A representative from a grassroots federation in Mumbai describes how the community is self-organising for an effective COVID-19 response. This text is drawn from an interview with Selvi Manivanan Devandra conducted by Sharmila Gimonkarpril. Selvi is a community leader with Mahila Milan, a federation of women’s savings groups, active in housing and basic service issues. Indian Oil is the name of their cluster of tenements. Sharmila has been working with Sparc for the past 30 years.
My name is Selvi. For four years I have lived in Indian Oil building No. 8/C, room No. 304. Most residents of Indian Oil are people who were displaced by city and state government projects, including many pavement dwellers. Previously, I was staying in slums near Kokari Agar.
I have three children. One daughter is married, and my other two children are college students. My husband works as a security guard. I have been working with Sparc and Mahila Milan (MM) for the last 9 years.
Coordinating and communicating through WhatsApp
With the outbreak of COVID-19, all MM leaders took on responsibility for planning relief work in the area and to coordinate with Shekar from the National Slum Dwellers Federation and local politicians (Aktar Khureshi and Abbu Azmi). Most buildings have an MM leader, and each leader is in touch with a central committee. Previously, we were not involved with the central committee since we didn’t like the way they worked, and we worked to our own guidelines. But now with the challenge of COVID-19, we all agreed to come together and work for the people. We created a communal WhatsApp group, and whatever the committee decides, we come to know about it.
First we set about helping the many people who hang around because they don’t have any work. When the police visit our area, all these people run into the various tenement buildings. We decided to open the building gates at given times i.e. 8.00 to 11.30 in the morning and 6.00 to 8.00 in the evening. Now, with permission to enter buildings at certain times these people avoid running into trouble with police who are monitoring the area.
Supporting the vulnerable to self-isolate
Next we set about helping families in greatest need. This includes families that have been unable to pay maintenance charges for the last two months or so, those who are handicapped, medically unfit and senior citizens. Also those who share accommodation and have small children, and to such people and families, we give preference. Through the WhatsApp groups, we sent the list of these families to Shekar sir and the local councillor so the families can be registered as needing help. To minimise the chance of virus transmission we asked people, using WhatsApp, to stay in their houses and explained we would bring goods to their doorstep. The building president also takes responsibility for sharing all the information.
Approximately 10,000 families reside in Indian Oil, making up a huge population of around 25,000 people. The councillor provides only 200 packets per day; this is distributed to those families on the list provided by the society leaders. My son has been given an ID card (required to access subsidized food rations) and goes to Shivaji Nagar to get cooked food packets in the afternoon and at night. It is mostly families that live here. Of course, there were many men who used to stay alone here but now they have gone home, back to their families.
Shutting the local market was a priority: people were gathering around the shops or vegetable vendors and so risking the virus spreading. We asked the city government and police department to help us to shift the market to an open space nearby. It would open at specific times and the MM leaders would help check that people are maintaining a safe distance between each other.
A local politician (corporator) arranged for masks and for cooked food to be provided. And for food packets for 300 families including rice, dal (two types), sugar, wheat, oil and bottles of sanitizer. The corporator has also given equipment to sanitize our area, since the city government lacks this.
Trusted by the inhabitants and the authorities
Previously police would not allow us to leave our houses to check on families or bring food to their doors. We explained that if we didn’t, families wouldn’t get food, and that if we could deliver food to their doorsteps, they wouldn’t need to come out and risk virus infection. The police began to understand that we leaders have an important role. Now we help them maintain the law and deal with crime in the area. They regularly visit our areas which prevents people hanging around.
The MM leaders build lists of how many families are in crisis, what kind of job the head of the family does, and of how many family members. We have been working in this area for 4 or 5 years so are familiar with most of the families in our building and our neighbouring buildings. We open our office at certain times so all leaders can come and submit their lists. Then we sit with Shekar sir and decide how and when we can provide them with food grains.
Shekar sir informs us leaders of the time to come to the office and collect the food. With this crisis, we have started collecting names of those families who don’t have a ration card and those families who have ration card but are not linked an Aadhaar card [identity card] which means that they are unable to get food grains from the ration shops. The crisis has made us aware which families in our area who don’t have an earning member in their house, and so don’t have easy access to food.
Alert to the dangers of fake news
Many news items are running around on the TV channels, but some news is fake. Some say that by taking certain tablets then we won’t be affected by the virus. My neighbour, who works in the housekeeping department of a hospital bought me some tablets, telling me if I took them, I wouldn’t fall sick. I urged him not to give the tablets to anybody, explaining that they could be dangerous, particularly for people with diabetes, heart problems or asthma etc. I told him no tablet can cure this disease and to take simple precautions: only drink hot water, take a hot water steam every day and gargle twice or thrice with hot water and salt. Wash your hands regularly, don’t touch your face and stay away from others. This is only practical advice, not medication, but it is possible for us to do this at home.
Selvi Manivanan Devandra is a community leader with Mahila Milan, a federation of women’s savings groups active in housing and basic service issues.
With thanks to Slum Dwellers International (SDI) for their support in developing this blog. 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.
Jockin Arputham has been fighting for the rights of slum dwellers for nearly 50 years. This blog is drawn from an interview by IIED’s David Satterthwaite ahead of World Habitat Day about what the Sustainable Development Goals could mean for slum dwellers.
Jockin Arputham founded the first national slum dweller federation in India in 1976 and went on to ally this with Mahila Milan, the Indian federation of women slum and pavement dweller savers. He has spent over 20 years encouraging and supporting slum and shack dwellers federations in many other countries – and he is President of Slum/Shack Dwellers International.
Making the SDGs action oriented
The SDGs promise so much but they are not action oriented. Many countries do not have the capacity to act. We see dreams of a slum-free world or a slum-free country or slum-free cities. But that is an ideal that needs strong political will, a strong and stable economy, and a conducive environment for the community. In Europe you might expect UN promises that everyone has a decent home to be met – but is this realistic for India?
Ambitions must be achievable
My ambition for the SDGs is limited to what we can do – what is meaningful, useful and sustainable – and implementable. So our goal is not slum-free cities but slum-friendly cities. Not a slum-free India but a slum-friendly India.
What does slum-friendly mean? That the SDG promises like clean water and good sanitation for all, land tenure for people, incremental housing and basic employment are met for all slum dwellers. If these five mandates are accepted, how can we set standards and measure what is or is not happening in each city? If there is also a mandate for people to participate, and take part, then set dates by which to achieve each of these. Even to achieve the more modest goals for slum-friendly cities means that governments have to do three times what they are doing now
Will action on the SDGs be any better than the Millennium Development Goals? So much high talk of all the goals in last 15 years but where are we in the goals and in their measurement? Are we setting unattainable goals with the SDGs?
We have seen government commitments made at Habitat I (the first UN Conference on Human Settlements) in Vancouver in 1976; then at Habitat II in Istanbul in 1996. At Habitat 1, there were commitments and targets for 1990 and these were not met. There have been very few tangible achievements. I was invited to go to speak at Habitat I in 1976 but the government was bulldozing the settlement where I lived, so I stayed in Mumbai where I had fought this threat for 10 years.
Habitat III is approaching (in 2016). Will this bring more unrealistic commitments? Or will it truly be a “new urban agenda” with a clear strategy for achieving the goals with new measures? New locally-generated metrics that everyone can follow. Everyone’s participation including slum dwellers. All the UN documents and processes claim they have people’s participation but usually this is just a grand talk show.
Looking back – what was the world’s urban population at the time of Habitat 1? Just 1.6 billion people. At Habitat II there were 2.6 billion. And now 4 billion.
We have seen the growth of NGOs and big donors and their budgets but for slum dwellers, where has all this money gone? NGOs and big donors are sharing a platform in the name of the poor and the poor are left out. Local governments and slum dweller organisations are the ones working on achieving the goals but these are usually left out of these new platforms.
No forced evictions
And the threat of eviction for slum dwellers still remains. After Habitat I, we had many sister city programmes – beautiful red wine talk – but this did not deliver land tenure. There should be a commitment at Habitat III – no forced evictions. No evictions without relocations that are acceptable to those who are relocated. After 40 years we still have not cracked this. Now the pressures of forced eviction will grow as cities invest more in infrastructure.
The cost of decent relocation is peanuts compared to infrastructure budgets. It should be part of the cost of all projects that require relocation. But this needs political will and administrative skill to work with the people and design with the communities. The huge costs of forced evictions are not counted – for the residents, the lost homes, possessions, assets, livelihoods, access to schools….
Where people are moved, we need a package of meaningful rehousing through which the quality of life of the people moved also improves.
What new urban agenda?
Now, with Habitat III, either you close the dialogue that has produced so little or you come forward with what we can realistically achieve in the next 15 years and set up a system of measurement that involves and is accountable to slum dwellers. From this, we learn about what works and from our mistakes.
We need to learn how to find solutions for renters too; so often, relocation programmes only benefit those who ‘own’ their home and can prove they have lived there for many years.
Slum dwellers must become a central part of slum friendly cities especially the women savings groups who are the foundation of the slum dweller federations around the world. But how? We need community participation with a strong focus on women. Full involvement of women in developing slum friendly cities gives a clear change of life for millions of people. As the women say, I work with my sisters, my federation, my family. Women’s savings groups can manage money and this is a big change. It helps them learn to budget, and they bring their knowledge of the local situation. Then as they join together they work at city scale and interact with city government and city politicians
For each of the SDGs, you need to connect them to the ground. Create a mechanism to achieve each target. You do not set up targets without setting out system of delivery – and this system has to involve community groups and local governments. And with progress monitored locally and openly – so these are accountable for all.
Jockin Arputham was regarded for decades in India as a public enemy as he fought against evictions (and imprisoned dozens of times). Latterly his incredible contribution to how to address slums (and work with their inhabitants) has been recognised in India where he was awarded the Padma Shri award and internationally.
David Satterthwaite is a Senior Fellow in IIED’s Human Settlements Group.
**This article originally appeared in The Hindu, Sunday Magazine on 4 January 2015.**
By Kalparna Sharma
2014 ended on a grim note. The horror in Peshawar with the gunning down of 132 children by the Taliban left everyone, not just Pakistanis, shaken. So as 2015 dawns, will things change, get better, more peaceful?
On current calculations, there is little to indicate that the trend of violence, seen not just in this subcontinent, or in West Asia but around the world, is anywhere near peaking.
At times such as these, when we are filled with despair at the state of the world, and indeed even our own country, where hate-filled talk against people of other faiths and persuasions is now out in the open, I turn to individuals who face life with a courage.
So let me begin this year with the story of a woman in Mumbai. Parveen Sheikh is in her early forties. She is a member of Mahila Milan and organises women in Mumbai’s slums so that they can tackle together some of the myriad problems all of them face.
Parveen was one of eight women I met recently in an office in Dharavi. We discussed politics, problems and possibilities. Maharashtra’s Chief Minister, Devendra Phadnis, is considering setting up a special committee to deal with Mumbai’s problems to be headed by the Prime Minister. What should be the priority for a city like Mumbai, I asked.
Housing was the consensus. Affordable housing for the poor should be top priority.
Parveen’s personal experience illustrates how politics and policies deal with the daunting problem of the homeless in one of India’s wealthiest cities. While the government introduces schemes to deal with the ‘slum problem’ (as if it involved buildings, not people); for people like Parveen, the solution is often worse than the problem.
Parveen lived for decades on a pavement in Sewri, in the north-eastern part of Mumbai. The threat of eviction was constant. Yet, thousands of families like hers remained where they were, making a living by earning daily wages, using public — usually dysfunctional — toilets, and awaiting with dread for the inevitable flooding followed by disease that descended on them every monsoon.
In 2008, Parveen and her neighbours were told that they were going to be resettled. The road had to be widened. The pavement was to be broken. So they would have to move. “I was dying with happiness,” says Parveen. She had never imagined that in her lifetime, she would live in a pucca house.
With tremendous excitement, the families moved to the distant suburb of Govandi. What they found was certainly pucca; a seven-storey building identical to the hundreds scattered across Mumbai as part of the slum resettlement scheme. But you stepped inside and there was nothing. The rooms that were supposed to be their new homes were just bare walls; no lights, no fans, no windows, no doors, no toilet seats, no taps. Anything that could be stolen had been removed. But they had a roof over their heads. And for that they were supposed to be grateful!
The other side of resettlement is rehabilitation. In their new neighbourhood, far from the old, Parveen and the others could find no work. Parveen’s husband was a head loader. Earlier, he could walk to the place where he got daily work. Now he would have to spend a good part of what he earned to travel before finding work. Women who worked as domestics in a mixed neighbourhood had no work in an area inhabited entirely by people like them. So this was a strange formulate for rehabilitation.
Worse still, the area where most such urban poor have been ‘dumped’, as Parveen says, is right next to Mumbai’s garbage dumping ground. According to a recent journalistic investigation, people living in this area suffer from acute health problems, particularly respiratory, and their life expectancy is a third lower than that of people in other parts of Mumbai.
But the point of telling this story is not just to paint the grim reality of being a poor person in a very rich city, but also to recount the unbreakable spirit of women like Parveen. Instead of throwing up her hands in despair, Parveen set about dealing with the problem. With the help of her women’s group and support from the federation of slum dwellers, they have fixed their building. There are doors and windows and taps. There is water. There is even a lift, something that they did not have for the first four years.
Parveen breathes fire when she speaks of the authorities and their attitude towards poor people. But she will not let that get her down. What stands out is her determination to fight the system by organising other women like her. That surely is a recipe to deal with despair.
SDI affiliates continued to work closely with academic institutions to co-produce knowledge through undertaking collective planning studios. SDI’s position is that these types of engagements expose students and academics to informal knowledge and conditions that call into question existing presumptions, planning frameworks, infrastructure standards and laws. Through this experience the capacity and knowledge of slum dwellers as capable actors in developing upgrading plans and precedents for their own communities is illustrated. Collective studios are the first step in training the next generation of planners who will one day become officials shaping the development and inclusivity of cities. If practical collaborative studios (between planners and the urban poor) become embedded in University curricula, inclusive planning practices can become the norm rather then the exception.
“In communities we know the number of settlements, services and origins of the people. We know how they spend their money and how they would like to develop their areas. You cannot plan from the office but if you go to the ground and speak to people and learn from them it can help you plan better.” – Katana Goretti, Ugandan Federation
Reforming the manner in which planning students are educated is one step towards shifting planning paradigms in Africa. On this basis SDI entered into a MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) with Assosiation of African Planning Schools (AAPS) in 2010, promoting co-operation between country affiliates and local planning schools. The MoU recognizes that the most effective way to change the mindsets of student planners is to offer direct experiential exposure to, and interaction with the conditions and residents of slums. In this manner students will be exposed to the value of informal knowledge and community participation in planning for settlement upgrading. During this period SDI affiliates and AAPS have conducted six collaborative planning studios in which students, staff, and urban poor communities engage directly in data collection, analysis, and the development of upgrading plans. Studios have taken place in Uganda, Malawi (two), South Africa, Kenya, and Namibia. In many cases local government officials have been invited to witness studio outputs and participate.
In Kampala, Uganda a studio with Makerere University planning students led to detailed reports reflecting informal challenges and upgrading plans that were submitted to local governments. During the studio the Ugandan Federation referred to themselves as “community professors.” Two concurrent studios took place in Blantyre and Mzuzu, Malawi. In Nancholi, Blantyre Federation members worked closed with the University of Malawi-Polytechnic to identify upgrading priorities and develop plans for improved circulation and drainage. In Salisbury Lines, Mzuzu, poor drainage and groundwater pollution were key priorities around which collective planning took place. In South Africa, students spent six months developing upgrading plans in conjunction with residents of Langrug informal settlement in Stellenbosch. In Gobabis, Namibia, students from the Polytechnic of Namibia undertook a site analysis of the Freedom Square informal settlement. Loraine, a community member from Block 5 in Freedom Square noted:
“The site analysis brought to light to how I see my surroundings. I learned how to use a GPS as we were doing the mapping. I also got to see which areas are suitable to build my house on and which aren’t, in order to avoid flooding, during the rainy season.”
It is important that studios become part of annual university curriculums, entrenching new approaches to planning over a sustained period and encouraging the participation of city governments. In all the aforementioned countries commitments have been made to replicate the studio process. Across the SDI network affiliates are exploring these types of engagements. For example a further studio recently took place between the Zambian affiliate and the University of Zambia in Lusaka. The municipality is looking at the possibility of implementing some of the proposals that emerged and has pledged to quicken the process of declaring the targeted settlement a legal residential area, as it is currently an illegal settlement under the 1975 Town and Country Planning Act.
In February 2013 a further planning studio was organised between the South African communities of Mshini Wam, Shukushukuma, and Ruo Emoh and architecture and planning students from the University of Melbourne to investigate new solutions for informal settlement upgrading and housing development. In Shukushukuma, plot sized placeholders were cut to scale and laid out on an aerial photograph. The location of visible infrastructure was mapped, such as electricity poles, toilet blocks, and water taps. The Mshini Wam group looked at alternative typologies for densification and formalisation after re-blocking projects. A visual fly through model was created, building on the new layout of re-blocked settlement.
During the year a German Agency for International Co-operation (GIZ) sponsored initiative was also undertaken to investigate the conditions for successful projects and partnerships between local government and urban poor communities. The report produced drew on experiences in Harare (Zimbabwe), Pune (India) and Kampala (Uganda) – locations that were visited by the investigating team. The team consisted of David Satterthwaite from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), Celine D’Cruz, an SDI Coordinator and co-founder of SPARC, and Sonia Fadrigo, a Core Monitoring Team member.
In 2013 SDI affiliates continue to consolidate partnerships with academic institutions with the goal of cementing collaborative efforts (e.g. planning studios) within university curriculums. SDI’s strategic medium term goals recognise the value of producing citywide data about informal settlements. Data can be used both to engage government and to assist in implementing projects that move beyond single settlements and tackle poverty at scale. Urban planners, architects, surveyors, and managers can, and must, play a vital role in critically engaging with this data. By accepting the validity of such data (and assisting in its co-production) academia can add both political and practical value increasing impact and scale.
To read more about SDI’s partnerships with academic institutions, check out our Annual Report.
**Cross-posted from The Guardian**
By John Perry, Friday 10 October 2014 10.28 BST
In nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize, grassroots activists usually compete with politicians. Few of the latter, however, have spent their adult lives searching for peaceful solutions to conflict. Among nominees for this year’s prize, one has spent fifty years trying to ensure that disputes between poor communities and state authorities are not only resolved peacefully but that the poor still gain from them. He may not have stopped a war, but Jockin Arputham, together with Slum Dwellers International, the grassroots movement he leads, were nominated this year for their work in giving a voice to the poorest residents of the world’s biggest cities, showing that non-violent protest and negotiation get results.
Arputham’s activism in what are now the Mumbai slums began in the colony of Janata, where he lived and worked as a teacher. He organised children to protest at the lack of sanitation services by marching to the town hall with parcels of stinking rubbish and leaving them on the steps. By linking up with other community groups to defeat schemes to demolish the slums and leave the occupants homeless, he helped set up the city’s slum dwellers’ federation.
The ongoing struggle led to confrontation with Indira Gandhi’s government. Arputham spent 29 days squatting outside the Indian parliament waiting to see her, eventually obtaining an agreement that Janata would not be demolished until its residents were rehoused. But, when he was returning home, Jockin was tipped off that he’d be arrested, so left he got off the train at the city outskirts and spent days sleeping in a drainage pipe to avoid the police. Under Gandhi’s governments Jockin was jailed more than 60 times, forced into exile, and returned to India only when she lost power in 1977.
With the equally renowned activist Sheela Patel of the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (Sparc), Arputham set up theNational Slum Dwellers Federation. In addition to promoting non-violent but imaginative ways for poor communities to win battles with the authorities, they began pioneering work in enumerating slum settlements and developing community savings schemes. Such schemes, now commonplace but then almost unknown, are based on women’s ability to save small sums while working in solidarity with their neighbours, with shared targets of building up enough money to start constructing small homes or begin small businesses.
In 1996, Arputham and Patel started Shack and Slum Dwellers’ International, which today works in 33 countries on three continents. In doing so, they were pioneers of south-south exchange, in which activists from developing countries learn from each other, unmediated (if often assisted) by northern NGOs. The methods they developed in India are now being used worldwide.
The first of their key innovations was slum profiling and enumeration – profiling is a high-level assessment of the numbers of dwellings and other key aspects of a slum; enumeration provides the fine detail. Why are they important? Fundamentally, as a basis for planning what should happen to the slum and its inhabitants, and politically as a means of showing that real people live in slums, the numbers involved and the danger of trying to ignore them. The recent enumeration of Kampala’s slums by the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda provided previously absent data to the city authorities, doubling the number of recorded slums. It has given the federation an important seat at the table in discussing a city-wide sanitation project. Enumerations have often been used to show the scale of rehousing that would be required if slums were demolished – as underprovision of sites for relocating slum dwellers is a frequent issue. (It arose for example in the relocations in Brazil when World Cup stadiums were built.)
Saving schemes are the second key innovation. They are the root to improving slum conditions through self-help, and can also be used to draw in government funding on terms favourable to the savers. The South African Federation of the Urban Poor, for example, boasts 1,500 saving or credit schemes among its affiliates, ranging from 15 to 500 members. Because slum dwellers usually get no subsidy except – perhaps – publicly owned land, savings are often the key way to build up enough capital to start to build a permanent house.
There is perhaps no greater symbol of the gap between rich and poor than the city slum, especially in Mumbai, home of the world’s third most expensive office market. Alongside the flight path from Mumbai international airport, no less than 85,000 people are crushed onto a mere 110 hectares of airport-owned land. India’s high flyers can’t fail to see the slums as their flights take off. Only last month the national governmentannounced plans to start removing them as a ‘security threat’. That could be the next test of Jockin’s non-violent methods.
**Cross posted from The Hindu**
By Aparna Karthikeyan
Sanitation and shelter are for everyone, says Jockin Arputham, the Mumbai-based activist who has been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
“Jockin, Slum Dweller.” That is how, Jockin Arputham, from Dharavi, Mumbai, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year, introduces himself in any public forum. All his life Jockin has been fighting for dignity, for the ‘weakest of the poorest person’. Except that when he chanced into his line of work, in 1969, he had ‘no theory, philosophy, nor a political compulsion.’
Like the great majority that lives in Dharavi, Arputham is a migrant, who came to Mumbai looking for work. But the city appalled the young man. “It was a culture shock,” he says. He had come expecting a rich city. Instead, it had the worst slums.
He lived in one such slum, Janata Colony. In the first few difficult days, when he felt he had ‘fallen into the pit’, he contemplated taking his own life. So he climbed up a nearby hill, and stayed there for three days, but then he decided he wouldn’t die. Nor go back.
The next morning, he put his carpentry skills to good use, made some money and, in a few days, began sub-contracting work at the nearby Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). He learnt to give orders in Hindi; and soon the 21-year-old settled down in his new life in Mumbai.
Arputham, now 68, knows what he wants. He wants shelter, sanitation and water for every slum-dweller in Mumbai, in India, in the world. He wants every pavement-dweller relocated. He wants to see change — redevelopment — happening with people’s participation.
It was mosquitoes that made him aware of his potential as a change-maker. Arputham was conducting a coaching class for slum kids when he found the kids unable to focus because they were being bitten. The problem was mounting piles of garbage. To show the municipality the magnitude of the problem, Jockin made the kids carry a newspaper parcel of rubbish and dump it outside the municipal office in Chembur. When the police came to arrest him, Arputham said he would repeat his act until the garbage was cleared. The municipality was shamed into doing its work, for the first time in 22 years in that settlement.
Having tasted the power of protest, he decided to do more. He cleaned the filthy community toilet, again with children’s help. “By that evening, it was a beautiful new toilet!” After that, he was summarily adopted by the people who sought him to sort out civic issues. He learnt English, became an activist, a ‘self-built leader’, led huge demonstrations against the proposed eviction of Janata Colony. In 1974, when he got married, he finally rented a small house.
Arputham still lives in a rented house. He has no property, no assets. His immediate family is small — he has two grandchildren, one from each of his daughters. But his extended family is very large — the urban poor from 33 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. They are all members of Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI), an organisation founded in 1999, to provide alternatives to eviction. SDI’s headquarters is in Cape Town, South Africa, and Arputham is its president.
But the path to fame was not smooth. In the 1970s, there were many attempts to arrest him. Each time, people, especially thousands of women from the slum, surrounded him and hid him.
When Emergency was declared in India in 1975, Arputham found that he would be put away; so he fled to the Philippines and stayed there until the new government was elected. But he carried on with his work. He set up the Bombay Slum Dwellers Federation in 1975. Slowly, the movement grew and became the National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF). “The organisation is a very huge one,” he says. “I work in around 70 cities in India.”
While Arputham never wavered in his ideals, his approach changed over the years. In the early 1980s, he swapped the ‘shirt of militancy’ for one of negotiation. He moved from Janata Colony — the slum made way for BARC — to Dharavi.
Dharavi alone has 89 slum pockets, he says, sitting in his office. The walls are painted in jewel colours. But the real jewels in the room are Jockin’s awards — the Ramon Magsaysay in 2000; Padma Shri in 2011; and an honorary Ph.D. from KIIT University, Bhubaneswar, in 2009.
As the founder, and now reluctant president of NSDF (he wishes to resign, but nobody will hear of it), he’s especially keen to include women in the organisation’s activities. “I’m running this organisation because of the strength of the women. In India itself, more than 10-12 lakh women are members. Men are good bullies; they tend to take the credit, even if women run the show.”
In the slums where NSDF functions, migrations from rural to urban India are touching new highs, and sleepy little towns are today being transformed into bustling shanty towns.
‘Achche din’ has to reach out to these people too, argues Arputham. “Show me one budget that is talking about the other citizen of the city. You look at the city corporation agenda, which I look at every week. Three per cent of the agenda is connected with the slum-dwellers whereas their population is 60 per cent. The rest of the city hogs the whole agenda.”
“I’m known world over as ‘Toilet Man’. In South Africa, where it’s a stigma to say toilet, I made them talk about it. In the United Nations, I built a demonstration toilet in the UN plaza.” And demonstrated to Kofi Annan how Indians squat! He has built more than 20,000 (toilet) seats in Mumbai alone.
It was from Dharavi that Arputham drew plans for inclusive growth. He insisted on new standards on redeveloped housing, an increased floor-space-index. Over the years, Arputham has built 30,000 houses in India, and 1,00,000 houses abroad. Funding for his work comes from many sources. Thanks to his work, he has met both Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela.
The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2014 will be announced on October 10.
By Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat & Diana Mitlin, International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED)
SDI Federations in Southern Africa face acute sanitation needs. Recent surveys in informal settlements in four cities highlight the problems. In one of Kitwe’s (Zambia), informal settlements 77 per cent of the population was using unimproved pit latrines. In a similar area in Blantyre (Malawi), 91 per cent of residents used unimproved pit latrines and 26 per cent did not have access to a toilet. In Chinhoyi (Zimbabwe) in one peripheral settlement 39 per cent of residents used the bush and 56 per cent used pit latrines. And in Dar-es-Salaam, a survey in six informal settlements found that 65 per cent of residents were using traditional pit latrines. Federation members have been innovating wherever possible, seeking affordable solutions that have a chance of addressing such acute needs. The difficulties of sanitation provision are exacerbated by erratic piped water supplies and/or costly water sold through private kiosks. Further difficulties are created by the significance of rented accommodation with tenants making up between 34 and 70 per cent of residents.
Faced with these constraints, Federation members have been investing in eco-sanitation. The chosen model in three out of the four cities mentioned is a sky-loo with the raised toilet being more practical in areas of a high water table. In Dar es Salaam the preferred model is an improved pit latrine. The unit cost varies but is generally between USD 350 and USD 500 for a double chamber unit with a small area for bathing in addition to the toilet. Scarce and expensive water supplies make the eco-san unit even more attractive; and over time residents have found uses for the compost, either putting it on their own crops or selling it locally.
There are multiple pressures that make these individual private sanitation choices attractive. The technologies are now understood and easily replicated. Local builders have developed the skills needed and Federation members have even been confident enough to use eco-sanitation technologies in market toilet blocks in Malawi. While local government was initially skeptical about the merits of eco-sanitation (especially in Zimbabwe), over time the Federation has demonstrated the functionality of this solution. Tenants have been able to pressure their landlords and in at least some cases they have responded with a willingness to make the investments. Such toilets can be accommodated within the existing layouts. This mean that there is no need to identify additional land for public toilet blocks, nor is there a need to re-block the settlement to enable sewers to be laid. In a context in which state investment has been at best very limited and at worst non-existent, federations are being forced to treat sanitation as a private good.
However, as the scale of such private investments increases, SDI affiliates are asking themselves if this really makes sense. Consider the scale of need in a city like Kitwe, Zambia where approximately 60,000 families lack adequate sanitation. If each household has to invest in an eco-sanitation unit at a cost of USD 500, then the total cost is USD 30 million. It is not clear that this is going to be an effective use of resources, even irrespective of the difficulties of using on-site sanitation as settlements density increases with urbanization.
Solutions such as household eco-san are popular with federations (especially considering the lack of water in many areas) because they are realizable in the face of substantive state neglect. The relatively high costs of capital investment are repaid by loans from the Federation’s loan funds. Landowners recoup the costs by passing them onto their tenants. In many of these cases, tenants are pressing for such investments as they are very keen to have access to improved facilities. But with limited incomes some tenants cannot afford to pay the cost of potential rent increases.
Moreover, private on-site sanitation does not remind city authorities to fulfill their responsibilities in providing the necessary infrastructure to transport and treat waste. While on-site sanitation may be appropriate in low-density residential developments, the health risks are considerable as densities increase. Extraordinary as it sounds, the proportion of urban households with access to improved sanitation in sub-Saharan Africa did not change between 1990 and 2010 – remaining at 43 per cent. Even more extraordinary is that this definition of “improved” takes no account of the suitability of various types of sanitation for high-density populations.
Faced with such myopia and indifference on the part of the authorities, it is perhaps not surprising that federations have not taken on the immense tasks of altering the institutional arrangements for sanitation provision at the city scale. Furthermore if lack of sanitation provision is understood as a city governance failure the onus for provision to the poor should not be largely born by the poor themselves. There is an urgent need for new policies and programmes that begin to experiment with sanitation solutions that can be rolled out across the city, affordable to and appropriate for high-density low-income urban populations.
In the high-density settlements of Mumbai (India), alternatives have developed. Through a sustained period of negotiation and action, totaling approximately 15 years, the Indian federation has been able to access government subsidies for the construction and management of communal facilities. Affordable subscription fees are charged and cover the management and maintenance costs of facilities. These systems have been refined through a sustained learning and reflection process over more then a decade. Mistakes have been made, new options and technologies trialed and collective reflection and learning consistently supported. Systems have evolved over time.
As African federations begin to consider new sanitation solutions more appropriate to use densities, exchanges play a vital role. The above Indian example of communal toilets with an affordable monthly fee for neighborhood residents of USD $ 1-2 per household, and the scale achieved in Mumbai, has been visited by a number of African federations who wish to explore communal options. While Indian densities differ significantly from many African cities, the community driven procurement, construction and management systems all offer valuable lessons; one of which is implementing systems that balance individual gain with a system for collective good. For example female federation contractors win the tenders for toilet construction but are blacklisted if standards are not maintained or the facility comes in over budget. The Indian example has been taken up by Uganda, Malawi and Zimbabwe who have piloted a variety of market sanitation facilities that aim to provide an affordable service and recover costs. However this type of system has yet to be successfully trialed in a low-income high-density residential area. The critical difference is that the provision of capital subsidies for toilet block construction in Mumbai makes universal sanitation access affordable. Without such subsidies, African federations face a considerable innovation challenge.
In a context in which both governments and development agencies are emphasizing the potential of on-site sanitation in African cities, thinking outside of existing paradigms holds the greatest promise for African federations anxious to address the need for universal access. The existing success with eco-sanitation, and an ability to negotiate for regulatory reforms that have legitimated this solution can be used as the “groundwork” for more ambitious investments. The paucity of practical examples of urban sanitation systems that offer universal access in African contexts is a key challenge that can be taken up by federations. Bold steps and new ideas should continue to be trialed and success measured not just in the ability to deliver functional facilities but also by introducing options that enable low-income households to access sanitation at a citywide scale. In summary, generating solutions for Africa’s urban sanitation crisis will require a focus on the organizations and relationships that enable communities and local governments alike to learn about technical alternatives.
The slums along Mumbai airport with over 98,000 structures remain a crucially unsolved challenge for the development of the airport. The residents networks that are part of NSDF city federation have long stated that they are willing to conceded land that the airport wants for its infrastructure as long as the land not needed for this will be made available for them to live in SRA ground plus 5 buildings.
For many years the contract to build alternative housing for slums along the airport was given to a construction firm HDIL. The deal was that 276 acres of encroached land would be “cleared” as households would move to sites nearby.
The unusual act of getting transferred development rights for the 7,000 structures in which no one has moved yet has been noted by the CAG in his report.
Many other challenges also impeded this process.
- The state cannot undertake surveys until it clears eligibility norms, which should be structure for structure, but the High court only says 2,000 cut off is acceptable. So only a very small percentage are eligible.
- Residents what to be assured that all get houses nearby but only 7,000 are nearby so they won’t budge.
- The deal for GVK and HDIL does not become profitable unless the land use for commercial purpose is accepted. Which means there is a stand off.
In the meanwhile the new terminal with huge array of art work is to be opened in February 2014.
The government of Maharashtra took a very bold decision about 6 years ago to build small tenements which would be given to the poor for rent. The rental housing scheme would be taken up by private sector and they would get very good TDR return for tenements they would give back to the government. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) would then hand these tenements over to organizations to manage according to a governance framework to be developed along side with the construction. 500,000 units were to be constructed. The initial tenements got constructed, but MMRDA uder new leadership did not want to manage the rental housing and preferred these to be sold. Now they get used for other purposes and the initial purpose is drowned.
Whenever the state government of Maharashtra has taken up new and interesting possibilities to address the challenges of increasing crisis for housing of the poor, it gets drowned by an amazing paradoxical impact of poor supervision of governance architecture needed to ensure it reached the people it was meant for. A constant state of crisis for which any empty space gets used up, and a construction industry which explores any possibility to take up construction in the name of the poor but never seeks to address solutions for the bottom 40% in the city.
The 500,000 houses were never built. But the ones that were build remain empty as MMRDA did not develop the management strategy and framework for supervision. When the buildings collapsed these were the only tenements that were available and are to be used for transits accommodation. Anyone who knows about transit accommodation knows several generations grow in these homes until the time when they forget where their grandparents were moved out from and build their lives around these localities.
By Anni Beukes, SDI Secretariat
“We are able to appreciate that we need to have a more holistic view of the cities where we are working” (Frederick Mugisa, Uganda, SDI Alliance).
“…now we are planning the profiling in the settlements we are working and also see city wide settlement profiling to help in planning of the city with the slum dwellers” (Shekar and John Samuel, NSDF/SPARC, India, SDI Alliance)
While focus on the local remains the core concern of SDI federations, the question, increasingly pertinent is, how does the global network of the urban poor make itself globally visible and relevant on the global urban development agenda? Peer exchanges have long served SDI federations as a learning space to share experiences of everyday life. They serve as a platform from which urban poor communities can share local concerns, challenges and successes. Like SDI enumerations and settlement profiles they too have traditionally been centred on particular contexts and the particular concerns of local slum dwellers.
SDI and Santa Fe Institute’s (SFI) global slum profiling project aims to aggregate and analyse the around 7,000 federation profiles collected over the past twenty years in more than 15 countries across the global south. The objective is to yield a “science of slums” powerful enough to leverage city wide and global sustainable developmental appeal for ‘slum data’. With renewed vigour the network is looking towards two of its most powerful tools (exchanges and enumerations) as learning and innovation spaces to foster this goal.
Making slum communities visible to their local authorities has been the driving force behind local actions to stave off evictions and leverage land, basic services and upgrading of slums. Mugisa, Shekar and Samuel’s appreciation of the value of the June learning exchange around the SDI and SFI Partnership, during the SDI-SFI Field Visit Cape Town June 2013, echoes the hope expressed by Sheela Patel, director of Indian NGO SPARC and SDI Board Member, that “communities of the urban poor living in informal settlements [will come] to believe that aggregating information about settlement and households is a valuable tool towards improving their lives” (Patel in Fieuw 2013 and elsewhere ).
Over the course of ten days in and around Cape Town’s UT Section, Khayelitsha, federation members along with NGO support staff from Malawi, Kenya, India, Zimbabwe, Uganda, South Africa and Namibia were able to test the new tools (including a questionnaire, geo-tagging smart phone application, etc.) developed through the SDI-SFI collaboration to improve and standardise the data capturing processes of the network. Rosey Mashimbye of FEDUP, South Africa, commented that the use of these new technologies is certainly an improvement from manual capturing. While there remain some concerns among federation members that the new standardised questionnaire may not speak to all their local concerns, according to the Namibian alliance’s report, “standardised rituals and practices [may have] the possibility to incorporate local concerns/issues” (Harris, Namibia Alliance).
Informal settlement communities have come a long way in showing that their settlements and communities are not just spaces of perceived and real deprivation, but rather innovation and resourcefulness. They have consistently shown that slum dwellers themselves are the most capable of showing local authorities, who they are, how they live, make their livelihoods and contribute to the economies of the cities from which they are so often excluded. By standardising profiling and enumerations and marrying our techniques to cutting edge technology and analysis through the learning space of peer-exchanges, we are well on our way to leverage on of the most powerful tools of the federations of the urban poor in creating sustainable and resilient inclusive cities.
For more on SDI enumerations and profiling see pages 46-52 in our latest Annual Report.