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African cities should consider social and economic factors when upgrading slums

In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 55% are estimated to reside in areas classified as slums or informal settlements. Slums and informal settlements in urban areas are the most visible manifestations of social and economic inequality. These slums and informal settlements are the physical manifestations of urban inequality, both socially and economically.

The impact of climate change on extreme weather is also greater for people living in these areas.

Pollution levels are high because of poor waste collection. Slums can have a negative impact on ecosystems. They can degrade the environment and reduce natural resources like timber.

Slums are a manifestation of the interplay between urbanization’s socio-economic problems and its environmental ones. Many government efforts to upgrade slums are largely focused on environmental issues and do not consider the economic and social dynamics. In Addis Ababa and Nairobi studies, it was found that those who moved out of slums to new housing experienced a loss in community connections and could not afford a life outside of the slum.

This was also echoed by the research I did outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. The people who were moved from an informal settlement to Cosmo City felt less secure and had financial struggles.

My findings and those of Kenya and Ethiopia suggest that a more community-oriented approach is needed. Urban slums cannot be solved by simply moving people without considering their economic and social concerns.

Case studies

Ethiopia’s government is currently attempting to eliminate slums in order to build new housing. Families are moved from shacks located in slums into newly constructed high-rise apartment buildings. A study conducted in Addis Ababa examined the social and environmental aspects of the clear-and-redevelop strategy in the Arat Kilo Slum and Ginfle High-rise Apartments.

The study concluded that this move has some environmental benefits. The study found that the movement had some ecological benefits. The amount of liquid, solid, and gaseous waste produced was also reduced.

The high-rise flats were much less livable. According to the study, 80% of the people interviewed said they were happy living in a slum. However, only 50% felt the same way about high-rise apartments. In the slum, 95% of respondents felt safe. Only 7% said the same in the new apartments. The trust factor also decreased: 97% of respondents said that they trusted their neighbors in Arat Kilo, but only 34% were in the new apartments.

The Kenyan government adopted a similar strategy to Ethiopia with its Slum Upgrade Programme. It builds high-rise flats in order to replace the slums.

Since 2010, Kibera, Nairobi’s biggest slum, has been cleared of some areas, and the residents relocated. Kibera residents were moved to 822 housing units in 21 blocks of four-story buildings located in Soweto East, a zone within the slum. In the coming years, there are plans to build another 2072 units of housing on cleared areas in Kibera.

About half of the people who received official houses in Soweto East do not live in those apartments anymore. These units were either given away, sold, or rented.

The author of the study was told by one beneficiary that she still shops in the slum for her groceries because it is cheaper. She spends weekends with her neighbors and friends in the slum. She’s lived in her apartment for three years but doesn’t even know anyone who lives next door.

All of this suggests that Kenya’s and Ethiopia’s government ignores social and economic factors in relocating residents from slums.

In South Africa, where I conducted a study recently, households that qualify within informal settlements were relocated into new houses with full subsidies on a plot of land in newly developed areas.

In 2005, nearly 3000 households from the Zevenfontein informal settlement were relocated to a new housing project called Cosmo City. Both areas are approximately 11 km apart. The residents of the new neighborhood were not happy with certain aspects. One woman said:

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Jane S. King

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