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Are slums a problem or solution?


Slums represent a survival strategy in the face of insufficient & affordable housing and lack of tenure security

Tasleema, a widow, stays in a house constructed with cement sheets which are sometimes used as rooftops. She works in a tailoring unit near Yelahanka, Bangalore, and her shift timings are from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. As a single working mother, she leaves her two children, aged five and nine, at home, with no one to take care of them. The children are left to themselves to get ready to go to school.

Manjunatha, a vegetable vendor, has to travel to the city market from his residence at Singapura. He leaves home at 5 a.m. on his two-wheeler and returns at 2 p.m. He spends approximately Rs.80 on travel daily, his daily income being Rs. 250.

Their sagas give us a glimpse of the condition of the urban poor in Bangalore. The Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP) conducted an urban poverty survey to understand the dynamics between livelihoods, mobility and shelter. This would provide insights into patterns that can help design sustainable and democratic policy alternatives and initiatives. CSTEP surveyed slums within and on the outskirts of the city, and compared the living conditions between them. The authors feel that slums do represent certain problems but provide solutions as well.

Though a majority of the slums surveyed have pucca or semi-pucca houses, 90% of the households in the core slums have fewer than two rooms as opposed to 65% houses in the peripheral areas. There is a pattern where people are willing to give up better living conditions (more space and toilets on premises) for better opportunities in the core areas. Some of them do not move to the new/relocated areas as their livelihood is deeply rooted in these slums (core) and the new areas have poor accessibility and livelihood options are limited. Intrinsic skills like zari making are related to specific markets. Relocation renders these skills redundant. The credit ecosystem that existed based on trust, social relationship and nurtured for generations is also lost. Unemployment and credit opportunities have a cyclical impact on each other. Credit makes it easy for people to start small businesses and skill-based work such as carpentry, driving autorickshaws and taxis, and employment makes it easy for people to get and pay back credit on time.

It is, thus, crucial to understand the link between shelter and livelihood options. This is the reason for the failure of most of the slum relocation schemes — these disconnect the urban functions. It is imperative that thoughtful planning be done to rehabilitate the economic opportunities for these people.

Accessibility to basic facilities like water and sanitation is inferior in the peripheral areas (Table 1). Waste flows into pits (not septic tanks), which are dug in every house, due to a lack of sewage connections. Water quality and its impact on health are also areas of concern. Slums in the core areas have better access to education, especially higher education, also. Lack of accessibility to medical centres is acuter in peripheral slums.

There is a dichotomy in the mobility needs of the city (Table 2). This is not reflected in transport plans and budgets.

Core slums are sometimes inaccessible by buses, and people have to either take an autorickshaw to reach the nearest bus stop (around two km) or walk the distance. Peripheral slums, due to the remoteness with limited mobility options, incur high transport costs. The analysis shows that there is lack of affordable transport, which coupled with lack of reasonably priced housing near employment centres/dense residential areas, restricts the access to basic facilities and opportunities for better living conditions. Mobility forms the crucial link between shelter and livelihood.

Our case studies also demonstrate active cooperation from the slum dwellers with government agencies when they are convinced that they will not be evicted. This is crucial in both rebuilding, redeveloping and maintaining less serviced urban areas.

Broadly speaking, slums are perceived as a hindrance if a city is dreaming of a world-class image and the Slum Clearance Board often takes initiatives to clear them. Alternatively, slums can be viewed as partial solutions to a bigger problem. They represent a survival strategy in the face of insufficient affordable housing and lack of tenure security, often blending production and distribution spaces along with living quarters. They demonstrate innovative shelters and efficient livelihood strategies, which form an important part of the urban ecosystem.

A major chunk of informal employment is from the slums. The prominent professions among the urban poor are that of housemaids, sweepers, rag-pickers, autorickshaw drivers, vegetable vendors and watchmen, to name a few. Their lives are non-descript and invisible but each of them helps in the functioning of a city or a family.

Slums represent certain problems and yet provide solutions and they are here to stay.

The study concludes that:

*The success of slum development and rehabilitation schemes/other schemes lies in focussing not only on building houses but also promoting livelihood options and affordable social infrastructure and mobility options to livelihoods — the urban ecosystem as a whole.

*The services and lives of the slum people need to be acknowledged and included in designing solutions, through participatory negotiations and institutions. This will make them more responsible towards cities and their infrastructure.

A recognised urban habitation system is required to make the poor eligible for basic amenities. This will also help in facilitating access to government schemes and services.

( Sujaya Rathi, Principal Research Scientist; Mohammed Syed Faisal, Research Analyst; and Debapriya Das, Research Economist, Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy, Bangalore)

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Printable version | Oct 18, 2017 11:59:33 AM |