Sunday, June 21, 2009

gypping the gypsies

A shocking study by Human Rights Watch shows how the Roma community of Kosova is being exterminated. Isabel Fonseca, writing in The Observer, has details.

It's not exactly a squatter issue. But only about 20,000 of the original 200,000 population of Kosova Roma remain in the country--and in many encampments they are enduring lead poisoning from old mines. Weirdly, Fonseca reports, the UN created the refugee camps the Roma are now languishing in, so the international agency bears great responsibility.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

the cage

Squatters vs. nature? Or squatters vs. the rest of society. That's the question raised by the walls currently being built around many favelas in Rio. An article from Independent Press Service gives details on the compromise in Rocinha, where the government agreed to build walls that are 4 feet high, rather than the 9 feet planned for other favelas.

Some important environmental details:
The Atlas of Forest Remnants of the Mata Atlântica, produced by the SOS Mata Atlântica Foundation and the National Institute for Space Research, revealed last month that the state of Rio de Janeiro alone had lost 176,714 hectares of this ecosystem since 1985.

According to the study, the annual rate of deforestation nearly doubled in the last three years. Today, Rio has just 18 percent of the forests that once stood in the state.

Fires, urban expansion and human occupation are the main causes of deforestation in Rio, SOS Mata Atlântica director Marcia Hirota said in an interview for this article.

But the Foundation does not believe that the "pressure on the native vegetation" comes only from the favelas. There are also luxury condominiums, homes and hotels, as well as "other types of occupation that suppress the native plant cover," Hirota said.

A study by the municipal Pereira Passos Institute indicates that half of the city's 750 favelas, which are home to 1.5 million people, doubled in size between 1994 and 2004.

True enough, but the favelas have, so far as I know, only kept pace with the city's growth, so that it's still true that approximately 1 in five residents of Rio lives in a favela, as it was five and even ten years ago. Which would mean that the government should be walling in rich neighborhoods too.

I tend to sympathize with Luisa, a Rocinha resident quoted in the article: "The wall isn't for separating the trees, it's for separating out the poor....They say it's a park, but down there, in the middle and upper class city, nature parks aren't cages."

Friday, June 12, 2009

Luxembourg squatters ... you heard right

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, the nation with the highest per-capita GDP in the world--$113,000--also has squatters. The Station Network, ARA Radio (see Thursday 4th June 2009 entry), and Tageblatt (in French) report on a dispute between squatters in the Clausen neighborhood and officials of the city of Luxembourg. A dozen squatters moved into the long-vacant building on Rue Mansfield two weeks ago or so. The squatters complain that the police raided the building, supposedly searching for drugs, and destroyed their electrical service. The government has agreed to talk with the squatters, but it's unclear if they will be able to stay in the building.

Monday, June 08, 2009

whose electricity?

Malaysia is ripping out illegal electrical hookups in squatter communities, the Daily Express reports.

Sabah Electricity Sdn Bhd has a wonderful euphemism for these pirate wires: Non-Revenue Electricity.

But if the point is to get people to pay, to turn non-revenue into revenue, then why not work with the squatters to create a solution. It's such a simple thing, really. Just a slight change in mindset. The South African group Abahlali baseMjondolo has demonstrated in a series of reports that ripping out electrical lines in shantytowns causes deaths, as people return to using candles and lighting fires. There's a cost in lost revenue and a cost in human lives.

Monday, June 01, 2009

shortsighted Sudan demolition

Thirty thousand people are now homeless in Juba, Sudan, after the government embarked on a brutal demolition drive, Reuters reports.

The larger policy issue here is this: The horrific violence of the Sudanese Civil War came to a halt in 2005, and since then Juba has grown into a thriving market city. This is a good thing. But, in response to what it termed unlicensed and uncontrolled growth, the government "sent in bulldozers and demolition crews to flatten of hundreds of temporary structures, market stalls and shanty town shacks that they said were not properly licensed."

So, after not enforcing the rules for four years, the government destroys the city's spontaneous prosperity and growth. Does that make sense? What about working with these residents and entrepreneurs to improve conditions?

off the wall

A federation of favela residents in Rio de Janeiro has worked out a compromise with the state government on the walls the government wants to build around 13 squatter communities, Free Speech Radio News reports.

Among the significant changes: the height of the walls will be reduced from 9 feet to 2 feet, at least in some places.

The key here is also this: despite the government's ecological fears, favelas should not be penned in. The state and city governments should work with the favelados so that these communities can police their own borders and control their own growth.