Environment: Making it better wherever you are
Here’s a story about “making it better wherever you are”. Instead of mowing down the slums, uprooting the people, and expecting them to somehow adjust to a new life in an apartment complex in a strange area, Latin America is taking a different approach. Why not provide improvements like solar energy right there in the slums, and provide a way for the people to incorporate progress in their current environment and help them to feel that they are part of society instead of being left out as economic misfits?
The Guardian Global Development Professional Network posted an article on November 28, 2014 which tells how it is all working out:
Latin America is known worldwide for being the land where the sun always shines, the beaches are like paradise and the party never ends. Despite the endless list of clichés that historically have characterised the region, inequality is staggering and mainly responsible for curbing development.
According to a report released by UN-Habitat, the slum population of the region adds up to 134 million inhabitants, representing 30.8% of the total population and equivalent to more than two times the total population of the United Kingdom (64.1 million). Roughly one in three people live under the poverty line, struggling to get by on less than $1.25 a day. The need for change is evident.
Slum upgrading programmes – that seek to design and manage urban networks within the slums in partnership with local NGOs and development organisations – are gaining strength. Instead of eradicating slums and moving inhabitants to other neighbourhoods of the city or to social housing, slum upgrading programmes focus on securing rights for dwellers, by regularising the tenure conditions of the settlements and providing basic amenities such as electricity and sewage. The ambition is to transform the slum into another district, integrated into the city, with proper transportation connections and services.
In La Lima, 152 miles north of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Techo is working in partnership with the squatter settlements 17 de Enero and Las Rosas. Both of those communities lacked proper electricity, sewage and water connections. As part of a slum upgrading programme, electric solar panels have been installed on 50 houses, giving 225 people access to electricity. The 4-watts panels cost each family 300 Honduran lempiras (£8.85) and usually take up to three days to be installed by residents and Techo volunteers. The volunteers are also responsible for fundraising the extra costs, such as those incurred by transportating materials to the communities.
The panel has a solar collector retaining three LED bulbs with a plug and an adapter to charge mobile phones directly. “Before the solar panels, we needed to walk a long way to charge our mobiles,” said one resident of the 17 de Enero community. “We used to remove our phone’s battery during the night to preserve the battery and avoid the long walk, whereas now we can plug them at home.”
But solar panels represent only the first step towards integrating excluded communities into the city. Slum upgrading programmes should always work towards poverty reduction by creating a network between communities and the government. Access to electricity enabled residents of the communities 17 de Enero and Las Rosas to achieve the first step towards this. The slum dwellers and community leaders organise regular assemblies – usually at night – to discuss local needs and determine actions towards further upgrading of their basic amenities.
The dwellers first identified the need to expand the installation of the solar panels to all of the houses of both communities. During the second period of implementation, 40 more families participated in the programme. As such, the communities 17 de Enero and Las Rosas have been incorporated as a part of the city of La Lima by the simple fact that they have an official assembly, empowering its inhabitants to participate in regional gatherings. From this point, the next step will be to fundraise to generate awareness of their living conditions in order to include them in Honduras’ national policy and development agenda.
Honduras remains one of the poorest countries in Latin America and according to its National Statistics Institute, in 2013, 62 in 100 Hondurans lived with less than a dollar a day. Lack of direct investment for specific slum upgrading programmes, like solar panels, or the difficulties of regularising tenure and integrating them in the country’s policy agenda, represent major challenges for the region where governments poorly allocate resources. In order to change the poverty scenario, governments need to develop participative and context-specific approaches with local and international organisations, instead of pre-fabricated solutions. They need to identify needs, priorities and opportunities. Therefore, the rise of slum upgrading programmes must be seen as a priority towards poverty reduction from both policymakers and communities alike.