Thursday, September 22, 2005

Violence as Women Protest in Zimbabwe

At long last, have they no sense of decency? Now, Zimbabwe's government spawns violence against women protesting the evictions that pushed 700,000 out of the country's two main cities.

More Squatter Evictions in Paris

French authorities have evicted dozens of squatters from a new group of buildings they said were unsafe. They promised that they would demolish three of the buildings in the Parisian suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois (Seine-Saint-Denis) and build 559 units of affordable housing on the site. Here's a news story, in French, fromLe Figaro.

Evicting many for the crimes of a few

More on the evictions of hundreds of families from a building in Johannesburg:

Police break down doors in massive crackdown

Foul hellhole is what hundreds called home

Important portions from the first article:
Portia Mashilo, who stood outside the building with her newborn baby, complained about the way the police had rudely woken her up. "This reminds me of apartheid, when the police just used to force their way into our homes. Now, even in democracy, they are doing the same thing. It is not right," Mashilo said.

But [police inspector] Naidoo said police had been compelled to act against "bad buildings" because intelligence showed that Hillbrow was the nerve centre for most crimes committed in and around Johannesburg. "We have more than 30 different nationalities living in Hillbrow and there is a major market for stolen goods, because many of these people cannot buy anything on hire purchase," Naidoo said.

"Most of the crimes committed are done out of buildings like this, and that is why we are coming down hard on such places."

My questions:
why are the police simply evicting people without rehousing them?
why isn't the South African government doing enough about the housing crisis?
why arrest the illegal immigrants (it's not at all clear that they're all criminals)?
why evict the many for the crimes of the few?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Evictions in South Africa

Security forces in South Africa have forcibly evicted 300 residents from two housing complexes in Johannesburg, arguing that the buildings were unsafe, the Mail & Guardian reports. Authorities said they arrested 90 illegal immigrants and six people with criminal records. The squatters were paying rent to local street gangs--apparently totaling R345 000 a month!

So why are the squatters being targeted and not the street gangs?

Two Wrongs Don't Make Mugabe Right

Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe attacks the international community for adopting a double standard regarding his country's drive against squatters. Speaking to the UN General Assembly, Mugabe said the world body had "remained silent about the shocking circumstances of obvious state neglect surrounding the tragic Gulf Coast, where a whole community of mainly nonwhites was deliberately abandoned to the ravages of Hurricane Katrina as sacrificial lambs" while his country was pilloried for its attacks on low income squatter encampments.

Living amidst the rubbish of Kenya's slum

BBC NEWS presents a bleak pictures of life in Kibera, Kenya's largest squatter community, which seems immune to all of the world's talk of the Millennium Development Goals.

It's not a particularly comprehensive piece, but it does make a veiled point: despite having allocated $6.6 million to improving the community, the bureaucrats don't know what to do.

UN-Habitat executive director Anna Tibaijuka tells the reporter, "If you really want to benefit the poor, you have to spend time on what we call social organisation, otherwise you might upgrade the slum and people who have better incomes will come and take over....Indeed, it takes a long time and very little seems to be happening, but a lot has been happening in terms of preparations....Physical construction is actually the easiest part of it."

While it may be true that bricks and mortar are easier than community building, why doesn't she invite the reporter in to witness the so-called "social organization" that's in the works.

And how about installing water and sewers now, to give the people hope?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Philippine Debt Divide -- and what to do about it

It's a common image we've all come to know: squatters reduced to picking over the rubbish (and sometimes fighting over it) at the garbage dumps of major cities. But this BBC report contains some other info that's a strong indictment of aid through World Bank and IMF loans.

"The debt repayments and the government payroll take up 90% of the budget," the powerful Speaker of the Philippines House of Representatives, Jose de Venecia, told the news agency. "That leaves just 10% for schools and hospitals, water and electrification projects."

But, the article continues, the politician actually has an idea of how to move forward--a debt for equity swap:

His proposal would convert half of the debts into equities, which would be used by creditor nations to invest in projects aimed at achieving UN anti-poverty goals. Thus, for example, if the Philippines owed France $100m a year in debt repayments, Paris would, on a voluntary basis, forego half the repayments in exchange for a $50m-share in development projects. The money for those projects would be found by the Philippines government.

It's an interesting idea. It's high time for the lending nations to get a global kick in the pants.

Delhi Demolition

And where are they supposed to live and work? The HindustanTimes reports that more than 300 homes and kiosks have been demolished as part of a drive to beautify old Delhi.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Zimbabwe: Mass Evictions Lead to Massive Abuses

Human Rights Watch weighs in with a report damning Zimbabwe's drive against squatters.

It's great to have another voice raised against Robert Mugabe's Operation Murambatsvina. Still, I'd like to offer one loyal cavil: the report has some terrific and needed recommendations, but the legal language gets a bit squishy. For instance, this is the fifth recommendation:

"Develop a legal framework free from gender discrimination, for conferring security of tenure on those who do not yet have it, including those in informal settlements or who are occupying land or housing."

First, housing rights could be the first demand. But also, the process of developing a legal framework is a bureaucratic process. Mugabe could agree with this demand and nothing would get done for decades. I'm all for working within the system. But something has to be done immediately to protect the rights of those who Mugabe treated as if they had no rights at all. How about an immediate pledge that no one, except in cases of absolute risk to themselves, shall be evicted from their homes in the informal settlements. Then people can discuss legal approaches.

Housing goals ‘not ambitious enough’ to match urban growth

Just read the first sentence of this dispatch from the Financial Times and tell me if the solution isn't to work with squatters: "New housing will need to be built at a rate of 4,000 units an hour for the next 25 years to meet the needs of the world’s burgeoning urban population, according to estimates by a United Nations agency."

Here's another key stat: more than 60 per cent of Africa’s urban population, and in many countries more than 90 per cent, live in informal settlements (aka squatter communities.)

There's only one way through the world's horrific housing future and that's to work with squatters to improve their communities incrementally. Squatters don't need our pity or our charity. They need hardnosed government programs that recognize the reality and give them the same rights that every other citizen has.

But instead, look:

It's shuffleboard in South Africa, as squatters who were relocated after a fire are now being targeted for eviction from the temporary housing they were given.

Authorities will hide their eyes in Bengal, as the government and the railroad fight over who has the responsibility to evict squatters who are creating traffic jams. And what about the people who live there? Doesn't government have a duty to plan for them as well as for the traffic flow?

And in Mumbai, the city is trying to evict people who are not squatters and are legitimate tenants, without making any provision for new permanent housing. And the developers are using the chaos and rot created by the recent monsoon flooding to push for an end to rent control.

Finally, in Kenya the government of Sweden has handed $6.3 million to the Kenyan government to support land reform. But according to this article in the East African Standard, the money "would be spent in availing land information in the informal settlements and enhancing communication within the slum-upgrading project." Come again? Availing land information and enhancing communication. Sounds like a guaranteed employment plan for non-governmental organizations and charities. What about simply buying out former owners and working with current residents to create better housing all across the community? What about, essentially, legalizing Kibera and other squatter communities in Nairobi? What about local control?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Vacation Among the Squatters

A few decades back, a bunch of artist types took over an Italian village that had been destroyed and abandoned in 1887. Their hold on the town is still in court (the regional government considers them squatters and wants to evict them), but some of them have gone into the bed and breakfast biz. Dallas Morning News reporter Mike Drago says it makes for an unconventional but lovely vacation.

The squatter village (year-round population 50) does sound idyllic. Sadly, though, if these were poor people, they probably would never have gotten their day in court.

Communities hold together despite gunbattles

In Rio, the communal spirit of the favelas persists even as the number of shootouts between cops and drug dealers grows. This article, in Portuguese, from Viva Favela shows how total strangers in the favelas share their homes with people desperate to get protection from the bullets. As one resident of City of God recounted, she was part of a group caught in the middle of the street on August 14th when a gun battle began. But a local resident saw the group through his window and let them into his house. In total, they were five families with 15 kids. No problem the squatter-owner said, "There's room for the whole world to sleep here."

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Micro Credit A Loser in Brazil

Brazil's biggest bank is losing big bucks on its year-old venture into Micro Credit, Business News Americas reported on Aug. 30, 2005. Here's the article:

Brazilian micro credit bank Banco Popular do Brasil (BPB) posted a 21.9mn-real (US$9.2mn) loss in the first half, local press reported.

BPB is a subsidiary of Brazil's largest bank, federally-controlled Banco do Brasil (BB), and was launched in February last year to provide basic banking and other financial services to low-income earners. In August the bank began to expand its product range by adding low-cost life insurance policies.

BB does not expect its micro credit arm to break even until 2008, according to local press.

BPB's distribution model is entirely based on partnerships with non-bank distributors such as retail stores and drugstore chains.

BB is the biggest bank in Brazil in terms of overall market share.

Just Move 'Em Out of Town

After the evictions in Mumbai at the start of the year, Mumbra, a neighborhood 50 km outside of the big city, has become the new squatter community of choice, according to this article from the Economic Times. “The place has become a dumping ground for migrants coming to the city in search of a livelihood,” a government official told the paper, which asserted that politicians have been tolerating Mumbra's extremely rapid growth (the population doubled between the past two elections) because they hope to get the squatters' votes. Still, the article seems to blame the squatters for the stench and lack of drinking water. If housing in the city is too costly, where are the poor supposed to go. Isn't this why we form governments: to make life better for citizens?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Bogota: Displaced Occupy Homes

Last week, 300 families made homeless by the long-running war in Colombia took over 163 partially-built houses in Western Bogota, according to this short dispatch on The homes have been unfinished and unoccupied for six years. Nonetheless, the police have surrounded the community and reportedly prevented a water truck from entering and blocked neighbors from bringing food to the squatters.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Ashamed of the squatters? No: ashamed of ourselves.

It's strange: Most often the local papers in Nairobi write about the city's massive squatter areas as if they're in a foreign country. This recent article from the East African Standard takes a different approach. Key quote: "When are we Kenyans going to realise that this colossal blot on the skyline, home to anywhere between 750,000 to one million souls, is our problem and our shame, along with the other slum settlements in the capital, and not just the sleeping place for our night-watchman or factory workers or the young fellow who washes our car, and whose names we probably don’t know?"

Delhi squatters threatened

How's this for compassion? Seeking to cut down on congestion and density in Delhi, the municipal government has warned more than 300 squatters around the city's Jama Masjid that they will be removed by force if they do not vacate their homes and stores within a week, The Hindustan Times reports. How long have they been there? Where are they supposed to go? The article doesn't say. A telling omission.

No squatters, no evictions

Another deadly building fire in Paris over the weekend killed 14 people, including 2 children -- but no one has been evicted from the building, the AP reports via Guardian Unlimited. Perhaps that's because the fire was in a privately-owned complex built with government money. Meanwhile, 5,000 squatters rallied in Paris on Saturday to protext the government's eviction drive. The article notes that Parisian authorities have identified more than 1,000 run-down buildings, in which some 13,000 families - the majority of whom are African - are housed or are squatting. Does the government plan to evict them all? Why are the horrific conditions in which they are forced to live their fault? Why is the French government blaming the victims here? Why not invest in their buildings instead of vacating them?

For the personal story of an African immigrant family in Paris, read this BBC dispatch. It should make you ashamed of how little we care about others.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Squatters Build Their Own Sewers

An innovative partnership in Orangi, one of the biggest of Karachi's 539 squatter settlements, shows that squatters will build their own sewer system, when given the chance. Inter Press News Service reports.

Key facts:

1. It costs a household, on an average, 16 US dollars to contribute towards the underground sewerage line and a sanitary latrine.

Which might seem expensive....except

2. To date, Orangi residents have installed sewers in 5,394 lanes, serving 80,910 of the 94,122 houses.

It's an amazing program, full of great promise for squatters.

French Government Starts Drive Against Squatters

Today, Paris police descended on two of what will ultimately be 60 buildings that the government intends to shut down. They dragged the mostly African residents--almost all of them squatters--out of their homes and packed them in vans to be sent to temporary accomodations elsewhere in the city. The eviction is in response to two building fires that left 24 people dead, 18 of them children.

Local political leaders say the federal government is wrong to summarily evict the squatters. Roger Madec, mayor of the 19th district in northeast Paris, termed the evictions a "miserable operation," according to the Associated Press. He insisted that one of the buildings, which was in his arrondisement, was completely safe.

Indeed, authorities have suggested that one of the recent fires was arson. The other, police have said, was an accident.

So why the drive against squatters, which was ordered by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy?

"Sarkozy, I don't know if he has children," Aoua Sila, a female squatter, told the AP. "What he is doing right now, we'd never do this to mothers or fathers of children!"

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said yesterday that the government would rapidly build 28,000 units, and cede to the city land set aside for Paris' failed bid to host the 2012 Olympics -- if municipal authorities agree to build 3,000 temporary and student housing units on it within 18 months. However, Paris' Mayor Bertrand Delanoe told the AP that the timetable was "simply not realistic."

It would be better (and more cost-effective) to work with the squatters to improve the structures where they have established their homes. Vacating these buildings is only enriching landlords and punishing tenants.

This article from the International Herald Tribune tells more about the squatter reality in Paris. Get this: According to the article many of the people in one of the buildings that burned had housing applications pending with the City for 14 years. Meanwhile, they were crammed in a rundown building with aging plumbing and electrical wiring. When they moved in, city authorities had assured them that they would not be staying longer than three years. That was in 1991.

And now the French government is just evicting everyone? Whatever happened to liberte, egalite, fraternite?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Thought Crime

Under Turkey's new penal code, it is a crime to insult the nation's character. Orhan Pamuk, who lives in Istanbul and whose novels have reached an international audience, now faces charges under this statute. His crime: he told a Swiss paper that 1 million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in Turkey (see for the Associated Press write up.)

I met Orhan in 1995 when I was first in Istanbul. He is a fine writer, a thoughtful guy, and believes in speaking the truth in a gentle but forceful way.

This is no crime. This is exactly what writers should be doing. I'll try to find out what free speech groups are doing to protest this and I will post more about it as I get details of what those of use who don't live in Turkey can do.

Sorry for the off topic post, but I'm outraged by this attack on freedom of expression.