stakeholders in developing a concept for town-wide informal settlements strategy; and engage stakeholders in participatory planning sessions for select precincts in order to demonstrate various planning and design options for intervention. The studio will also focus on various aspects of the town’s informal economy and will build on ongoing planning and development interventions in the town.

On the 5th of February 2016, the partnership held a meeting with the Kitui County Ministry of Lands, Infrastructure & Urban Development, with the aim of introducing the studio to government and to seek buy-in from government. This meeting was a major milestone for the studio. Led by the Chief Officer in charge of lands, infrastructure and urban development, the Ministry welcomed the project and pledged support to the process, including assigning a planning officer as a studio focal point. The county government pointed-out the relevance of the studio in strengthening community participation and collaborative environment for government-community engagements for informal settlements improvement and overall, in enhancing equitable urban development.

After the successful meeting with the county government, the studio team embarked on community mobilization to prepare for collaborative data generation. This culminated in the formation of community planning teams and a data collection exercise that ran for two weeks in March, covering the 5 town’s major informal settlements (Kalundu, Majengo, Kunda-Kindu, Mjini & Mosquito), ‘pockets’ of informal settlements, and major market areas, including informal street markets. The two-week exercise included the active involvement of planning students and academic staff of the University of Nairobi, an urban planner from SDI Kenya, community leaders, research assistants, the studio facilitator and, young planning professionals (as studio assistants) in consultation with county government’s focal point officer.

The field work entailed training of community members who later teamed up with students to form a joint field team to: administer household questionnaires and profile questionnaires in settlements and markets; perform settlement mapping, photography and sketching; conduct interviews with key informants and targeted focused group discussions. Prior to conducting the field work, students had reviewed some background information, including documentation of recent planning processes in the town.

Majengo Streets-Open spaces for Children@Baraka Mwau (2)

The benefits of this critical phase of the studio did not only accrue to students, but also to community members. Among other lessons, students were exposed to practical, diverse issues of the country’s urban context that are generally not taught in the classroom. For instance, they were able to get a more realistic picture of the housing conditions in Kitui – rather than the stereotypical shacks, Kitui’s informal settlements are characterized by sub-standard housing made of brick walls and an evident heterogeneous spatial-economic landscape defines what the town regards as informal settlements.

On the other hand, the community members also gained a lot from the learning process. For a number of community members who supported the data collection this was their first opportunity to interact with geographical information such as satellite images and maps, a process that evidently impacted on their perceptions of what urban planning means to informal settlements. Additionally, it was evident that the focused group discussions facilitated deeper engagement on various issues facing the communities and the town as a whole.

After the successful joint data collection exercise, the studio participants will move on to data analysis, compilation of lessons learnt, and preparing for engagement around the data findings with the communities and county government.

In Short, “Mapping is Important”

[caption id="attachment_11171" align="alignnone" width="600"] Mama Ronnie Hochobes explaining the importance of collecting enough points with the GPS to Mama Wenky Snyder from Okurangava.[/caption]


By the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia

“Mapping helps in starting the upgrading process for our communities, as partners in the development process” – Rebekka, Oshikoto Region, Namibia Shack Dwellers Federation

To date, the Namibia Shack Dwellers Federation has completed the only national level informal settlement profile within the SDI Network.

Ms Rosalinda Hendricks reflects: “It all started off with information collection amongst ourselves as federation members who are saving, we developed a questionnaire for profiling, collected information in 235 informal settlements, which was published 2009 with the support of the Ministry of Regional Local Government, Housing and Rural Development at that time. We further also carried out enumerations, interviewing each household in different informal settlements so we can use the data to inform the local authority on the affordability of residents in accessing services, and negotiating for buying land.”

To know where you are and what your neighbourhood looks like is the start of knowing your city. Mapping is an integral part of the enumeration (slum profiling and household level surveys) of slum dwellers federations. Following community mobilization, data collection begins with a community mapping exercise. With nothing more than pens and markers and pieces of paper – usually spread on the floor or another available stable surface – the mapping and the conversation begins!

Community elders, women, and youth gather around, the discussions and debates are lively and filled with excitement. Boundaries are drawn, disputed and redrawn. Landmarks and services are marked out. Then the community drawn boundaries are layered over satellite imagery and the discussion continues. For many community members this is the first time they see their settlement drawn on a map.

But it doesn’t stop here. This map needs to be digitized for it to become useful. Accompanied by community members, their GPS devices and recording sheets, federation members trained as mappers then proceed to walk the boundaries, capture the points and seek out and map the services indicated by the community.

It is Geography Awareness Week and along with community mappers and geographers from all over the world, SDI federations are celebrating the maps they are producing and reflecting on the power of their maps.

Below are some reflections from Namibian federation members actively involved in mapping work on the importance of mapping in their mobilizing, organizing, and upgrading efforts:

Juliane from the Kunene Region:

“Mapping is important to know where the services in the settlement are located and also to know the size of the area. When we do mapping we create awareness on services and encourage the community to start taking action in their own development. Mapping helps us to know how many households are in the area and also the schools. The process gives us an opportunity to discuss solutions around the challenges that we face in the community so we can help ourselves to address our needs. Mapping also helps us inform the municipality on what is going on in the settlement, at most times the officials don’t know.”

Wendelina from Erongo Region:

“Mapping informs us on the size of the land and the conditions of it. Some people built their structures where they are not supposed to do it. If they know the boundaries, it helps gives us more support in our vision of what we want for our community.”

Candy from Zambezi Region:

“Mapping helps us see our community, how big or small it is.”

Ester from Oshikoto Region:

“Once we know how big the settlement is, it helps us plan better and know that the settlement is divided into two. Some locations are big.”



Tuerijandjera community collecting boundary points for the settlement.


Mapping Evululuko in Oshakati.



Freedom Square Enumerations Team, finalising structure mapping and enumerations for upgrading.

The Namibia Shack Dwellers Federation has begun the updating of their historic settlement profile date base on SDI’s global slum database on ONA platform. To date they have profiled 62 settlements, and mapping of 39 informal settlements has been completed. Capturing of the data has commenced on ONA and community members are actively training in data capturing as well. Thus far they have captured 41 of their settlement profiles and uploaded 14 maps.


Data Entry in Oshakati for Evululuko Informal Settlement.


Community collected and captured mapping data available in ONA platform.

Five regions (Omusati, Ohangwena, Karas , Oshana , Khomas) have been actively collecting data in their settlements this past year. This involves community meetings, discussion of development priorities, settlement history, and the mapping of boundaries and services.

The federation has made presentations to various local and regional authorities, encouraging ownership of the information, and supporting the development and strengthening of partnerships between the federation, communities, and local, regional, and national authorities.


Women-Driven Data Capturing in Cape Town

By Anni Beukes, SDI Secretariat

Last week, the South African SDI Alliance’s Data Capturing Team reported back to the South African Federation’s (FEDUP) community leaders in Cape Town on their work over the past eight months.

This team have not only assisted in co-designing and beta testing of some of the key features of the newly designed data-capturing platform in order to ensure that it is SDI federation friendly, but have also captured all the historic data and supported some other federations in capturing and verifying some of their newer (especially mapping) data. 

During the demonstration, six longstanding federation members were taken through the steps of capturing data on the Informal Settlement Profile and Boundary Mapping forms by their younger colleagues. 

One finger at a time, the mamas each captured a profile and saw their data become available – as well as the 1,198 profiles and 190 boundary maps available for South Africa. 

In total this team has captured or supported the capturing of roughly 7,000 profiles (historic and standardised) and over 800 boundary maps from across the globe! 

This project would not have been possible without their valuable support! 


Citywide Data Collection and “Knowing Your City”


SDI launched the Know Your City campaign at the 7th World Urban Forum in April 2014. The Know Your City campaign is a global campaign for grassroots data collection and inclusive partnerships with local government for citywide community networks of urban poor communities. The campaign urges affiliates to scale up data collection processes and outputs and demonstrate that SDI’s arguments for community-driven data collection are about more than just information and data; they are aimed at building inclusion of the urban poor into city policy.

Know Your City speaks to active awareness, engagement, and understanding of the urban space that you occupy. It encourages citizens and local governments to move beyond the shelter you call home to the level of your street, neighborhood, and ultimately, the city as a whole. To gain a sense of familiarity through information and experience that can inform both theoretical and practical understanding of space and the relationships various inhabitants have to it. When information moves to knowledge and understanding it comes to stand in opposition to narrow opinion. It then becomes a powerful tool in the hands of those who own it. Slum dwellers have come to learn the power and value of information that moves to knowledge and understanding as they engage their city officials or those others who own the land which they occupy. A large and growing number of urban dwellers live in poverty because most city development plans exclude informal settlement. This is in spite of the precedents set by organisations of citizens such as SDI’s urban poor federations; in spite of evidence that conventional city planning is unable to meet the demands of rapid urbanisation and only exacerbates urban informality and poverty.

In practice, the core of SDI’s Know Your City campaign is a standardisation of our settlement profiling data collection methodology for informal settlements. Settlement profiles are different from household enumerations in that they allow a whole settlement to look at itself as a collective rather than as households in isolation. Whole communities then have the possibility to build relationships with their local governments or land owning authority for the improvement of the physical conditions of their settlements and lives as a collective.

The settlement profile gives settlement leadership and city authorities a glimpse of the big picture at the settlement level. The standardised profile allows for an aggregated view of the types of land occupied by informal settlements in a given city, as well as the physical conditions of the spaces in terms of and in relation to infrastructure.

SDI has developed a standardised settlement profile questionnaire based on the questionnaires developed and used by federations across the network. This questionnaire forms the new baseline for all historic and future data collected for settlement profiles within the network. Both quantitative and qualitative in nature, the profile affords possibilities to compare and aggregate settlement level data across a city and, where federations work in multiple cities, across the region. In maintaining an emphasis on the nuances of local contexts, federations have the opportunity to supplement the standard questionnaire to improve the qualitative descriptions of individual settlements.

Both the process and the resulting data become tools of communication, dialogue, and building relationships. Drawing on SDI’s guiding premise to make ‘visible’ the invisible communities of the urban poor, the data communicates quantifiable facts about the physical conditions and scale of informality and urban poverty on a citywide scale while at the same time adding nuance to the particular conditions of poverty and exclusion as experienced in the daily lives of slum dwellers inhabiting these spaces.

The Know Your City campaign also aims to emphasise the spatial, social, economic, and political relations between slum dwellers and their cities over time. To date, we have a total number of 6,343 historic data sets in standardized format available. This data forms the baseline for conditions of informal settlements from 2009 – 12 across cities like Mumbai, Nairobi, Kampala, Johannesburg, Harare, and Freetown. As these datasets were collected via an array of forms they remain in various states of ‘completeness’ in terms of the standardised form. On a federation-by-federation basis, the SDI network will ‘complete’ these as far as possible over the next year. The importance of this data is twofold. It constitutes the first point for developing longitudinal comparative data of informal settlements at the city level, as well as an opportunity to monitor and evaluate SDI federations’ work and engagements within these cities. It offers the foundation from which informal communities can develop citywide arguments at scale and over time.

Seven national federations in Africa (Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, and Ghana) have committed to field test and further improve the rigour of both the new standardised profile form and the data collection process. At present, 377 new settlement profiles have been uploaded to the central web based data platform. These are the beginnings of SDI’s learning around citywide profiling with a standardised tool to take the SDI methodology and process of data collection to scale at a citywide level in slums/informal settlements and enhance the rigor and verifiability of our data. 

An increasing body of evidence suggests that the major cities of the Global South are overwhelmingly “slum cities,” in which a majority of residents live in neighbourhoods understood as “slums.” The objective of our work is to bring slums into relation with the ‘formal city’ and into the centre, rather than confined to the margins, of policy and development debates. The aim is not for inclusion by emphasis on the subaltern identity of slums and their dwellers in the city, but rather a shift to the recognition of the role and part of slums and their dwellers in the complexity of the city.

As We, the Invisible: a census of pavement dwellers in Mumbai asserted in 1985, “a society which permits and in fact depends on a large mass of unskilled and underpaid labour must also live with slums and pavement dwellers” (SPARC, 1985). Since then numerous other community-led profiles and enumerations of SDI federations, ranging from Joe Slovo in Cape Town to Old Fadama in Accra, have shown that slum/informal settlement dwellers are part and parcel of the dynamic of the city. These settlements and their residents contribute to the history and sociality of cities and fuel their economies, not just with their labour, but also with their own consumption. The data SDI federations collect about their lives and living conditions in the world’s informal settlements and slums concretises and legitimises what is at the core a political argument for both social and material change and a voice for the urban poor in the policies that affect their lives and living conditions.

Why This Matters

From a number of federations we are beginning the see and understand the power of standardised and aggregated data at the city level. The Uganda Federation has completed and verified settlement profiling for 62 identified slum settlements in the city of Kampala. A map of Kampala has been produced from data collected by the federations. The Kampala map shows the location and extent of the slums in the city. These areas cover an estimated 11,000 acres across the city and are home to a total estimated population of 2.5 million people. In Kampala, federation members using GPS devices mapped the settlement boundaries on the ground. Later these boundaries were verified by means of high-resolution maps and the settlement identification landmarks collected via the profile. As more often than not, a number of households, on average 5 but up to 10, may share a structure, the federation estimates the population based on the number of households multiplied by the average household size. Based on the federation data, the approximate population density of slum/informal settlement areas in Kampala would be 227 people/acre. The total area of Kampala city is 46,702 acres of which 43,490 acres are land and the remainder taken up by surface water bodies. This means that slum settlements, based on federation data may take up to 1/4 of available land in the city. The most recent census of Uganda was conducted in 2002. Accepted statistics estimate the city’s population at fewer than 1.7 million people and thus an estimated people to land ratio of 39 people/acre. According to a discussion paper delivered at the 2014 Annual World Bank Land and Poverty Conference, the National Slum Dwellers

Federation of Uganda (NSDFU) and support NGO ACTogether reports that “data cited in the Kampala Physical Development Plan […] claims there are only 500,000 people living in Kampala’s slums [and it] identifies 31 slums in Kampala – half the number identified by the NSDFU and ACTogether.”

In Zimbabwe, the Federation, alongside their local authority, “profiled the entire city of Harare, settlement by settlement” to identify peoples’ needs on the ground. This led to the transfer of land by the city to the communities for the construction of upgraded houses in Dzivaresekwa Extension, one of Harare’s largest slums.

The profiles completed by the Kenyan Federation thus far indicate that the central concerns for slum communities in Kenyan cities are access to land and access to adequate and safe sanitation. As most of the land occupied by slums in Kenya is privatized, and under high threat of eviction from developers looking to take back the land as land values in Kenya’s cities continue to rise, living space for the poor becomes increasingly precarious with little hope of engagement around upgrading and security of tenure. Interventions around sanitation, especially, have been nearly impossible and continue to threaten health and security of slum residents, especially women.

The Know Your City campaign marks a historic shift in data collection activities across the federation network. While maintaining a settlement-by-settlement approach, we are scaling up our arguments to encompass citywide scales of poverty and informality. We are putting renewed emphasis on the right of urban poor communities to collect and own the information and data about their lives and livelihoods and leverage these as powerful assets to claim inclusion in the cities in which they work and live. Moving from the local, based on our data, we are developing comprehensive and composite indicators to illuminate both the general and particular conditions of poverty and inequality in cities to challenge and simultaneously inform global sustainable development indicators proposed for the post-2015 development agenda.

Check out SDI’s 2013 – 2014 Annual Report for more on the Know Your City campaign. 




Planning For 58% Without Accurate Data in Mumbai

**SPARC Responds**

When we set up SPARC in the 1980s, whatever we sought from the municipality or government for slum dwellers it was not feasible because the DP (Development Plans) did not permit it. When we carefully studied the plans and saw spaces for “housing the dis-housed” and went to see the land, it always had others using it for a different purpose occupying that land. In frustration we raised this issue with the then chief secretary of Maharashtra who had also been the municipal commissioner of Mumbai about this feature of the development plan, he benignly smiled and said that the DP is a manifestation of what we envision, and that reality is very different. Interpreted for the urban poor, you can’t really ask the city what you need as land for housing because all the land we have marked for you is already occupied.

Today the DP is being prepared and all these old ghosts of lack of accurate data, unclear and contradictory data sets are coming to bite the process. When challenges to plan are not accommodated and addressed in each plan, they clearly produce unregulated response. The poor squat where they can, when they can’t find a space to stay near work, and the elite equally ignore the rules. Both pay bribes for the regulatory process to ignore their presence and turn a blind eye, and the unregulated growth increases exponentially.

Playing with data is a routine strategy that government agencies play. State and city institutions are known to inflate and deflate data on poverty in slums based on whom the report is is being planned for. So when the data used for preparing the Mumbai DP says there is a 18% dip in slums, what are we to make of this?

How do we link this to the fact that the census definition requires a slum a cluster to have more than a certain number of dwelling to be counted under the census connect with this factor? What do we do when even lower level government data collection refuses to count the households who live as renters in the mezzanines of huts?