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Squatter settlements  

Squatter settlements are any collection of buildings where the people have no legal rights to the land they are built upon.  The people are living there illegally and do not own the land.  They provide housing for many of the world’s poorest people and offer basic shelter.  They are often constructed with poor materials initially, including plastic sheeting, corrugated metal, wood and cardboard.  These are all materials that are available either freely as waste or cheaply.   Squatter settlements also often lack proper sanitation, water supply, electricity or telephone services.

Squatter settlements vary in the type, age and quality.  They range from non-permanent pavement dwellers which are constructed of very basic materials every day on pavements (these are typical in some Indian cities such as New Delhi), to well-constructed brick buildings over 40 years old (but still illegally occupying a site!) such as those found in Rochinia in Rio de Janeiro. Squatter settlements go by many different names, they are called Favelas in Brazil after a hillside flower, Bidonvilles in french which means can towns, and Bustees or slums in India.

Over time, squatter settlements can be improved by the residents and become more stable permanent dwellings, with brick and concrete used to reinforce the structures. 

Squatter settlements are found in various locations, but are usually built on the edges of cities in the world’s poorest countries or LEDC. They are also built on marginal land, which is land which has less value and is not occupied by legal land uses and buildings.  These sites can include steep and dangerous hillsides, on swampy or marshy land, land far from Services and the CBD, and land close to polluting industries. As can be seen on the map below they are dominantly found in LEDC countries.

Many of the people who live in squatter settlements work in the informal sector of the economy.  The informal sector of the economy is that in which people do not pay tax, have no legal working rights, have no sick pay or holiday entitlement.  These industries are often cheap to set up, unregulated, and pose significant health and safety risks to the people that work in them.  Informal Industries pose problems to governments because they gain no tax revenue from them and they have little control over them. The image below shows one such individual employment, to buy the coconuts requires only small capital input, to process the coconuts requires little equipment or skills, and there is no need for the overheads of a shop.  Many informal industries now employ lots of people and require more organisation. There are multi-million dollar informal industries in Dharavi slum, Mumbai, for example.

Slum dwellers have lots of issues to deal with;

·         Unsanitary conditions mean that they have to drink poor quality water – this can lead to Typhoid and Cholera

·         Marginal lands such as steep hill slides are prone to land slips, and there are examples of people dying during such events.

·         Marginal lands such as marshes and rivers are breeding grounds for mosquitoes, these insects can transmit Malaria and Dengue Fever

·         Lack of rubbish collection can lead to high concentrations of rats and other vermin which also pose health problems

·         Poor quality buildings offer little protection during adverse weather conditions, such as high winds or heavy rains during the monsoon.  Buildings have been known to collapse or catch fire.

·         The lack of planning means that there are none of things we take for granted in the UK, such as planned public green space, roads wide enough to take service vehicles, community centres and schools.

·         A lack of piped water means that people have to cope with limited supply of a vital resource

·         A lack of toilets and sewerage pipes can result in human waste exposed in public spaces with all of the associated health risks that has. 

·         A lack of planning means that electricity connections are often illegal and dangerous.

·         A lack of formal jobs means people can be drawn into illegal activities, Brazil has had a real problem with drug gangs in its favelas for example.

However, squatter settlements often have a strong sense of community and offer rural migrants a foothold in a city.  They can be the springboard to success and a chance to escape rural poverty, despite all of the associated problems.  Squatter settlements can also be improved over time, gradually improving people’s quality of life.

There are solutions including:

1.     Do it yourself! Many slum dwellers slowly improve the stability, durability and quality of their homes by buying better quality materials and doing the work themselves.  This has been the case in Rochinia in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

2.    Whole sale clearance and redevelopment of squatter areas is a more drastic approach.  This involves simply evicting the squatters and rebuilding on the site in a more formal and organised way.  This is proposed for Dharavi and is the approach we took in the UK for many of our old Industrial slum housing areas.

Proposed redevelopment flats for Dharavi,India

3.    Within the Favelas the government has assisted people in improving their homes. Breeze blocks and other materials (pipes for plumbing etc.) were given as long as people updated their homes.  This is an approach known as self-help housing.

4. The Brazilian government has moved a lot of people out of shanty towns and into low cost, basic housing estates with plumbing, electricity and transport links. This is an approach known as SITE and SERVICE. The waiting list for these properties was huge

  Kenya has followed suit, as have many other countries. 

In Nairobi, Kenya, huge population growth from 300.000 people in 1960 to 875,000 people in 1980 put huge strain on the housing stock and led to the development of 4 huge shanty towns or squatter settlements.  Mathare Valley, Dagoretti, Kibera and Korokocho suffer huge social problems, and Mathare Valley is the biggest with over 120,000 people. The Dandora scheme involved applying for a plot and if chosen the successful applicants had to go to evening classes at a college to learn construction skills. Once the exams linked to the course were passed the family can then build a house with building materials they can buy.  They can borrow money from the Housing Department to buy concrete blocks to build a house on their plot.

Think about it
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Explore the squatter settlements map on this page
 
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