Posts

slum_destruction
After a long-standing 20 years, a would-be abandoned bank in Caracas, Venezuela will be demolished. In most cases, the destruction of an abandoned building is hardly notable. However, this abandoned building, commonly called the Tower of David, is home to 1,145 families.

This unfinished building has become a home to hundreds of homeless people and families, creating a community that fully depends on the existence of this empty 45 story tower.

In Venezuela, few squatters find safety in the slums within the city borders. The Tower of David is a vertical beacon, offering refuge to those seeking a long term way of living in the streets.

The future of the bank tower is unclear, with Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro telling media, “Some are proposing its demolition. Others are proposing turning it into an economic center. Some are proposing building homes there.” Maduro acknowledges the purpose it serves to many, while still acknowledging that this building represents the failed hopes of deceased dictator Hugo Chavez, whose goal was to create a dominant economy within Venezuela.

The building now holds social significance, appearing in multiple films and television shows as the Tower of David, the symbolic slum of Venezuela. Yet this has not coerced leaders into leaving the structure as is; the evacuation of residents has already begun.

The demolition project was suggested after several children were killed falling out of the building, proving it as a safety hazard to Venezuelans. With evacuations beginning on July 22, occupants have agreed to peacefully leave with the promise of homes and aid.

The refuge sought by the inhabitants will not be forgotten, as many reminisce on the solace the tower offered them. One resident, Yuraima Perra, 27, tells NPR, “Necessity brought me here, and the tower gave me a good home,” as the soldiers removed her valuables and belongings from her makeshift apartment.

Parra is one of what many Venezuelans call “invaders” that staked claim in the tower. These “invaders” rigged up electricity and controlled the elevators, essentially turning the abandoned building into subsidized housing for those in need. Due to the fact that there was little internal violence within the tower, civilians respected it, and  thus families were allowed to safely flourish in a protected area.

President Maduro recognizes the tower as, “a symbol of a strange situation, a vertical ‘barrio’.” With regrets of allowing its continuation for so long with little monitoring and even less consideration, Maduro looks to the people for suggestions as to what should happen to this symbolic tower. One thing is clear: the end of the era may have come for the Tower of David, but those who called it home will forge on in search of another safe refuge in the dangerous streets of Caracas.

Elena Lopez

Sources: Reuters, NPR
Photo: Flickr

world cup
June 12, 2014 marks one of the most exhilarating international competitions that spreads to millions of homes across the world. This year, the FIFA World Cup is taking place in Brazil. As a country that lives and breathes soccer, it makes a fitting choice. However, as the tournament draws nearer, more pressure and focus is being put on Brazil’s ability to step up to expectations.

In the midst of excited anticipation, Brazil has been faced with many threatening obstacles including strikes by police as well as government workers, causing fear that Brazil may not be ready in time. On the other side of the glorious soccer stadiums that will be filled with thousands of international visitors, lies the sprawling hills of favelas outside of Rio de Janeiro.

A favela is the Portuguese term for slum, and just outside of the bustling city center lies miles of low socioeconomic life, a juxtaposed sight to the nearby city. The contrast of life is extreme. As charter jets fly in holding national teams from participating countries, drug gangs still rule the favelas, not far from where foreign tourists will be staying.

Brazil has been making efforts to keep the areas under a state of control, implementing pacification programs. This effort may come too little too late, with CNN acknowledging “Rio’s favelas were neglected by authorities, considered no-go zones even by police” for many years, so the actions that began in 2008 when Brazil was announced host for the World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics were necessary long before action was taken.

Since the beginning of the pacification program, only 176 of about 600 favelas are monitored with any consistency, leaving much unknown to neighboring cities and tourists. While the program has helped decrease the number of violent crimes and murders in Brazil since 2008, 6,000 people are killed a year, turning Brazil into basically an active war zone.

The city of Rio lacks a sense of calm as the government scurries about trying to finish stadiums on time while maintaining a professional international appearance. As the World Cup begins, tourists swarm into the country and will send the government into high alert to maintain safety for such a high number of visitors who may be lacking understanding the severity of the situations in the favelas.

Due to the around the clock media focus on the World Cup, the reports are sure to fly in should anything go awry. The world is watching Brazil as it stands on unstable footing.

— Elena Lopez

Sources: Truth-Out, CNN, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, Real Truth
Photo: For the love of the beautiful game

Why do Slums Exist?
Put simply, the term “slum” refers to “a heavily populated urban area characterized by substandard housing and squalor.” But why do slums exist? In an effort to include quantifiable data in the definition, a group of UN experts suggested expanding it to refer to areas that combine inadequate access to safe water, sanitation and other infrastructure, structurally poor housing, overcrowding, and an unstable residential population.

Today, slums are becoming the most obvious materialization of urban poverty in developing world cities; in Nairobi, Kenya, 60% of the population lives in slums. That 60% is crowded onto only 5% of the land.

The existence of slums is caused and sustained by a number of forces, including rapid rural-to-urban migration, insecure tenure, and globalization.

 

Why Do Slums Exist? 4 Illuminating Facts

 

Rural-to-urban migration amplifies slum formation because city planning and management systems are unable to effectively manage the considerable population influx. For perspective, consider these facts:

  • UN-HABITAT projects that by 2030, Africa will no longer be a rural continent, as more than 50% of its population will be in cities.
  • Today, 75% of the population of Latin America lives in urban areas as the result of a significantly rapid rate of urbanization since the 1970’s
  • Asia, home to 80% of the world’s population, currently sustains 36% of their population in cities.
  • Mumbai, Calcutta and Bangkok are home to over 10 million people; between one-third and one-half of them live in slums.

Insecure tenure means tenants are not protected from unpredictable rent increases and eviction processes. Insecure tenure inhibits opportunities for residents to acquire credit, which limits tenants’ ability to improve upon their homes. A revolving door of tenants does little to inspire feelings of community or pride in one’s home.

Globalization also promotes slum living. Global economic booms and busts lead to uneven wealth distribution. Historically, global economic cycles have been responsible for creating many of major city slums in the developed world, and it is likely globalization will do the same to the developing world.

Addressing slums and their contributing factors are keys to sustaining progress toward the Millennium Development Goal to significantly improve the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020. Although the percentage of people living in urban slums has decreased from 39% in 2000 to 33% in 2012, 863 million people are estimated to still be living in slums as of 2012.

– Dana Johnson

Sources: UN-HABITAT, Business Dictionary, UN
Photo: Portal OZK

Google_earth_shows_slums
Government officials in India are notorious for ignoring the millions of people who live in the slums near big cities. Sangli is one such city. Over 3,900 families occupy makeshift huts in Sangli and, for the first time, Good Earth is documenting their existence. International Aid Organizations are thrilled that these images will put a face, so to speak, to the thousands of people living in these slums. Now that the unbelievable conditions of the slums are documented for the world to see, Sangli officials are being held to a higher accountability and progress is being made towards providing real homes for those living in the slums.

These images make public the sanitation issues inherent in the slums, as occupants of the slum exist without access to toilets or faucets. When and if new buildings are constructed for those living in the slum, sanitation is one of the first problems that will be addressed.

Even though it would be easier to build a new community in the suburbs of Sangli, research shows that most people cannot afford to commute into the city every day for work. Those who previously moved to the suburbs to escape the slums actually ended up moving back within a short period of time. Shelter Associates, a nonprofit geared toward improving the lives of those living in slum conditions, plans to create living spaces that will mimic the communal environment slum occupants have grown accustomed to.

The reason why Shelter Associates is having difficulties following through with the new building plans is because the local government continues offer limited concern and attention to slum dwellers. For the most part, the Sangli government has acted as if these people do not exist. Now, with the images provided by Google Earth, Shelter Associates is hopeful that the government can no longer continue its negligence policies.

The slums in Sangli are not the only slum communities being exposed by Google Earth. Slums in Altos de Cazuca, Colombia (50,000 people), Comuna 13, Columbia (135,000 people), Kamagasaki, Japan (30,000 people per every 200 meter radius), Ashaiman, Ghana (200,000 people), Kibera, Kenya (170,000 – 250,000 people), Rocinha, Brazil (250,000 people), Sultanbeyli, Turkey (250,000 people), Petare, Venezuela (600,000 – 1 million people), Dharavi, India (1 million people), Sadr City, Iraq (2 million people), Orangi town, Pakistan (700,000 – 2.5 million people) and Neza-Chalco-Itza barrio, Mexico (4 million people) are now all shown on Google Earth.

Without these images, international aid organizations sometimes struggle to verbally describe the horrific conditions in the slums. Hopefully, Google Earth will be able to erase apathy towards those who live in these slums and support for aid efforts will grow.

– Mary Penn
Sources: Time, Business Insider

The IHC "Upgrades the Slums"
The International Housing Coalition (IHC) has one, resounding goal: to put a roof over the heads of millions of underserved people as an essential step towards ending global poverty.

The IHC was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 2005 through the efforts of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the Canadian Real Estate Association and Habitat for Humanity International. Besides these three founding sponsors, 33 other organizations including private companies and academic research institutions contribute to the IHC’s work.

The IHC addresses the fact that now, as developing countries become more urbanized, more than one billion people live in sub-standard shelters within slums, without access to clean water and sanitation. IHC has also formed a valuable partnership with Cities Alliance, a global partnership committed to urban poverty reduction and the promotion of the role of cities in sustainable development.

Cities Alliance’s research has shown that developing urban slums has a myriad of benefits. “Upgrading slums” promotes the fundamental human right to live with basic dignity in decent conditions. On a more macro-scale, however, cities that upgrade their slums have been proven to show reduced rates of crime, disease, and political unrest as well as more stable and prosperous economies.

the IHC attacks the housing issue from all angles through a combination of international advocacy campaigns that reach out to Congress members and their staff, applied research that enhances the IHC’s credibility as an effective advocate, short term lobbying alliances, and direct policy engagement in target countries.

Ensuring that notably impoverished regions of certain developing countries receive a housing upgrade may be the essential first step in paving the way for future change. Countries that need increased access to education, health care, healthy and affordable food, and economic opportunity must necessarily first have a stable, safe place to come home to each night.

The IHC maintains that access to safe and affordable shelter is truly the foundation of sustainable development, a base from which all other significant reforms must grow. If the United States is truly committed to shaping its foreign policy towards alleviating global poverty, then it should take a foremost interest in housing reformation abroad.

–  Alexandra Bruschi

Sources: International Housing Coalition Website, Cities Alliance
Photo: South American Experts

In Sub-Saharan Africa, its estimated that more than 60% of the urban population lives in slums. Africa is one of the most rapidly urbanizing regions of the world, and it shows no signs of slowing down. The continent’s proportion of urbanized population is projected to reach 60% by 2050. As the population of the continent also rapidly expands this will lead to more than one billion urban dwellers in Africa in the near future. If current trends continue most of these people will live in slums.

Mark Swilling heads the Sustainable Development Planning and Management program at the University of Stellenbosch, and he is concerned with the implications for sustainable development as Africa’s urban population increases. In a TEDxStellenbosch, Swilling describes how some African slums are undergoing a process of DIY urbanization. He describes how slum residents are compiling their resources to collectively improve their living conditions. The residents are working with architects and planners to restructure and organize their environment, and are operating in the complete absence of government assistance or business investment. As Swilling makes clear, such self-motivated development will play an important role in Africa’s future as urban slum populations continue to rise.

– Andrew Rasner

Sources: The Atlantic Cities, TEDxStellenbosch

Angolan children in Uige Angola
Though Angola is one of Africa’s leading exporters of oil, the country ranks 148 out of 187 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index. More than a decade has passed since a 27-year civil war displaced millions of Angolans and killed thousands more.

While the violent conflict involving three liberation movements and several foreign interventions has come to an end, many of Angola’s people continue to live in poverty.

Angola’s GDP has improved significantly since the war ended in 2002, growing 12 percent in 2012. Despite this progress, 67.4 percent of the country’s population lives on less than $2 a day, down from 70.2 percent in 2002. This reduction shows that poverty rates are decreasing, but the economy is growing at a much faster rate.

Foreign investors have provided funds for a national reconstruction program to rebuild the infrastructure destroyed during the civil war. The slums to which many fled during the war are being made over, and landmines are being cleared from formerly uninhabitable areas of the countryside.

While economic indicators seem to tout Angola’s transformation from a war-stricken wasteland to an up-and-coming African power, social indicators reveal that poverty remains an issue yet to be addressed.

President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos and the ruling MPLA party fiercely protect Angola’s image, controlling everything from the country’s economy to private media, but the peaceful image they project is far from the reality of most Angolan citizens.

While Angola’s investors and leaders enjoy immense material wealth, the country remains one of the most undeveloped states in the world. One in five children die before reaching the age of five, and almost 66 percent of people live in slums. Life expectancy hovers at around 51 years.

As Angola becomes an important part of the global economy, millions of its citizens continue to suffer from the long-lasting effects of a brutal civil war and a government focused more on abstract economic measures than true social change.

– Katie Bandera

Source: BBC, United Nations, Rural Poverty Portal
Photo: Reuters

Slums, Sanitation and Misery

For the people living in the Korogocho slums in Nairobi, Kenya, life can be a constant struggle. The threat of disease and unclean drinking water looms in the minds of those who have no other options but to live in areas with broken sewage pipes and “flying toilets.” These unsanitary conditions put the people in Korogocho at risk for health problems and leave them vulnerable to exploitative water companies.

The typical day for someone living in the slums may involve the use of a flying toilet, a plastic bag used to dispose of human waste. While there are some pay-toilets, most people cannot afford the money to use one. As a result, these plastic bags can be found discarded in the streets of the slums among the broken sewer lines.

As the population in Nairobi grows, more slums are popping up. In Kenya, the number of people without access to toilets has risen to 20%. Access to piped water is even lower in urban areas, 38.4% (and 13.4% of the rural population). These numbers are likely to mimic the sanitation circumstances in Nairobi.

The health implications of unsanitary water systems are illnesses including malnutrition, diarrhea, cholera and typhoid fever. When water mixes with sewage, it creates a breeding ground for inimical viruses and germs. International health organizations and Kenya’s government are eager to improve sanitation in order to save lives. Currently, one in five African children dies from diarrhea before the age of five.

Simple ways to improve the sanitation system in Korogocho include mobile toilets, bucket removal, and dry composting toilets. However, even these solutions can result in human remains ending up in the Nairobi River. The Kenyan population is expected to increase by one million people every year, which will further exacerbate the struggling water and sanitation system. Until these problems are seriously addressed, Kenyans will continue to endure preventable illnesses.

– Mary Penn

Source: IRIN News
Photo: The Guardian

Arco do Futuro
São Paulo’s visionary new mayor, Fernando Haddad, plans to elevate the city’s sprawling and overcrowded slums out of abject poverty by 2020. His goal is to improve the horrible living conditions of the favelas while also halting their insurgent growth.

The favela slums of São Paulo remain a brazen example of the poverty and income inequality that still lingers in Brazil despite its recent (and remarkable) economic growth. They serve as hotbeds for violence and crime as well as uncontained waste and rampant pollution.

In a campaign promise during last year’s election, Haddad created what will become the city’s main development plan named “Arco do Futuro.” This plan promises to provide more housing and jobs for the favela’s cramped and unemployed populations. He maintains that the improvements will occur as a result of economic growth, government funding, and demographic changes.

Previously, the government’s efforts to develop a 100-acre area around Luz, which is notorious for drug activity and known as Cracolândia, sparked intense protests within the community. According to Haddad, this was because the public did not trust the private companies in charge of the housing programs.

The mayor plans to allow members of the community to have a greater voice in order for the development plan to not be seen as a threat. He emphasized that giving individuals a greater sense of ownership would negate the negative feelings toward the project.

This mentality fits well with the message of the New Cities Summit, which was hosted by São Paulo this year. The message is this: “The Human City, placing the individual and the community at the heart of discussions on our urban future.”

The New Cities Summit, held in São Paulo this year echoed this idea as a way of developing solutions to the challenges of rapid urbanization. São Paulo was chosen to host last week’s New Cities summit because it faces many of the same problems as other metropolises across the developing world. If São Paulo can find ways to alleviate their problems of crime, pollution, overcrowding and waste, then the hope is that other cities can too.

By 2030, it is estimated that 60% of the world’s total population will be living in urban areas. Each year, a million people are added to this figure in China, India and the Middle East. Latin American countries have the highest percentage of urban populations with 87% of the population of Brazil living in cities.

“We need more just cities. Not just playgrounds for the wealthy, but cities where all people can thrive,” said John Rossant of the New Cities Foundation, “This is a global summit to look at problems facing cities in the 21st century, but also opportunities. There are lots of interesting solutions.”

– Kathryn Cassibry

Source: The Guardian,New Cities Foundation,Estado Sao Paulo
Photo: Mind Map-SA

Imagine living in a slum. There is little food to split between you and your family and you are a minority in your age group because you have regularly attended school before. This was exactly the situation that teenager Phiona Mutesi found herself in when she started learning chess.

The slum where Phiona lives is called Katwe, and it is located right in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, where veteran and refugee Robert Katende began a chess program for children, giving them food in return for completing a lesson. Of his program, Katende has said that he had started it hoping to teach analytic and problem-solving skills that the children could apply to succeed in their own lives.

This was the program that would come to change Phiona’s life and turn her into “The Queen of Katwe”.

“I was living a hard life, where I was sleeping on the streets, and you couldn’t have anything to eat in the streets. So that’s when I decided for my brother to get a cup of porridge,” Mutesi told CNN.

Although she was unfamiliar with the game, as is most of Uganda, Phiona worked hard, practicing every day for a year. Eventually, she began to win against older children and compete for titles. Since those early days, Phiona has represented her country in several international chess competitions in countries such as Sudan, Siberia, and Istanbul.

Although life for her is still hard – she still lives in the Katwe slum with her family – winning competitions and working hard to one day become a Grandmaster keeps her hopeful. A grant that she has received through her competing has even allowed her to go back to school and develop her reading and writing skills.

While Phiona’s story of success has yet to win her the chess title of Grandmaster, she has gained another, unofficial reputation as the ultimate underdog. She is an underdog on the global chess stage both because she comes from Africa, a continent where chess is culturally absent in most countries, and because she is from Uganda specifically, a nation that is one of the poorest on the continent. The fact that she is from Katwe, a slum, is a strike against her even to other Ugandans. However, despite these odds, she has achieved enormous success given her circumstances.

Phiona Mutesi’s inspiring story was written into a book called “The Queen of Katwe,” by Tim Crothers, and was published in October of 2012. Since then, Disney has bought the rights to the story and has started making a movie to chronicle Phiona’s journey to the international chess stage. The Queen of Katwe remains steadfast in attaining her dream of becoming a Grandmaster and is an inspiration to us all.

– Nina Narang

Source: CNN