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James Trewby

Policies on Slums: Resettlement or Upgrade?

This essay aims to discuss some of the issues regarding slums and policies for their
removal or upgrading. It begins by considering definitions, statistics and causes of slum
growth. It continues by critically considering the ‘Cities without Slums’ initiative and
Millennium Development Goal 7 Target 11. Finally it discusses the policies of resettlement
and upgrading, considering their benefits and disadvantages, as well as the importance of
participation from slum-dwellers. It concludes that the policy of slum upgrading is
superior, but acknowledges that in some situations resettlement is necessary.

So what are slums? According to DFID, they are a “physical manifestation of poverty,
inequality and social exclusion in urban areas” (2004, p1). UN-HABITAT describes slum-
dwellers as “a group of individuals living under the same roof that lack one or more of the
following conditions: access to water; access to sanitation; secure tenure; durability of
housing; and sufficient living area” (in Warah 2003). No attempt is made to prescribe a
size requirement for a slum; they vary in population size from a few hundred to
“megaslums” of over two million people (Davis 2006, p28). At present it is estimated that
there are over 900 million slum-dwellers worldwide, with this total predicted to rise to two
billion by 2020 (DFID 2004, p1). It is important to note that while there is a correlation
between poverty and slums, not all of the urban poor live in slums and not all slum-
dwellers are poor; they are often diverse communities. The vast majority of slums are
situated in the developing world: “residents of slums, while only 6% of the city population
of the developed countries, constitute a staggering 78.2% of urbanites in the least
developed countries: this equals fully a third of the global urban population” (Davis 2006,

The rapid growth of slums in the developing world appears to have three root causes
which, in addition to the underlying problems of poverty, must be addressed through
appropriate policies: the ‘pull’ towards the city, the ‘push’ away from rural areas and the
increase in population size. When combined with inadequate city infrastructure for coping
with such an influx, including “the inability of the urban poor to access affordable land for
housing” (Royal Geographical Society 2003) and an insufficient formal housing stock,

slums become a seemingly unavoidable consequence. Rural-to-urban migration is not a
new phenomenon. Throughout history people have moved to cities, where the streets are
supposedly ‘paved with gold’, in search of work opportunities and modern lifestyles. In
large parts of the developing world this migration was prevented or limited by laws
imposed during colonial times; at independence many of these rules were relaxed, allowing
the “dam to burst” and rapid urbanization (Davis 2006, p51). As well as moving towards
the cities, migration also occurs as people move away from rural areas, even at times when
urban life may have lost some of its attraction.
“The global forces “pushing” people from the country – mechanization of
agriculture…, food imports…, civil war and drought…, and everywhere the
consolidation of small holdings into large ones and the competition of industrial-
scale agribusiness – seem to sustain urbanization even when the “pull” of the city
is drastically weakened by debt and economic depression.”
Davis 2006, p16
These factors lead to rapid and vast rural-to-urban migration: “Every day close to 200,000
people leave the world’s rural regions and head for the cities. That’s 130 people arriving
every minute; two every second” (Neuwirth in Swift 2006, p8). A slum, once founded,
becomes self-perpetuating. Families come to join those who migrated first, children are
sent to the city for the educational opportunities and future migrants are likely to be
attracted by the characteristics of the slum. Although this last point may sound counter-
intuitive it has been supported by a World Bank report. People desire the opportunities
offered by the city but still wish to live in a community in which they feel comfortable;
they are “willing to pay significant premiums in order to live in areas that are composed of
households that share their language, religion, level of education and average length of
tenure in the neighbourhood” (Lall 2004). Population growth affects slum population in
both the numbers migrating into the slums and in those born within them. The following
joke from the Philippines serves to illustrate population growth and introduces a critical
look at some of the statistics regarding slums.
“Cabinet member: Mr. President our population growth rate is very alarming,
there is one woman giving birth every minute!
Mr. President: We must find this woman and stop her!”

Satterthwaite (2003, p184) contends that “there is no lack of nonsense statistics” regarding
levels of urban poverty and slums. One of the examples he gives is a statistic from a WHO
and UNICEF report that only 4% of Kenya’s urban population lacked sanitation in 2000.
He then strongly refutes this. Davis notes a similar problem with statistics, giving an
example in Mexico: the UN believes 19.6% of urban Mexicans live in slums; local experts
consider the true figure to be close to two-thirds (2006, p23). Slums, by their very nature as
informal settlements, are difficult to quantify; as with poverty itself, differing definitions
produce different data. This must be taken into account when considering the problems
presented by slums and any policies that aim to solve them.

Millennium Development Goal 7 Target 11 is to “improve the lives of at least 100 million
slum dwellers by 2020” (Cities Alliance 2005) and this has been reflected in the "Cities
Without Slums" action plan, developed by the Cities Alliance and endorsed by UN-
HABITAT and the World Bank. What problems do these organisations aim to solve? First
among them is poverty. The existence of poverty in slums has already been briefly
discussed and could be expanded upon almost indefinitely: lack of basic services such as
sanitation, gross overcrowding, risk of fire and disease, insecurity of tenure, hazards caused
by the situation of slums (pollution, road and rail traffic, risk of natural disasters) and so on.
Other, sometimes more questionable, justifications given for attempting to create “cities
without slums” through clearance or upgrading include the desire to ‘beautify’ the city,
reduce crime and protect valuable land. Davis suggests that slum-dwellers fear
international events in their cities as they know that they are the “dirt or ‘blight’ that their
governments would prefer the world not to see” (2006, p104). An example of this can be
seen in the recent forced evictions in Cebu City in the Philippines in preparation for the 12th
ASEAN Summit taking place in December 2006 (COHRE, p86). Slums, fairly or unfairly,
often develop an association with crime, due to poverty and being sometimes impermeable
to state surveillance. For example, the reasoning given by Zambian President Kenneth
Kaunda for slum clearance in Lusaka was that “the majority of crime perpetrators find
refuge in unauthorised townships because by virtue of their existence, they lack proper
monitoring systems” (quoted in Davis 2006, p111). The motivation of protecting valuable
land is also sometimes questionable. There is clearly a difference between desiring land to
develop luxury inner-city accommodation and protecting an important water source or
farmland the loss of which may affect food security.

The above paragraph described how slums are seen as a problem and how their removal,
through clearance or improvement through upgrading, is seen as the way towards progress.
It is important to note that this view does not go unchallenged. The UN-HABITAT report
“The Challenge of Slums” (2003) shows that the existence of slums can have unintended
benefits, providing: “low cost affordable housing that enables the new migrants to save
enough money for their eventual absorption into urban society”; the city with a work force;
and an environment in which “mixing of different cultures often produces new forms of
artistic expression” (Warah 2003). Although perhaps overly optimistic it is true that slums
do serve the purpose of providing cheap, if inadequate, housing. Huchzermeyer argues that
it is wrong to treat slums simply as if they are a disease to be eradicated, and that such
eradication could only involve “forcing poverty into other forms of inadequate housing, as
yet not labelled slums”. As an alternative she suggests that “Cities Without Slums” needs
to become “Cities Recognising Slums”, acknowledging the role of informal housing and
working towards raising standards within that context (Huchzermeyer 2006).

The target and indicators of the Millennium Development Goal 7 have been challenged.
Most of the Goals are generally considered ambitious; for example, halving those who
suffer from hunger. Why, then, “improving the lives of at least 100 million slum-
dwellers”? 100 million was only 15% of the estimated number of slum-dwellers in 2000
(Satterthwaite 2003, p184) and this number is expected to grow considerably by 2020.
There is also no explicit mention of preventing the growth of new slums, although this may
be considered an implicit consequence of a number of other Goals (i.e. reducing poverty
generally should serve to slow down or prevent slum growth). The indicators for this target
are also questionable. They are: (i) the proportion of people with access to improved
sanitation; and (ii) the proportion of people with access to secure tenure. In the earlier
discussion of statistics, questions have been raised regarding their accuracy with respect to
slums. In a later paragraph the issue of tenure will be considered and challenged.

In the previous two paragraphs the notion that slums are a problem to be removed has been
questioned. However, even after noting these criticisms, there is little doubt that due to the
poverty found in slums something must be done. Broadly speaking there are two options

for policies regarding slums: clearance and resettlement or upgrading. Of course, both
policies must work alongside policies that attempt to deal with the root causes of poverty.

At first glance the logic behind resettlement appears sound. Slum-dwellers are moved into
a higher standard of accommodation while the valuable inner-city land they had previously
occupied becomes available for other purposes. A more detailed analysis reveals problems
with this policy.

Clearance is often not the slum-dwellers’ chosen course of action. For this reason eviction
often involves the use of violence. An example of this can be seen in the 2006 slum
clearances in Jakarta, where a Human Rights Watch report describes the government’s
excessive use of force.
“It draws on numerous evictees’ accounts of government security forces beating or
mistreating them before destroying their homes and possessions… Others describe
how security forces opened fire on communities and set buildings alight while
people were still inside.”
Human Rights Watch 2006
Similar accounts of violence in slum clearance can be found in many other countries,
notably in Zimbabwe’s ‘Operation Murambatswina’ - ‘drive out filth’ in the Shona
language (Meldrum in Swift 2006, p16). The use of fire to clear slums is also not
uncommon; Davis refers to the method of “hot demolition”, where Filipino landlords use
kerosene drenched burning live rats or cats to quickly start a number of fires around a slum
(2006, p127).

Sometimes clearance takes place without resettlement; evicted slum-dwellers find

themselves homeless or in ‘temporary’ camps. This may be because new accommodation
was not provided or because it was ‘poached’ by the middle class. Examples of this can be
seen in various countries, including Algeria, India and Vietnam (Davis 2006, p66). Even if
the new housing is available, evicted slum-dwellers may not be keen to move into it. New
accommodation is often in peripheral or marginal lands, away from the centre of the city
and corresponding opportunities for livelihoods. Such a resettlement may “compromise the
Millennium Development target of improving the lives of slum dwellers as it reduces their
welfare” (Lall 2004). The sense of community that was valued in the slum may also be

threatened by a move, particularly to tower-block style buildings. While care must be taken
not to idealise ‘community spirit’ in slums, it is important to recognise that shared poverty
brings some solidarity. Gabriela Tôrres Barbosa, a poet from a favela in Rio de Janeiro
writes that “when I come back to the communidade it is like a tribe – everybody knows me,
and people talk to me, and people talk to each other…and genuinely take care of one
another”. She contrasts this with her experience of a middle-class apartment building
where “many do not even know their neighbours. If one day they needed help, it would be
quite difficult to find it next door” (Barbosa in Swift 2006, p4). Slums are more than just
houses; small businesses, schools, community centres and places of worship cannot always
be simply relocated.

The biggest problem with the policy of clearance and resettlement is that it involves the
often unnecessary destruction of large stocks of housing affordable to the urban poor
(Royal Geographical Society 2003). When the size of some slums is taken into account it
becomes clear that it can never be an achievable policy; the required land and finance for
resettlement is simply unavailable.

Having said this, there are situations in which the physical removal of slums and the
resettlement of their populations are the only appropriate policy solutions. Where food
security or clean water sources are truly threatened by encroaching urban overspill it is
vital that they are protected. Where slums are situated in places which are not fit or safe for
human habitation, resettlement is seemingly the best policy. Numerous slum-dwellers are at
risk: for example, in Brazilian favelas from landslides, in Manila from floods, in Mumbai
from trains and in many cities from natural disasters (Davis 2006, Chapter 6). However,
who makes the decision of what is ‘fit’ or ‘safe’? In reality many of these risks are also
taken by the rich, who can afford to take out insurance or pay for the technology to protect
their homes and livelihoods. Avoiding this moral and political question, it appears
necessary to sometimes carry out a policy of clearance and resettlement. If this is the case it
must be done in such a way that it avoids the problems described in previous paragraphs.
Perhaps lessons can be learned from the example of a successful resettlement project in
Mumbai, where local community organisations were “fully involved in the design,
implementation and management of the resettlement” (Patel 2003).

The alternative to resettlement is upgrading. Davis notes that there is a danger that
upgrading can just become ‘not resettling’, i.e. ‘Saving the slum’ and exercising the ‘right
to stay’ with no actual improvements in living standards (2006, p78). Clearly it must mean
more than this. So what is meant by slum upgrading? For the World Bank, upgrading
“involves the provision of the most basic services: i.e. water and sanitation, roads,
footpaths, often accompanied by community facilities and security of tenure” (World Bank,

It was seen earlier that one of the indicators for the target of “improving” the lives of slum
dwellers was the proportion of people with access to secure tenure. It is also considered an
essential element of policies on slums by DFID: “Insecure tenure inhibits investment in
housing, distorts land and service prices, reinforces poverty and social exclusion, causes
severe stress and illness (through eviction/threat of eviction) and has the biggest impact on
women and children” (DFID 2004, p1). Following the theories of De Soto regarding
property rights, tenure is seen to create capital out of the slum. Unfortunately this
sometimes has an undesired effect: “Upgrading schemes that provide full title at nominal
cost can encourage poor households to sell their newly acquired asset and move to squat
elsewhere” potentially leading to an increase in slums, rather than the desired decrease
(Payne 2005). Davis notes that another negative aspect of tenure rights is that they do
nothing to help renters, who are often the “most invisible and powerless of slum dwellers”
(2006, p 44). In fact it can make their lives harder by accelerating social differentiation
between those who own and those who rent. As an alternative Payne suggests that what is
required is a realisation that “low-income households are generally modest in their tenure
needs; they do not necessarily require titles as long as they can be guaranteed reasonable
security” (2005). Perhaps it is security, rather than simply ownership, which is required.
This requires both more and less; paperwork can be reduced, but much must be done to
make a house, and a slum, secure from the hazards discussed earlier (fire, natural disasters
and so on).

In practice, policies on upgrading must be tailored to a particular community’s priorities;

for example, it would be premature to build a community school if the slum’s children
would be unable to attend due to sickness caused by poor sanitation. For this reason, as
well as for shared ownership of any improvements, it is crucial that communities

participate in the upgrading process and that any outside agencies involved acknowledge
the existence and importance of pre-existing local groups (Patel 2003). For upgrading to be
a successful policy it may require a move away from providing basic needs and towards
supporting local community organisations in negotiating better deals with landowners and
city authorities (Satterthwaite 2003, p183).

This essay concludes that the major difficulties involved in slum clearance and in the
subsequent resettlement of evicted slum-dwellers, including the destruction of existing
housing stock, the risk of damaging communities and livelihoods, the use of forced
evictions and the problems of house ‘poaching’ by the non-poor or reselling by the poor,
make this policy inferior to that of upgrading. However it acknowledges that in some
circumstances slum clearance is necessary, for the good of the slum-dwellers themselves or
for the wider city community. It questions the importance of granting tenure and instead
suggests that the process of upgrading must work towards providing a sense of security for
slum-dwellers. In the application of either policy, resettlement or upgrade, it suggests that
the participation of the slum-dwellers themselves is essential to success.


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