Friday, November 12, 2021

Cleaning up a Slum

 Mukuru was one of the vast, sprawling informal settlements in Nairobi. Mukuru was originally allocated by the Kenyan government to politicians and owners of businesses in the 1980s and 1990s to develop light industries within a two-year period. Failure to do so would see the grantees lose their claims to the land. As years passed without any development, slum landlords descended on the vacant land and built unregulated structures for rent. Mukuru eventually grew to nearly 10% of Nairobi’s population, all living in squalor. Residents have lived under the shadow of eviction by those originally given the land. Those who had settled on land set aside for public utilities such as roads, railways and power lines have fought endless legal battles with authorities trying to bring some form of order, while others have died when the land flooded. People in Mukuru also have to deal with cartels controlling basic services such as toilets and rubbish disposal.  Insecure land tenure, where close to 94% of people are tenants, has led to poor planning and hence lack of basic services.

Living in a slum is expensive. The little money each household had was being gobbled up by cartels. The 2,000 shillings each household paid as monthly rent amounted to more than 180m shillings [£1.2m], yet those collecting this cash paid no taxes. The cartels were charging exorbitant fees for water and sanitation services, while endangering people’s lives through illegal electricity connections. report found slum dwellers faced a “poverty penalty”, paying more for basic services than those in richer suburbs. Mukuru households pay 45%-142% more in their electricity bills than residents enjoying formal [mains connection]. The poverty penalty for water is especially crippling as slum dwellers usually consume less water, at lower quality, but at higher costs than residents with formal provision. Residents pay 172% more per cubic metre of water than rates paid by residents living in formal areas.

The place is cleaner and healthier now thanks to the Akiba Mashinani Trust (AMT), a fund that raises capital for slum improvement projects. Njoroge has been working for the past 10 years on a masterplan for Mukuru. Thousands have benefited from a community-based programme to upgrade one of Africa’s biggest informal settlements and whose success will be used to transform similar slums in Kenya and beyond. The  project follows consultations with more than 40 organisations led by the Muungano Alliance, an umbrella body driving reforms in Kenya’s informal settlements, and including universities, civil societies, the private sector and Nairobi county government. The goal is to make the slum a “healthy, functional city neighbourhood”.

Community involvement in improving the sprawling 243-hectare (600 acre) slum was the key. A resident was chosen to represent groups of households and thousands of people were asked for their views; 250 community mobilisers were engaged to raise awareness of the project. Residents were trained to collect data – a huge task given the size of Mukuru, which has a population generally estimated to be at least 400,000. Every latrine, water tap and electricity pole in the settlement was mapped. 

The government has approved the construction of 13,000 new houses in Mukuru, the first social housing project in Kenya. So far, half of the 52km [32 miles] of roads earmarked for Mukuru have been completed, and residents are already benefiting from a couple of new hospitals that offer 24-hour medical services. 

Mukuru is the first informal settlement in Africa to be declared a special planning area (SPA), with the Kenyan government hoping to replicate this model in other slums such as Kibera, Mathare, Korogocho and Kawangware. Mukuru’s upgrading programme has attracted attention in other countries across Africa, including Zambia, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Ghana.

Jesse DeMaria-Kinney, the of the Adaptation Research Alliance, a group of nearly 100 organisations helping vulnerable communities says: “Bringing slum dwellers into the research and policy aspects can ensure that outcomes are appropriate, desirable, actionable and lead to improvements in their lives,”

This shows that the task of lifting people out of the slums of the megacities is doable and achievable. 

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