Thursday, June 28, 2007

Poor Abandon Rural Past for Big Cities

We've known this for years, but it bears repeating all the time: "among the more than three billion people currently living in cities, one billion live in slums and squatter settlements." Inter Press Service News Agency has the details of a new UN Population Fund study. The conclusion? "The battle to reach the Millennium Development Goals, halving extreme poverty by 2015, will be waged in the world's slums."

Now let's draw out a corollary: it's the slum-dwellers themselves -- the world's squatters -- who will have to lead the mega-cities of the future towards a more equitable distribution of housing and wealth.

"a bad situation"

Police in Rio de Janeior invaded the notorious Zona Norte group of favelas known as Complexo Alemao, killing 19.

"Is it a hard situation?" José Mariano Beltrame, Rio state's public security secretary, asked. "It is. Is it a bad situation? It is. If today, in an operation we can count 15 or 20 deaths, I'm sure that the same action next year or in 2010 would produce 50, 60 or 100 deaths."

Brazzil Mag has details.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

the false words of a world class city

The KwaZulu-Natal Elimination & Prevention of Re-emergence of Slums Bill is full of great-sounding rhetoric. But the reality of the proposed legislation is extremely dangerous. Abahlali baseMjondolo, a truly democratic and courageous squatter organization in Durban, points out that the proposal will make it easier for the local governments in the state to demolish shack communities.

Despite a series of noble clauses reaffirming the state's belief that "everyone has a constitutional right to have access to affordable housing," here's part of what the bill really says: "A municipality may ... institute proceedings for the eviction of an unlawful occupier from land or buildings falling within its area of jurisdiction if such eviction is in the public interest." And it has another surprise for long-term squatters who might feel that the new law might not impact them: land owners will now have a legal obligation to eject all squatters. What's more, the bill criminalizes resistance. Any squatter who "interferes with the reasonable measures" the state or city or private landlord has taken under the bill (think cutting a hole in a fence or reoccupying a vacant plot or simply holding a rally on the site), can be charged in court. If convicted, each squatter could face five years in jail and a 20,000 rand ($2,800) fine.

In other words, this bill does the exact opposite of what it says: it establishes a right to evict, not a right to housing.

"We do not need this Bill," Abahlali says. "The first thing that we need is for government (local, provincial and national) to begin to follow the existing laws and polices that protect against evictions, forced relocations and which recommend in situ upgrades instead of relocations. After that we need laws that break the power that the very rich have over land in the cities and we need laws to compel municipalities to provide services to shack settlements while people wait for houses to be built. This Bill is not for shack dwellers. It is to protect the rich, by protecting their property prices."

The group ends its communique with an eloquent message for all municipalities that aspire to remake themselves as 'world class' cities.

"A World Class city is not a city where the poor are pushed out of the city. A World Class city is a city where the poor are treated with dignity and respect and money is spent on real needs like houses and toilets and clean water and electricity and schools and libraries rather than fancy things for the rich like stadiums and casinos that our cities can just not afford."

Monday, June 18, 2007

violence in Jacarezinho

Brazil's hardcore police are still shooting it out with drug gangs in the favelas as the city tries a show of force in the lead-up to the Pan American games next month. The latest body count: eight dead in Jacarezinho, the sprawling favela in the city's working class Zona Norte. The police claimed they had wounded the local drug Kingping (a man called Snoop) and confiscated 6,000 bags of cocaine and three grenades.

But consider this: drug traffickers "have maintained their bases in the Vila Cruzeiro shantytown despite a police occupation that has lasted more than a month."

Reuters reports.

Dharavi Protests

Seven thousand people demonstrated against the plan to redevelop Dharavi, Mumbai's largest squatter area. The group, an odd coalition of squatters and conservative Shiv Sena politicos, rallied outside the offices of the city's Slum Rehabilitation Authority. The demonstrators asked that squatters have a say in the redevelopment plans. Mumbai News Line has more.

Squatters struggle on in Cairo

Three months after a major fire swept through the Qalaat el-Kabsh shantytown in old Cairo, hundreds of people are still without homes. The blaze was started by a faulty gas clinder, but residents also report that the first muncipal fire trucks didn't arrive until three hours after the alarm had been raised. Egypt Guide has the details.

Squatters in Nepal call general strike

A general strike called by squatters in Kathmandu has been creating traffic snarls in the Nepalese capital. The squatters are demanding land rights and a government commission to look into issues affecting squatters. Nepal Human Rights News reports.

Squatters success!

A cement company in the Philippines has handed 1.4 hectares of land to Gawad Kalinga, a religiously-motivated non-profit, so the 200 squatter families who have occupied the tract can stay. It may not be a truly scalable solution, but at least this one community has avoided eviction. The Sun Star has the details.