Tuesday, February 28, 2006

demolition drive in Gujarat

Eight people, including some city council members, were arrested after squatter protests in Rajkot, a city of 1.2 million people, ExpressIndia reports. The city authorites have embarked on a rapid demolition drive against 3,000 squatters.

Evictions in Angola

BBC NEWS reports that Angolan squatters are being evicted to make way for the middle class. The head of Luanda's Planning agency tells the Beeb that this is necessary to avoid complications. "If we allow the land to be built on in this way it's going to complicate things in the future."

And homelessness is a better complication?

squatters and the vote

"Do you think we want to live like this? We don’t," says Patrick Ntuli, who lives in a small encampment of 200 families with one water tap. Amazingly, he's been in the city five years--and there have been no improvements. More from Durban, on the eve of South Africa's municipal elections. The Citizen reports.

Monday, February 27, 2006

'No house, no vote' say squatters

While it's great that squatters are using the upcoming South African elections to pressure for more services, I hope that 'we won't vote' is not the best strategy they have. iafrica.com has a brief report on a recent demonstration in Durban

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Faux Shantytowns in New York

New Yorkers and tourists will be treated to a fake refugee camps in two of the city's largest refuges: Central Park and Prospect Park. The New York Sun reports that the faux tent cities will be set up in the parks this coming September by Doctors Without Borders.

While I have nothing against publicizing the fact that 33 million people have been uprooted by war (see refugeecamp.org, this does seem strange. Where does advertising end and action begin?

threat to reporter covering squatter eviction

A Filipino police chief allegedly harassed a reporter covering a squatter eviction. The International Freedom of Expression Exchange reports.

Friday, February 24, 2006

bridges to the 21st century

Modernism doesn't age well. Here, on the southern lip of Rome, Laurentino 38 was sketched out in the 70s as a futuristic urban utopia. Today it's a highway to nowhere, and 11 pedestrian bridges have been taken over by squatters. Now the local administration in the Italian capital wants to knock three of the structures down. Where will the squatters go? No one knows. Wanted in Rome has some details.

Seems like there is some indigenous organizing going on. See: L38 squat, ponte d'incontro and diario, all in Italian. L38 also offers some cute photos of their dogs.

land and vote

Should squatters be allowed to vote? That's what Fiji's Housing and Squatter Settlement Department director Dharam Lingham wants to know, the Fiji Times reports. The newspaper notes, with a bit of a harrumph, that squatters actually serve as town council members in some areas.

I look forward to the day that a country elects a squatter president. Then, perhaps, we can stop talking about whether it's OK to deny a fundamental right to people simply because they don't own land.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Neighbours rally round squatters

BBC NEWS reports that one North London neighborhood actually likes its squatters.

Fighting evictions, even in Venezuela

Where's Hugo Chavez when they need him? The Daily Journal reports that squatters in 30 buildings have gone to court to stall the Metro Caracas Mayor's plan to have police and national guard evict them.

land for squatters...but what's the price

This brief from Radio Jamaica notes that the government is buying 83.4 acres of land to rehouse squatters. But if, as is reported, it wants the 200 squatter families to reimburse the $52.5 million purchase price, each parcel will cost $262,500.

Just a guess, but I'd reckon that if they had that kind of money, these families wouldn't be squatters in the first place.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Creating a New Orleans shantytown?

Not exactly about squatters, but about a plan of social engineering that seems destined to create squatters: The New Orleans Housing Authority, which is now managed by the federal government, plans to prevent tenants who do not have a job or have no prospect of a job from moving back into their homes. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that three members of the City Council have endorsed the plan.

"At some point there has to be a whole new level of motivation, and people have got to stop blaming the government for something they ought to do." That's City Council President Oliver Thomas talking.

Now wait a sec. This is a city where politicians and public authorities failed to do their jobs. Piles of trash and debris still line many streets. No electricity in many neighborhoods. No phone service too. They haven't made a deal to get thousands of trailers installed so people can move back.

Can somebody say chutzpah? There's no question that people who move back to New Orleans are going to have to work hard to rebuild their lives and their city. But they are the victims here. Demonizing them before they get back home is downright ugly.

Dignity restores a man born poor

Gawad Kalinga, a religiously linked program in the Philippines, builds housing for squatters. Founder Tony Meloto understands the natural evolution of squatter communities. But he offers this controversial thought: "If you want to bring the country out of poverty, give the poorest of the poor a middle class environment so they have middle class aspirations. The problem of poverty is not economic, it is behavioral." The Philippine Daily Inquirer, via INQ7, has the story.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Wednesday night invasion

More violence in Rocinha: Five residents die as dealers from Morro da Providência, Cantagalo and Pavão-Pavãozinho try to take back Rocinha. The cops are out in force. It sounds like a continuation of the war between the Comando Vermelho (which used to control Rocinha) and Amigos dos Amigos (which controls Rocinha now.)Globo reports, in Portuguese.

Thanks to Gabe for the link.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Organizing squatters

Under a decree signed in 2002 by President Hugo Chavez, squatters in Venezuela can get title deeds, if they create self-governing bodies called Urban Land Committees. So far, according to the country's Technical Office for Urban Land Tenancy and Regularization, there are now 5,212 of these committees across the country, each representing an average of 147 families. That means that approximately 766,000 families now have control over their homes: individual title deeds plus responsibility to participate in the urban land committees.

Sounds like a tremendously promising program. I'd like more details, particularly as things work out over time: will these communities organize and win services. Will they unite to preserve and improve their lives? Or will this hybrid attempt to have private ownership and community control founder because the interests of the individual may not jive with the wider interests of the community?

Blaming the favelas...again

So the state police intend to occupy three favelas near Copacabana Beach during this weekend's Rolling Stones concert, Reuters reports.

This will only be seen as a provocation. After all, huge celebrations/concerts on Copacabana Beach have been an annual tradition for new year's eve for several years now, and have been largely peaceful affairs. Why blame the favelas for violence that hasn't happened?

South Africa: will things be better for squatters after the election?

With elections set for March 1st in South Africa, squatters appear ready to continue to support the African National Congress, according to this dispatch from News24. But they are frank about their disappointments. "We've always voted and we will this time as well," said one. "But we've never seen any difference. There have just been promises, but no change."

The statistics are dire:
"In Cape Town alone, there are an estimated 260 000 families on the waiting list for housing. Less than 12 000 new homes were built in 2004, down from a 1997-98 peak of 43 800.

Nationwide, the number of households in shacks rose from 1.45 million to 1.84 million - a 26% increase, according to housing ministry figures since the country's first all-race elections in 1994. This was despite the government spending nearly R30bn to build about 1.8 million new homes in just under 12 years."

Both the ruling ANC and the upstart Democratic Alliance claim that they will efficiently deliver services and crack down on corruption. But no one on the ground seems to believe them.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

charcoal dust...

...plus macadamia, coffee, rice husks and sawdust equals a new fuel that is an alternative to deforestation. Armed with $132,000 from the World Bank, a Canadian non-profit is working with a community group to sell these new-fangled briquettes in Kibera. I didn't find the article on the web, so here it is, from Agence France Presse:
Kenyan slum-dwellers benefit from new energy scheme

12 February 2006

Agence France Presse
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006 All reproduction and presentation rights reserved.
NAIROBI, Jan 12, 2006 (AFP) -
An innovative waste-recycling firm has teamed up with residents of Kenya's largest slum to produce a pocket-friendly energy alternative in a bid to create jobs and conserve the environment.
Chardust, an alternative energy company, with the help of Nairobi-based Makina Umoja Usafi na Maendeleo (MUUM), a garbage collection programme, has begun converting waste into an affordable, environmentally sound energy source.
John Njuguna and Canadian ecologist Elsen Karstad founded Chardust in 2000 with the aim of producing a substitute to wood charcoal, the manufacturing of which is illegal in Kenya and contributes to climate change and land degradation.
"We started in a crude way to see how to (convert) waste into chunks that can be used as a source of energy in households," said Njuguna. "But being a new product, it required educating people about its importance."
With the help of a 132,000-dollar (110,000-euro) World Bank grant, a new initiative encourages residents of Kibera, home to roughly a third of Nairobi's three million population, to collect charcoal dust to sell to the company for processing into briquettes.
To ease the dependency on wood-based energy, Chardust and MUUM set up two charcoal dust collection and briquette sale sites in Kibera two months ago and intends to create six more and expand to other areas of the city.
"This project has helped me," said Mary Minayo, 47, who sells briquettes to residents at a kiosk in the slum. "I now have a job and am able to provide for my family comfortably."
Minayo, a mother of five who formerly ran a produce stall, can now rely on a steady monthly salary of 4,000 Kenyan shillings (56 dollars, 46 euros) for her work on the project.
The salvaged charcoal dust is brought to a factory on the outskirts of Nairobi where 70 employees grind the waste with macadamia, coffee, rice husks and sawdust into a mix to form the briquettes that burn longer and cleaner than charcoal.
"They are smoke-, smell- and spark-free," said Martin Murwa, 22, who was among the 80 percent of Kenyans who depend on wood as their primary source of energy.
The lower ash product, sold at a fraction of the cost of charcoal, has taken hold in the Kenyan market, appearing on the shelves of the country's leading supermarket chains, and nets an annual revenue of 11.5 million shillings (161,000 dollars, 133,500 euros).
In addition, a number of poultry farm, hotels, lodges and restaurants buy directly from Chardust, which produces about 7 tonnes of the eco-friendly briquettes each day.
Charcoal production and other industrial uses of wood have shrunk the country's forests by more than 80 percent since the country's won indepedence from Britain in 1963, according to the environment ministry.

fiji follow-up

The Fijian government has offered to pay half the costs of new lots for squatters who have been served with eviction notices, the Fiji Times reports. This is a major step, even if, so far, only 530 squatter families have qualified. Still, I wonder how much land costs in Fiji. The example cited by the Assistant Minister for Housing and Squatter Resettlement, Joji Banuve, suggests that a single lot would cost $14,000, meaning a squatter would pay $7,000, or more than a year's income.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Photo Finish

A decade and a half ago, a Reuters photographer started a program to give garbage dump kids their own cameras. "I figured out that you can do things rather than just observe them and that you don't have to know all the answers," she says. Reuters reports on her program, Fotokids, which now is working with 85 children in four cities in Guatemala and Honduras.

Cameras for the poor: I know of a number of programs like this--and they all seem to be doing good things. Still, I keep wishing that, beyond the artistic vision, there was an organizing component in them. It's one thing to give a kid a camera and a taste of the outside world. It's another to give that same kid additional tools that broaden the horizon for structural change.

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Brutal divide: fortified town plays on middle class fear of crime

"It is a brutal juxtaposition: inside the fence, pastel-coloured two-storey homes in Cape Dutch, English Tudor or Tuscan styles, neatly divided into seven suburbs with names like Beaulieu, Cape Heritage and Tuscana Close. Walk outside the wire and within metres you are in a sea of tin shacks." With these words, The Guardian reports on a strange South African development: a fortified citidel for the middle class. The developer is throwing off a few benefits for the locals--some 200 concrete block houses. Of course, those new homes are outside the security fence. It's a return to medieval values--a sort of demesne approach, the lords and the serfs, separate and unequal. Is it better than nothing? Yes. But a solution? No way.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Favelas in Fiji

New Zealand has promised to increase aid to Fiji to help the island nation deal with 82,350 people living in 182 squatter settlements across the country. Astoundingly, that's almost ten percent of the country's population.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Rhino update

Correspondent Philippe de Rougemont (Datas and other Swiss newspapers) just wrote me with an update on Rhino, Geneva's most well-known squat--

News on the Geneva (Switzerland) squatter front:
The state prosecutor, Daniel Zappelli elected 2 years
ago is a "zero tolerance" fan. He decided to stop 33
years of tolerance towards squatters in Geneva, in a
recent speech and through everything that was in his
power to do.
But this time even the cantonal authorities say he's
gone too far. He said he would use force to evict
squatters, forgetting that the police is not submited
to his orders, but to the police department headed by
an elected politician.
Why did he get so mad? Because the Rhino aquatters
appealed to the federal tribunal against
his messy evacuation order, on formal grounds, and
won. Then the administrative tribunal in Geneva agreed
with the federal tribunal. Zapelli hit the ceiling
when he heard that.

Reminder: The first modern squats began in 1972 in
Geneva. Since then there has been a sometimes
informal, sometimes explicit doctrine ruling squats:
as long as an owner is not using his house or
building, then it is legitimate for squatters to live
in them. When the owner proves that he will either
mend the house, rent out flats or either sell it, then
the evacuation notice is given and the squatters

Now that's history, at least as long as Zappelli

To conclude, there is still a hunger for more comunal
living, there is a huge lack of housing and prices are
going up. So the reasons for a new squatter phenomenon
in Geneva are still very much present.

And Rhino people ?
They benefit from this quarrel between the prosecutor
and the government, and they are on the winning side
for the time being. You can only guess waht will
happen, on one side private property is guaranteed in
the constitution, on the other, the "zero tolerance
fan" has no jurisdiction over the police to force them
to evacuate squatters.

I'm blown away by the capacity these Rhinos seem to
have to avoid the eviction.

If you read French, here are two links to articles on the squatter standoff from swissinfo:

le procureur général tancé à propos des squats

Conflit naissant entre judiciaire et politique

Mumbai demolitions

One man's triumph is his neighbor's tragedy. Though the residents of Santacruz (west) in Mumbai were getting flooded out, their solution--to rip down almost 1,000 huts erected by squatters around storm drains--seems a bit extreme, particularly since only half the squatters were relocated prior to demolition. DNA - Daily News & Analysis reports.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Manila promises to re-house railway squatters

More than 10,000 squatters will be relocated from communities along Manila's railway lines, according to this dispatch from the Manila Standard. The residents will have to pay 200 pesos a month for the new homes (about $4.) Monthly carrying costs will more than triple of the course of a 30-year mortgage. Let's hope the government acts honorably here and follows through on this commitment.

Too many people, too few homes

Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Calvert visits Diepsloot (Deep Ditch), a squatter community 15 miles north of Johannesburg. The community, the site of riots a year and a half ago, is home to 150,000 strivers who have recently arrived to seek better jobs in the mega-city.

Money quote: "Up to 12 million people live in crude shelters lacking basic services - a quarter of the country's population, and a 50 percent increase from a decade ago."

Monday, February 06, 2006

Rage at Kenya's corrupt elite

The Telegraph meets the Mungiki, a strange and violent bunch that has grabbed power in some of the squatter areas of Nairobi. "Their standing in their ghetto strongholds has risen in the wake of a huge corruption scandal that has rocked the administration of President Mwai Kibaki in recent weeks," the newspaper reports.

When I was in Nairobi, the Mungiki reportedly controlled several matatu [minibus] routes and exacted tribute from all the drivers. They were rumored to be violent and corrupt, albeit on a slightly smaller level than Kenya's government officials. Still, I rode a matatu to Gitare Marigo and Dandora at a time that Mungiki violence was said to be high and didn't witness anything. Luck? Perhaps. Or perhaps the newspapers don't really know what's happening in poor communities and take all their info from the police, who are also notoriously corrupt.

The high fashion squat

Fashion Model Helena Christensen is supporting the squatters of Christiania in their effort to keep their commune at the heart of Copenhagen, the Telegraph reports. The government claims to harbor no ill will to the squatters, but wants to allow development, condos, and higher income rentals in the area. Of course, this may not jive well with a community that has its own rules to ban cars, stealing, guns, bulletproof vests and hard drugs, and has created its own monetary system.

And why is a fashion model entering the dispute? Well, I had never heard of Helena Christensen (apparently she's been a Victoria's Secret catalog regular), but anyone who headlines her web site with this quote can't be all bad:
"In modeling, there is no point in trying to prove you have a brain, so why even bother? I'd sooner save the energy for something more meaningful."

World's best cricket museum for Dharavi

Developer Mukesh Mehta has big plans for Dharavi, Mumbai's largest squatter community. First he envisioned a Bollywood walk of fame. Now it's a cricket museum. Despite the good words, here's my underlying fear: that the land pressures and ramp up in values that's bound to come with this kind of 'big real estate' plan will wind up excluding the very people this plan is supposed to benefit: the squatters themselves.

Friday, February 03, 2006


The Independent reports on a massive fire in a squatter community in Bangladesh that has left thousands homeless. But here's a provocative detail from the article: fire department sources tell the paper that the bulk of the shanties consumed by the flames belonged to two men, Sadek Khan and Mohammed Ali. I want to know more about those guys.

And, the article notes something else remarkable: the people are already rebuilding.

Finally, some sensible talk

The East African Standard, in an editorial about the government's burning of thousands of homes belonging to squatters in the Mount Elgon forest in Kenya, eloquently states what ought to be world policy toward squatters who encroach on environmentally sensitive land:
The squatters in Government forests must go, but they should not be flushed to the wilderness since this is tantamount to feeding the cycle that created them, which cannot be broken by might. The only way out is to set aside land to settle the landless and protect forests from fresh encroachment. There is also need for radical land reforms because there’s enough land for all Kenyans.

The Daily Nation reports that the government now promises to relocate the squatters. But, shouldn't that have all been planned out and discussed long ago? Burning people's homes and belongings is no solution at all.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Dharavi is now a realty gold mine

Some major developers (including one firm from California) are competing for a piece of the planned redevelopment of Mumbai's largest squatter community, Daily News & Analysis reports.

One of the reasons: the plan offers developers almost 3 times the density of normal Mumbai developments. And this in a city where the housing market is incredibly tight. Clearly there's money to be made in Dharavi.

But will this kind of speculation help poor people? The track record isn't good.

Here's another take on the plan, from the Times of India.

No pay phones

In a little noticed decision from two weeks back, Brazil's largest telephone company won a court ruling that it is not required to install phones in Rio's favelas. This ridiculous ruling--based on a mistaken, outsider's view of what life is like inside the favelas--is a piece of legalized discrimination. There are lots of 'asfalto' operations (businesses owned by outsiders) that are operating in Rocinha and other favelas that never had to pay a 'vig' to the traffickers. Beer distributors have no problem distributing to the favela. Building supply firms too. The power company has run legal electric lines and sends employees to read the meters. But, somehow, the community is too dangerous for the phone company?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Violence vs. Health

Here's the lead, from a Reuters article: Violence in the slums of Rio de Janeiro is thwarting efforts to combat an outbreak of the dengue fever, which has killed two people and sickened more than 400 in the last six weeks, officials said on Tuesday.

"There are temporary suspensions of inspections in some slum areas with various types of conflicts," a city health spokeswoman said. "That is done in order not to put in danger the lives of inspectors and residents."

Globo newspaper quoted residents of Vigario Geral, one of Rio's most violent slums, as saying they had not received a single dengue inspection since 2004, despite numerous requests for inspectors.

The sad thing here is that officials working on important projects like this are welcomed in the favelas, particularly if they work in mutiroes--mutual aid groups sponsored by the favela residents. Police raids and gang wars are not everyday occurences, so it should be possible, working through residents associations, for the inspectors to get there. If they don't want to go, favela residents should vote the current administration out.

Class contrasts

Poor struggle in shadows of India's richest city. A Reuters reporter confronts Mumbai's dual realities--wealth and squalor--and the people who have suffered at the hands of a government-initiated eviction plan.