Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Remove slums not slum-dwellers

The Guardian reports that according to the BBC, as many as a billion people live in slums today and that number is set to double by 2050. Manila is growing by 60 people an hour, making it the fastest growing city on the planet. Indian cities are growing by about 40 people an hour (In comparison, London's rate is seven people an hour.) All over the world, as urbanisation has gathered pace, country people have arrived in cities. They have set up their shacks (black plastic bags strung up on sticks) and slowly converted them into more acceptable living quarters, buying a few bricks every month, volunteering at the school, pressuring the local council to provide running water. The main issue is the insecurity of land – they have no right to be where they are.

But there are good reasons people have left the land they have lived on for generations to seek a better life in precarious wooden shacks next to rubbish tips. A combination of conflict, climate change and chronic poverty makes life in the countryside unbearable. But most of all there are no jobs. There are always reasons to move people off their land, and usually "development", that most treacherous of terms, is one of them. The Filipino government wants to move half a million slum dwellers back to the countryside. The only sustainable way to repopulate the countryside is to provide opportunities there. Guards are being placed around evicted slums to prevent previous occupants returning. The Filipino government estimates the cost of rehousing slum dwellers in Manila at about a third of the national budget; it is cheaper to ship them off to the countryside. This coming from a government that loses $2 billion of its budget to corruption annually. Those creaming off this money are the same hypocrites claiming it is too expensive to house poor people better.

Remove slum-dwellers to another part of the country and they are dependent on others, with no political voice or organisation but they are presently organising themselves to defend against government aggression and what they believe is the threat of arson. "We will barricade, we will fight for our freedom and security of tenures," says one community leader.

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