SDI at the Resilience Evidence Forum

A photo of laundry drying in an informal settlement in Khayalitsha, Cape Town.

Ariana Karamallis from SDI shares their programming at the Resilience Evidence Forum and highlights SDI’s work. 

– originally published by Global Resilience Partnership

Later this week, Slum Dwellers International (SDI) will co-lead the Urban Track at the Resilience Evidence Forum in Cape Town, South Africa. Over the past few months SDI, together with the GRP and USAID, has created a track of programming that spotlights key considerations for building resilience in urban centres of the Global South that are characterised by informality. As the impacts of climate change, conflict, the rising cost of living, and other natural and manmade disasters increase in frequency and severity, so will the number of people living in urban informal settlements continue to rise – increasing demands placed on cities and the need for urban practitioners to develop and implement effective, evidence-based, pro-poor resilience policies and development. 

Urban informal settlement in the Philippines. (PHOTO: Slum Dwellers International)
Urban informal settlement in the Philippines. (PHOTO: Slum Dwellers International)

Over the past two years SDI’s work in the climate and resilience space has been on the rise. As the impacts of climate change are more widely and acutely felt, the urban poor communities SDI works with have recognised a need to understand, embrace, and articulate their struggles, strategies and solutions in a language that speaks not only to urban planning and policy practitioners but to climate practitioners as well. Understanding SDI’s core work of organising urban poor communities to find alternatives to evictions through incremental, in situ slum upgrading is not separate from resilience and climate adaptation work. In fact, evidence increasingly demonstrates that the provision of tenure security and safe, affordable housing, basic services, and other infrastructure for the urban poor are essential climate adaptation strategies – particularly in urban settings. SDI was keen to ensure that this perspective, urban informality, and the role of urban poor communities was central to the #REF2023 Urban Track programming and is hopeful that the sessions developed will generate discussions, questions, and reflections to advance urban resilience efforts. 

Joseph Muturi, chair of the SDI Board and a national community leader from SDI’s Kenyan urban poor federation, Muungano wa Wanavijiji, will speak at #REF2023 about the key role of community-driven slum data as evidence to support policy and development in the precedent-setting, large-scale Mukuru Special Planning Area (SPA) slum upgrading project in Nairobi – as well as countless other slum upgrading and climate adaptation projects across the network. In all of the countries where SDI operates, federations collect quantitative and qualitative data about the settlements where they live and work in order to provide the necessary evidence to government and other development stakeholders in negotiating for and developing effective resilience-building efforts. Increasingly, federations include indicators and other data points specifically addressing climate and vulnerability risk, incorporating this into their profiling, enumeration and mapping methodologies. This kind of community-based evidence is invaluable in addressing the perceived data scarcity that many urban-decision makers face. The question we hope to answer at the Resilience Evidence Forum is how to bridge the various gaps communities are faced with to get their data into the hands of decision-makers to drive meaningful change by influencing climate action plans, resilience strategies, development plans, and more. 

Youth data collector from the National Slum Dweller Federation of Uganda. (PHOTO: Slum Dwellers International)

To complement Mr. Muturi’s inputs, Charlton Ziervogel, director of the Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) – support NGO to SDI’s South African social movements – will share a panel with Daniel Sullivan, Director of Resilience from the City of Cape Town, among others, to explore the constraints of data currently being used and how to bridge existing data gaps while ensuring the inclusion and agency of evidence producers – especially the urban poor. This session is sure to provide an important opportunity for community-based practitioners and local government officials to reflect on the use of community-collected data to inform policy and practice, including the experience of the South African SDI Alliance’s 2016 engagement with the Western Cape Provincial Government around the development of a provincial level approach to informal settlement upgrading. Thanks to deep grounding in the informal settlement communities and a strong practice of community-led data collection, CORC was selected in a competitive bid process to use community-led data collection practices to conduct a rapid appraisal of all informal settlements in the Western Cape (RAP) to inform the development of the Western Cape’s Informal Settlement Support Framework and Programme (ISSF and ISSP).  

SDI’s experiences in Kenya, South Africa, and across the roughly 20 countries represented by the SDI network will hopefully showcase the tremendous value and opportunity for transformative impact available to urban practitioners through meaningful collaboration with urban poor communities – particularly around the production of community-based evidence for resilience-building efforts. 

Memoirs of a Uganda Slum Dweller: Part XII

Talkative Mama

**Cross-posted from The Age of Zinc**

Age of Zinc is proud to present the twelfth installment in a new memoir from the slums of Kampala, Uganda. Check back every week to catch the next part of the story!

The first time I left Uganda was in 2010. I went to Nairobi for a savings meeting. It was my first time to go on a plane. Eh, it was not easy! My child was one month old so I had to move with him. When I reached the airport with the team I was told I needed documents for the child. It was time for the plane to leave, so the team told me that we are going and you will come by yourself once you get the documents. I said, “I can!” They said, “Will you come?” And I said, “I will come and I CAN!”

I went to the office where I was told to go for the documents and they directed me on what I had to do. I went to the nearby area to get photos of my child taken and then I filled out and submitted all the forms. I did everything quickly and I made it in time for the next flight! I went andI reached there by myself! Yes I did it! When I reached, I found the team and they were all surprised. They thought that maybe I couldn’t do it.

This had been my second chance. My first chance I was supposed to go to India but my passport was not ready. I said to myself it is not my time. My time was coming and now this was my time! When it came it had challenges, but I said, “No, today I can do this!”

The next trip was for federation strengthening in Ghana. We went to see how the Ghana federation was working – the structure, the projects, the saving groups, and the community. It was a good exchange. We learned a lot from Ghana and it helped us with our federation.At that time our structure was still new so the leaders went to see what they were doing in Ghana. We saw the Ashaiman housing project where the federation negotiated with the chiefs, whom had been on an exposure exchange to India, which learned how the Indian federation worked with its government to get land. We also took a tour in Old Fadama, a big settlement, and saw how the slums are set up and how they managed the eviction threat. All of this was to strengthen the leaders, because in Uganda we never had that structure before. We wanted to see what the role of the leaders is and how do they work.

From Ghana we went to Malawi. That exchange was also about federation leadership. We went to see the different projects and we visited different groups to learn what they were doing. We learned how their saving schemes operate and how their projects work. With these projects they would agree that when they made clothes (it was a tailoring group) one person would take them to the market and sell and then bring back all sales. They were doing it to revolve funds. Everyone would go to the market and report. Another team sold vegetables. They would all agree and sell them as a team in the market. Their work was really teamwork in the saving schemes and their savings were always good. After selling they would each get some money and everyone could save. After that we came back to Uganda and had learned what to do to.

Memoirs of a Ugandan Slum Dweller: Part III

Age of Zinc | Kampala, Uganda

**Cross-posted from The Age of Zinc**

Age of Zinc is proud to present the third instalment in a new memoir from the slums of Kampala, Uganda. Check back every week to catch the next part of the story!

When I was 15 years old I decided to look for ways to survive with my mother. So I started to sell milk and bread to earn some money. I would go to the milk factory, buy some milk and bread and then sell them to get a little money for my school fees. This way I could at least help her out with the younger brothers. She was a single mother at that time looking after all of us – six of us – and taking care of us. I decided that I should also start to work. I just felt I had to work, so I was working while also going to school.

I decided to talk to some girls about this small business of selling milk and bread and they liked the idea. We all agreed and formed a group. There were five of us. So we started buying and selling milk and bread. It was a good business because we could  pay our school fees and also save a little money. We had to travel far distances and sometimes we would move at night and the places were not safe. We were selling at night, which was also dangerous, so you could not be alone; you needed someone who could move with you. We would leave very early at around five in the morning to go and buy bread from the bakery, which was in a different area, and then from the bakery go to the dairy corporation in Namuwongo in Kampala.

It was quite far between the two different areas, from Ntinda to Namuwongo, so we had to team up. One girl would wake all of us up in the morning and we would leave to go and buy the bread and then travel to buy the milk. Once we bought our commodities we would keep it while we went off to school. After school in the evening, we would come back and sell it. If we sold off everything we purchased in the morning we would go back to the factory around seven in the evening to get some more milk. We could sell up until ten in the evening. The balance we made we would hold onto and use for start up costs the next morning.

I had to do housework because I was the eldest but I also had to sell to make some money. I would go to sleep at around midnight and wake up at four in the morning. That was my resting time. I did my schoolwork at school. At school, I concentrated very hard in class and was a good student. I also did many school activities. When you’re active in school there was a way in which the school could give you some [monetary] assistance. So I was engaged in many things. I was a good long distance runner, I was a good music dancer and drummer, and I was a good actor. Whenever the headmaster would move around, I was there! Whenever we would win, I was a part of that team! Being active in school also helped me.

I also had no time to rest because I was trying to enjoy everything. I was not feeling a lot of stress because I was young and not thinking about so many things. It was not about the money, but to see how I could help my mother not to suffer. How I could work with her to see that we all survive.

Our neighbor was working in a bank and her children were all in boarding schools, good schools. I would always ask her to take me to the school but she could not afford to look after me as well. Then one day I happened to asked her: “let me fetch water for you and you could give me a little money that will help me pay my school fees.” She said it would not be enough, but I told her I would save and keep it because then at least I had something to start with. I was in form 1 in secondary school at the time. When she gave me money for fetching water, I used it to purchase one loaf of bread and two liters of milk. By the end of the day I had three loaves of bread and five liters of milk. That is how I started my business to earn money to pay for my school fees. Being able to earn money made me feel like I was in my own world, I was a free person. 


Culture, Informality, Heritage, and Cities: A View From Below


By Sheela Patel, SDI Secretariat / SPARC

Culture is Produced by the People

Cities are now at the cross roads of making choices in relation with what attributes they concede to the production of culture. Planning norms and practices have begun to identify buildings, districts and heritage sites, and often end up protecting them against people!

Cities are truly the creatures of living cultural heritage, and its inhabitants must face the challenge of dealing with seemingly sensible rules and regulations that are not working for a large section of their populations. Instead of creating mechanisms to arbitrate between diverse interests and conflicts, these processes are producing mono cultures that  stamp out the rights of many for the fulfilment of rights for a few. These challenges are most obvious in cities of the global south, although these tensions and processes operate in all cities around the world.

All southern cities are crowded by people generally using non-motorized transport. There are large crowds everywhere,  in markets and on the streets and in temples. There are festivities erupting in cosmopolitan neighbourhoods where modern global “good practices” seek to reduce sound pollution and thereby put restrictive use of public spaces where traditional celebrations takes place and where the poor participate in large numbers. As a result, the spontaneous yet structurally robust confusions created by celebrative events in the heart of cities – are being stamped out by rules created out of fear and demand for clearing the public spaces for cars of the elite. Gated communities, shopping malls, fly-overs, all new symbols of modernity and success and progress are destroying living city cultures that have evolved through many decades and in some instances through centuries.

How should the rules of engagement for cities be developed? How can universal guidelines work to identify, deepen and make robust that which is celebrated and produces a public and street culture that “modernity” and “the new monocultures” are systematically killing? What are “the precious elements ” which creates identity, relationships and networks in cities? What can and should be changed in order to produce more equity, more inclusion and breach old cultural practices? Who is it in the power to decide?

Not a optimistic picture

The present situation is not very optimistic. In many cities both the built heritage and cultural traditions are first demolished and then their loss is bemoaned, by which time it cannot  be reconstituted. Often the reasons for the loss are hidden and not understood by  those who lost these spaces and lived through the processes of cultural change. What they do recognise are that what happened seems to lead to reduced tourisms or reduced livelihood options and reduced revenue, which again brings a sense of crisis into the challenges already faced when addressing cultural issues.

Cities and towns in the global south seek copy the development of cities of the north without acknowledgement that in their past industrial stage they faced similar challanges. Development imageries are imported from northern post- industrial cities and imposed along with their development regulations, and end up making cities work for a few and make the majority’a usage of the city  illegal. The use of public spaces for informal habitats and livelihoods have become unacceptable by the rule of law based on the planning norms from the “global north”. International development and knowledge systems and “modern town planning schemes” further assists deepen this process. In some places the needs of 10-15% of the population elite, overrides the needs of the whole city.

Countries, cities and localities in denial of their cultural heritage

Culture is not just old buildings, it’s how individuals, neighbourhoods and cities create rituals and practices to transact their lives, produce processes and systems which enable them to cohabitation. Each generation has to assess these practices and choose what works for their time, and what is intergenerational and critical for future generations to retain.

Markets, neighbourhoods, walled cities are under threat by modernity, mainly because the lands on which these operate are now seen as valuable to capitalize on. Wet markets (vegetable markets) which are in every city and town in the global south, where the rich and poor buy their food and other daily needs, are gradually being phased out. Malls are replacing the wet markets, and many studying this phenomenon clearly see that the natural cross-subsidy for fresh produce and vending opportunities are lost to a large majority.

Most cities have the poor, the markets, and the “modern city” competing for a place within the city centre. Many cities seek to kill the organic development process by putting up roads and big buildings in an attempt to provide  some “order”. Evictions of poor neighbourhoods are seen as inevitable in the name of investing in the public good, and many households have not even been given compensation because they do not have legal deeds to the land; they have only lived there for many decades.

The questions to be addressed are: Are there other options? Can the right for life and livelihood be invoked to protect the rights of the poor? Can solutions be developed through dialogue and discussions? Can large infrastructure projects consider these processes as investments worth making in both the time it takes to build consensus as well as to produce increased inclusion? The fact is that traditional neighbourhoods and their livelihoods are being destroyed every day as we are searching for evidence for “best practice”.

Take the challenges of informality

Most of the urbanization in the global south is informal, and the largest employment takes place within the informal sectors within a bazaar culture; such as vending and recycling businesses. Street markets, crowded sidewalks are all part of the life in the cities and the markets are venues for many a cultural practice that modern planners seek to control, and in their task often destroy.

Take the instance of waste pickers in Cairo and for that matter all cities in the south. For centuries communities have traded in recycling and have created livelihoods which cities could nurture and link to the city’s garbage management. These processes are sustainable and all they need from the state is the right to have space to sort and transport recyclable waste. Yet almost in all instances the city hires private sector waste recyclers who rarely sort and separate the garbage collected. The traditional waste recyclers need contractual agreements that include them in the garbage industry. What is being done today by city planners is that they seek expensive and unsustainable solutions of garbage handling systems from “the north”, from countries which just recently has started in the recycling of garbage business.

Everyone at odds with slum dwellers

Cities are now at the cross roads in relation to what attributes they concede to the production of culture. Planning norms and practices have begun to identify buildings and districts and heritage sites and often end up protecting them against people! Informal settlements look like a sea of roofs from the outside and so impenetrable that the only way that planners figure to deal with them is by demolishing them. In reality these are complex neighbourhoods that are evolving and changing. Their ability to morph into viable neighbourhoods is dependent on the involvement of the state to assist and support this process. The poor living in the city centres are competing against the elite: Struggling towards the power of the vertically structured commercial house and land market infiltrating their neighbourhoods. 

The next few decades will exacerbate our urban challenges

It is already globally announced that more than half of the world population lives in cities and that even more will settle down in the already crowded cities of the south. For some decades cities have had to accommodate very large numbers. It seems that in future, most houses will be self-built incrementally because cities and national governments can’t develop financing mechanisms to aid them at the rate and pace they need. Most residents will be employed informally and will stay at odds with the laws, the laws which they cannot accept because they are framed to exclude them. In many cities household people squat on sidewalks and bridges in order to be near work, work which again very often forms informal occupations servicing registered institutions and businesses as well as elite households.

All southern cities are and will continue to be crowded. People will continue using non-motorized transport. There will be crowds in markets, mosques, churches, and temples. Festivities will be erupting in cosmopolitan neighbourhoods increasing this spontaneous yet structurally robust confusion, which again will continue to be contested for every new formalizing city rule created: Created out of fear and demand for clearing the public spaces for cars and the elite.

When the state ignores problems people have to create institutions for representation

SPARC started its work seeking the rights of households who live on pavements to prevent eviction without alternatives. From 1986 to 1995 pavement dwellers in Mumbai created organizations that fought to be accepted by the city of Mumbai. Today they have a joint program, but it took ten years for the policy to be formed and in the next 15 years the households should be moved.

The National Slum Dweller Federation (NSDF) of India that seeks to bring the voice of the poor into the development table, formed an alliance with SPARC and Mahila Milan in 1996, and together they founded Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI) which now operates in 33 countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Together, the SDI network seeks to build a culture of dialogue amongst the urban poor and to facilitate dialogue between cities and local communities. Federations in SDI have managed to change some rules, and increasingly global and local development actors, are beginning to examine SDI’s solutions as means to address the challenges of conflict in cities. The role of social movements is to produce civilized dissent and  demands for inclusion.

What is needed urgently: Capacity to arbitrate

Reconciling, negotiating and balancing are tough acts, and cities need leaders with such capacities. Incremental city growth and crowded streets are there and it is important to take a reality check into this environment before plotting strategies of how to manage cities and make them work for all. The questions related with this endeavour are many, and include: How should rules of engagements for cities become developed? How can universal guidelines work to identify, deepen and make robust that which is celebrated and produces a public and street culture that “modernity” and this new monoculture systematically killing what is precious and which creates identity, relationships and networks in cities? What should be the role of local national and global players which we now see becoming intricately woven into our increasingly connected globalizing world? There is a need to stay focused on the local while building national and global terms of engagement. Capacity building efforts are often treated as “knowledge transfer projects”, instead they need to build skills enabling people to negotiate and arbitrate – THAT IS ALSO CULTURE.


What is incrementalism?


Pictured above: Residents of the Kambimoto incremental housing development in Huruma, a slum area in Nairobi, Kenya.

By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI secretariat

Top-down strategies for “eradicating slums” are seemingly always in vogue. Planners, government officials, commentators, and most non-governmental civil society actors, all aim for State-conceived, State-driven solutions to the “problems” of slums. Occasionally, we might hear about the potential of the social energy and even the density of informal settlements. But the solutions, we hear, must always come from the State.

But we can consider for a moment where these “formal” actors are headed, and from where they get their ideas. It is not the State. Governments of the Global South are quite evidently incapable of conceiving and implementing solutions without the people such policies are intended to address. The slums of the South are growing. And in the absence of effective State interventions, the poor — the world of the “informal” — are providing the vast majority of shelter solutions.

So “formal” actors — the State, planners, etc. — are getting their ideas from those who populate the world of the “informal” — the urban poor themselves. Instead of centrally-planned, greenfields housing developments, governments from South Africa to Kenya are talking about “slum upgrading” or “informal settlement upgrading.” In India, the term that most closely mirrors this is “redevelopment.” To varying degrees, policies that deploy these terms in each country are rooted in “informal” practice. Improvements in the living spaces where people already live.

But “upgrading,” while a step in the right direction towards more people-centered kinds of urban policies and planning, is often too vague. It can still mean big projects that results in the removals of many shack dwellers to new slums outside of the city to make way for improvements that often accrue only to a few of the original residents of the area. The goal of any kind of urban policy will always, at some point, mean fully-serviced and titled top-structure housing with secure tenure. Given the capacities of all the actors involved in the policies that would address that kind of goal, in addition to the magnitude of slums in most of the cities of the South, such achievements are still far off in the future.

The poor know this, and address it on a daily basis in the only way they can: incrementalism. To build incrementally is to live within one’s means, adding on and improving one’s dwelling and environment bit-by-bit. There are obstacles to this approach, namely lack of security of tenure. How can a person save to upgrade when he or she faces the constant threat of being evicted? But even without total security of tenure (i.e. full title), the poor are willing to build incrementally.

I wrote a couple months ago about the Federation incremental housing project in the Kambimoto neighborhood of Huruma in Nairobi, Kenya. There, each homeowner is building the floors of their houses day-by-day, making their own laddi bricks — an alternative egg-shell shape of bricks used for ceilings and floors for the first two floors of the houses — through exchanges with SDI-affiliated savers in India. The residents of this project do not have full title. What they do have is a memorandum of understanding with the city council approving the project. They also receive municipal services. This is just one example about how the poor are leading the way towards new understandings of tenure arrangements and how such attempts to provide security to the poor achieve great things on the ground.

The key is to enable the poor to enact the solutions they already have at their disposal, not to run over them with State-developed, new top-down plans. Even though “formal” actors are beginning to adopt the rhetoric of “upgrading,” they usually stray from its original “informal” meaning. “Informal settlement upgrading” still means programmatic, State-driven responses to urban poverty. The “informal” does not fit so easily with the strictures of the “formal.” Incrementalism gets brushed aside in favor of rhetorical slights of hand that only glance at the true intentions of “informal” solutions.

The issue of incrementalism got a high-profile mention this week in an article in the Financial Times’ latest installment of its special issues on cities. Heba Saleh reports on development plans in Cairo, where slum dwellers are getting pushed further and further out of the city, while more poor people push back into the city for jobs:

The result is that Cairo is ringed with extensive areas of densely inhabited slums, where the streets are often too narrow for cars to pass and no land has been allocated for services such as schools, hospitals, markets or parks. But affordability and proximity to jobs in the central parts of the city continue to attract people to these neighborhoods, where homeowners build cheap but sturdy housing, adding extra rooms or floors whenever they have the cash.

Laila Iskandar, a development expert who heads CID Consultants, argues that the dynamics in the slums have much to teach government planners when they lay down their schemes for the expansion of the city. “All they are thinking about is how to send people to live in the desert [around the city],” she says. “They still have a top-down European view of the city and they deny that migrants from the countryside need a style of housing that they are not planning for.”

“These people do not have lump sums to pay for flats, and mortgages are out of their reach. Rent is also too expensive for them. They need to be able to build their homes incrementally.”

In the coming months, we will explore this theme further, analyzing examples of incremental solutions, and the ways in which the “informal” world can lead the “formal” world to actionable solutions to the problems of urban poverty. Your comments are, as always, most welcome.