Thursday, December 24, 2009

fire in Sodom & Gomorrah

The Accra squatter community known as Sodom & Gomorrah has had its fourth fire of the year. This one claimed 2,000 structures, but no lives, Joy Online reports.

The squatters "had difficulty accessing water to bring the fire under control, because some of the [water] pipelines had been disconnected because they had been illegally connected," the article reports.

This, of course, is a form of official discrimination against these communities. Don't provide water and don't allow illegal connections to function either. This policy marks a war of attrition against squatters.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

a bridge too far

The Times of India asks if the 100-year-old Reay Road bridge, which was manufactured in the UK and assembled on-site in Mumbai, needs restoration.

The paper states, "Once the solid brick extensions and black plastic sheets covering the structure are removed, the bridge will seem more striking than the common wall of stone it appears to be."

Of course, for more than a generation, the bridge has also been home to hundreds of families. The Times of India calls it "a squatter's paradise."

But there is a history here. "My mother was born and raised on this bridge and now I am married into a family living here as well," one resident tells the paper. It may not be ideal to live in a makeshift shelter on a bridge, but you can't just trash homes people have lived in for generations in the name of historic preservation.

Monday, December 07, 2009

A new home in 1,178 years

That's how long it will take for all the residents of Kibera to receive new apartments in the current upgrading scheme if it continues at its current pace, Coastweek reports.

The article, by a reporter for the InterPress Service, also notes that the homes being built are actually shared apartments: two families sharing each two-bedroom apartment.

The article offers a sensitive portrayal of the complicated passions and position of the Nubians, Kibera's original residents, who have voiced some of the most vocal resistance to the UN's so-called upgrading project.

The Nubians were originally from North Africa and were conscripted into service in the British colonial armed forces. Ultimately settled in this valley on what was then the outskirts of Nairobi, documentary evidence suggests that the British government promised them title to at least some of the land on which they were living.

From the article:

The Nubian community has resisted moving into the new apartments and instead vowed to stay put in the informal structures until government gives them adequate compensation; the community is the most well-established in Kibera, with many families renting accommodation to other residents.

The Nubian community says they have never been consulted about the upgrade.

Yusuf Diab, secretary general of the Nubian Council of Elders, argues that the government and donors came into their community with a "know-it-all" approach and assumed all residents of Kibera live on less than a dollar a day and will eternally depend on handouts.

"We may live in this informal structures but that does not mean we do not have finances. We as a community stick to our culture of generations living together in one house. But this does not mean we are poor.

"If you come into our homes we have all the facilities that affluent people have and despite being informal we have enough room to accommodate our large families," he says.

He wonders how a household of up to five generations is expected to reside in one room sharing the toilet, bathroom and kitchen area with another family.

"This plan would turn us into government tenants for the rest of our lives."

Saturday, December 05, 2009

'from the inside'

Squatters in Buenos Aires have started their own newspaper, Inter Press Service reports. Desde Adentro (From the Inside) is written by residents of the community called Villa 1-11-14. Agustín Garone, one of the writer/editors, told IPS that the intent is to "generate an image that contrasts with the labels put on us by the big media outlets, which associate poverty with crime, and thus only generate negative views of the neighbourhood." Buenos Aires is a city of 13 million, and right now the paper has a tiny print run of just 3,000.

It's a great idea, and very necessary, even if they are starting small.

One caveat, though: IPS reports that Desde Adentro is financed by the Buenos Aires city government. So how independent can it be?

refugee camps are no refuge

There are now 160,000 Africans living in Yemen, the United Nations Reports. Awdal News Network has the story of the semi-permanent camps the UN runs outside of Yemeni cities. Many refugees report being told to leave the camps and go to the cities.

Yet life in the city is full of despair. "Refugees say they face constant discrimination. Abi Abyah al-Manah, an Ethiopian refugee who heads the Mandated Refugee Association in the capital San'a says Africans are subjected to arbitrary arrests, violence, sexual violence and extortion by the authorities and the local people."

Just say no in Rio

From Rio de Janeiro, two distressing tales:

1. Crack is expanding its hold, The Final Call reports. Shocking fact: "The amount of crack seized by the police this year in Rio was six times the total confiscated in 2008."

2. But here's what not to do about it: hire Rudy Giuliani. Brazzil reports that the Rio city and state governments are bringing in the former NYC mayor as a security consultant. Giuliani was wrongly given full credit for reducing crime in NYC. The biggest factors in the reduced crime rate, actually, were the disappearance of crack (this started before Giuliani took office) and the resurgence of immigration, which had dropped precipitously during the 70s and recovered only modestly in the 80s. A million new New Yorkers arrived in the 1990s, bringing their energy and a newfound stability to many previously dangerous neighborhoods.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

make 'em pay taxes

New Mumbai Mayor Shraddha Jadhav wants squatters and street hawkers to pay taxes, the Indian Express reports.

After winning the Mayoralty, Jadhav issued a press release that said, "All unauthorised industries, small business, slumdwellers and hawkers who are doing business or staying illegally should be made to pay taxes. A policy should be in place and this will also help the BMC [Brihan Mumbai Corporation, the official name of the municipality] raise its revenue"

It doesn't appear that the Mayor, who is a member of the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena party, has an actual proposal to present to the council. And she certainly hasn't understood that if she expects squatters and vendors to pay taxes, they will understandably expect benefits from her government, rather than the harassment and demolition drives that have been the hallmark of previous administrations' policies.