Slums and service delivery for the urban poor: Lessons from an Indian Exchange

By Grace Githiri and Shadrack Mbaka

Members of SDI and H.E Governor William Kabogo of Kiambu County and members of his government pose for a group photo

Members of SDI and H.E Governor William Kabogo of Kiambu County and members of his government pose for a group photo

MUMBAI, India — in the last couple of years, informal settlements in the outskirts of Mumbai has gone through a remarkable transformation as far as slum upgrading and redevelopments are concerned.

In the city of Mumbai, once upon a time there existed a whole lot of unplanned informal settlements with narrow dark alleys, this took a premeditated slum upgrade approach, and now there are spacious inner streets  with clean well maintained high rise apartments that houses the city's poor. The new housing units are made of brick and mortar.The housing units has incorporated and utilized public spaces well, there is now enough room for small pocket squares where children can easily play and interact, spaces where women can meet and greet, and places for residents to park their cycles.

This may appear to be a breakthrough for India, one of the world's populous nation as it continues to develop slum upgrading models. However, the implementation of such mega upgrading projects which is subsidised by the Indian Government, on the same breath does not seem unusual in India for two major reasons. First, through an excellent and effective community organising strategy, evictions to pave way for redevelopment have been logically addressed.In the past Slum-dwellers have had to put up with a lot of demolition and construction, but aspects of good neighborliness, businesses, and livelihoods remains uninterrupted.

The slum upgrading project is part of the National Slum Dwellers Federation of India slum upgrading initiative in collaboration with the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centers (SPARC), an NGO that works on housing for the urban poor.

This past week, Muungano wa Wanavijiji Kenya with the support of Slum dwellers International (SDI) hosted a four day learning exchange on housing and slum upgrading programme for the Kiambu County government to India. The delegation from the Kiambu County government consisted of H.E Governor William Kabogo, Madam Njuguna Esther CEC Environment, Water and Natural Resources, Eng. Wahinya and Tony Kamwaro who have been greatly involved in the drafting of slum upgrading model to be adopted in the County.

This exchange comes after the county government of Kiambu and SDI in August 2015, signed a Memorandum of Understanding(MOU), which cited key areas of cooperation between the Kiambu government and SDI. Key areas of cooperation  are; settlement profile, enumeration and mapping of Kiandutu informal settlement, which is located on the outskirts of Thika sub-county. SDI through Muungano wa Wanavijiji and SDI-Kenya will support the local government to organise the communities in five other settlements as well as develop a policy brief on land sharing strategy that may yield settlement upgrading of the Kiandutu informal settlement.

Muungano wa Wanavijiji is in the process of conducting a biometric data collection process of all residents enumerated in Kiandutu in August 2015. The biometric system will be  used to manage data on all bonafide project beneficiaries.

The significant  aim of the exchange is to expose local governments to some of the several slum upgrading settlement schemes as implemented by the Shacks/slum Dwellers International (SDI) affiliates through partnerships. In this set up, the urban poor communities in Kenya through organised community based groups are able to identify, implement and manage projects.

One of the developers explains a point to Governor Kabogo at one of the upgraded sites in Mumbai, India.

One of the developers explains a point to Governor Kabogo at one of the upgraded sites in Mumbai, India.

In the sidelines of the exchange Governor William Kabogo, intimated that,” My government intends to replicate this model of housing aimed at sheltering slum dwellers at an affordable cost with help of development partners. The pilot project at Kiandutu Slums will soon to be launched."

In the course of the exchange, the teams from the Kiambu County government and Muungano wa Wanavijiji spent time speaking to the residents and community planners, it became clear there was much that Kenya could learn from what has happened India. Some of the key lessons drawn from the exchange include;

The Women Movement( Mahila Millan), a local women’s group, is a key player in almost every aspect of the community led slum upgrading projects. The women offered local knowledge and connections, as well as a collection point for advocacy on behalf of residents. With a clear agenda prepped by the communities, the  team would hold  community meetings together with the technical officers, with the aim of incorporating the communities’ suggestions into the designs. This back-and-forth process of making proposals and then incorporating design changes was mediated by the Mahila Millan until a consensus was reached. The input led to design solutions that may not otherwise have been taken into account.

Mobilize, Organise and Map the existing layout. Community mobilisation is at the heart of communal projects. The federations and residents here, work closely with the technical teams especially the architects in  mapping the footprints, streets and openings of the informal settlements. This greatly informs a master plan that takes into account the uses of streets, their angles and what if any semi-open spaces existed, as well as how those spaces would be used in their current contexts.

Culture and Diversity. This involves retaining what can be kept of the existing area. Getting rid of substandard shelter and building sturdier new housing for the residents has been a big goal  of the project. But is keeping as much as possible of the old neighborhood intact.

Going High rise. Some of the new houses are stacked one on top of the other, or clustered together. This allows space to be reclaimed for public streets and squares, along with some additional semi-private home spaces for verandas, patios and backyards.

Using local labor/Skill. The women’s organization, Mahila Millan have overtime acquired the necessary skill and specialty in construction ;such as masons, whose skills are needed in the construction process. Using local labor not only reduces the overall cost of the project but also increased public participation and the community’s ownership of the project.

Employ House dreaming. The technical teams would make makeshift spatial house models out of cloth and bamboo . This allows residents to experience the spaces of the different housing types and voice more informed opinions and grievances about the layouts.

Housing isn’t free. Residents now take up maintenance with as much energy as they did during the building process. Through daily savings communities are well able to pay for basic maintenance services.

Waste Management

Dr. Jockin Arputhum explains a point to the Kiambu Government officials

Dr. Jockin Arputhum explains a point to the Kiambu Government officials

The Kiambu government officials had also an opportunity to visit different waste management recycling sites in India. Within the Indian context,there has been a transformation of the recycling of wastes. New consumerism habits and  rapid urbanisation and population growth has left local municipalities in Kenya with overarching concerns regarding waste management. For this reason, recycling has become a worldwide multi-billion dollar industry and is set to increase as our consumer culture continues to accelerate.

Kiambu County government and Kenya as whole has witnessed a substantial growth in the consumption of plastics and an ever increased production of plastic waste which has become an overwhelming environmental, health and aesthetic hazard for many urban areas.

Lessons to be learnt

  • Recycling is still very much the focus of many developed countries, who continuously strive to improve their recycling endeavors. Despite many of the social and ethical controversies surrounding the recycling industry in India, Kenya equally stands a chance in recycling waste   material produced by cities.
  • If Kenya could match the recycling rates of Mumbai, it would leave only a quarter of existing waste entering landfills per year (around 6 million tonnes), but also costs in sourcing materials would be dramatically cheaper. This reduction in sourcing costs could potentially create higher profit margins, followed by generous reinvestment opportunities into crucial areas responsible for re-booting local economies.