By Pascale Hofmann, on 14 January 2019
This blog is the third of the health in urban development blog series. View also:
Gaza: Cage Politics, Violence and Health
By Haim Yacobi
If you are interested in DPU’s new MSc in Health in Urban Development, more information can be found on our website.
In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s main economic and administrative centre, high population densities, the accumulation of informal lower-income residents, lack of access to clean water and poor sanitary conditions have been associated with a range of water and sanitation-related diseases. Cholera outbreaks are a frequent occurrence during the rainy season and some settlements in the city are among the worst affected in the country. In this context, I argue that urban water poverty needs to be tackled using a proactive rather than reactive approach at the local level to yield long-lasting health benefits.
Tackling urban water poverty and community health promotion
Internationally, the link between urban water poverty – i.e. inadequate access to water supply and sanitation facilities, and public health – is widely recognised whereby improvements in accessing water and sanitation are deemed crucial in tackling a diverse range of diseases and improving the lives of the poor.
Such thinking calls for integrated and consistent approaches, which, as emphasised by a UNICEF WASH specialist in Tanzania are evidently lacking in most policy-driven practices on the ground.
“Hygiene and sanitation awareness, behaviour change, communication and empowerment are maybe done in urban areas but erratically, not systematically. When the rains are coming and there is threat of cholera etc. then you will find people will announce: ‘food vendors cover properly your food and make sure it is hot and whatever, please clean your surroundings, no solid waste should be seen and liquid waste, please drain it out completely’ etc. […] or there is a cholera outbreak in a certain locality in Dar es Salaam and it is feared that it might spread, so that happens but on a regular basis there is not a lot done” (quote from UNICEF WASH specialist).
During the recent cholera outbreak in 2015 government spending increased significantly to treat the affected population. While curative measures are vital, efforts to improve water supply and sanitation constitute essential steps towards future outbreaks. Similarly, some municipalities in Dar es Salaam have put continuous support into household fumigation programmes to impede the spread of malaria but fall short of investing in preventative measures to keep people healthy – i.e. reduce mosquito breeding sites through the provision of safe drinking water, improved sanitation and hygiene. Currently, the onus is predominantly on residents themselves to be pre-emptive in their everyday practices with regards to potential health implications but not everybody is equally aware or shares the same ability to act. In the absence of sufficient government action, those who can have invested in better access to water, improved sanitation facilities and even flood defences.
“In 2011 there was flooding and we lost our livestock and we had to start afresh. What actually happened is there has been increased silt in the Msimbazi river. At the same time, there is wastewater that comes from the ponds and where these meet, that impact pushes the water towards our land. […] we constructed this drainage channel jointly with my neighbour after the flooding to try and divert the water from coming in” (quote from a resident in an informal settlement in Dar es Salaam).
The need for a proactive, decentralised approach
Ward health officers are officially tasked with preventing water-related diseases and promoting environmental health in their jurisdiction through regular water quality tests at local water supply schemes and inspections of businesses and households with no equivalent paid staff at sub-ward level. However, with limited resources at ward level much of the action regarding water supply, sanitation and environmental health depends on voluntary efforts in the communities by residents themselves and facilitated through sub-ward committees, water committees and community representatives. Many health officers at the ward level understand the importance of sanitation, drainage and safely-managed water supply but struggle to influence the agenda at higher levels of government. The Decentralisation by Devolution Policy introduced in the 1990s transferred responsibilities to local government for service improvements but without fiscal decentralisation or devolution of decision-making power. Decentralisation should pave the way for bottom-up participatory planning processes but municipalities in Dar es Salaam focus on central government priorities while continuing to disregard lower levels of government and their efforts to address local challenges. Decentralised decision-making structures are therefore not a guarantee for more democratic processes.
The importance of engaging urban poor communities
To lower the burden of water and sanitation-related diseases, engagement of communities with the authorities (utility and municipal government) is crucial but often limited and slow. Until recently, one of Dar es Salaam’s municipalities prohibited low-income communities living near wastewater stabilisation ponds to use them for safe sewage disposal. A lengthy period of continuous interaction between the local community, the municipality and the utility, facilitated by a local NGO, eventually led to a pilot initiative that connects household toilets to the nearby ponds using simplified technology. This has reduced the number of pits being informally emptied during the rainy season and led to a safer and healthier environment for residents.
The utility seems keen to replicate the scheme elsewhere in the city, which shows potential that policy-driven practices can be transformed, scaled up and institutionalised in ways that are more integrated and sensitive towards the needs of the urban poor if sufficient consideration is given to the scope for scaling up and sharing the benefits more equally within a settlement.
Pascale is a Lecturer at the Development Planning Unit, UCL, where she leads the MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development Programme. Her current research is particularly concerned with the dialectics of urban water poverty, examining different policy-driven and everyday practices and their impact on everyday trajectories of the urban water poor. She is interested in generating knowledge towards developing feasible pathways out of urban water poverty.
By Ariana Markowitz, on 19 December 2018
NB: This post contains graphic content.
In March 2018, I interviewed a Salvadoran artist who lives in the United States about his work on violence. As we discussed a project, he recounted seeing the body of a teenage girl that had been disinterred, raped, and left on the ground of the cemetery where she had been buried the previous day. “I remember the colour of her dress, the texture of the fluids on her body,” he told me. There was an anguished pause. “I’ve only told my partner, a friend, and you. It’s been years and I still see her.”
El Salvador is one of the most violent countries on earth, so I knew going in that I would be speaking with people who have experienced trauma about that trauma. Unlike a mental health professional or a faith leader, however, I entered these conversations for information, not to directly support recovery and healing. Fearful that my questions could cause harm, I sought guidance from friends who work with asylum seekers and survivors of sexual assault. Despite that preparation, I still struggled to respond to the artist in the moment, shunting aside my own reactions to ensure that he felt heard and that our conversation remained centred on him. Afterwards, overwhelmed with disgust and unease, I told myself that what the artist described had to be an aberration—an exceptionally violent incident, even in an exceptionally violent place.
But then, in the following weeks, I heard versions of the same story about different bodies in different places from different people. I came to understand that these stories were more about tactics than necrophilia: Salvadoran gangs use the rape of a corpse to taunt or exact revenge upon the family and community of the victim, tainting and deforming their grief and ratcheting up the ongoing conflicts amongst the gangs, and between the gangs and the Salvadoran state. A play I saw in San Salvador depicted this tactic, though I failed to recognize it for what it was, assuming the victim was drugged or unconscious. Now, months later, I was realizing that the rest of the audience, for whom this violence was part of their reality, did not make the same mistake.
All of this heightened my awareness of and sensibility to violence, and the more time I spent in the field, the more the stories and images of violence piled up. I had nightmares that turned into sleepless nights, and despite being exhausted I remained unable to rest. I took impulsive decisions to regain some agency amidst circumstances that felt beyond my control. Normally an extrovert, I often preferred to be alone, and apart from an occasional thrill of warmth or wonder, the luster of the world around me faded.
My agitation pursued me back to London where I took two months off. Once I tried to watch a film to distract myself, but the film’s negative foreshadowing unsettled me and I had an agonizing night struggling to keep my mounting panic at bay. When I got my hair cut, the stylist commented that my hair had grown during the months I was away and asked how my trip went. Without meaning or wanting to, a torrent of horrific stories streamed out of me. I watched people’s eyes widen behind me in the mirror.
Other academics and practitioners who work on similar topics reassure me that all of this is par for the course. I have heard about nightmares, insomnia, compulsive exercise, benders of all kinds, addiction, and the straining and splitting of relationships with friends, relatives, and lovers. Some people abandoned researching violence altogether, with one explaining simply that, “The work damaged my spirit.”
Despite the prevalence of trauma in the field, however, I received little formal guidance related to research challenges in violent contexts prior to beginning my fieldwork. Throughout the world, university ethics protocols for all disciplines draw primarily from biomedical research that prioritizes physical over mental harm and research participants over the researcher. To that effect, I was asked to consider earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, mosquito-borne illnesses, crime, and more, and I wrote thousands of words about them in my risk assessment because they were valid concerns that I needed to take into account. I also read Salvadoran legislation on data protection, determined that the GDPR was more robust, and spelled out the measures I would take to protect my research participants’ personal information, per GDPR requirements. I sought advice from friends on how to talk about trauma because I identified it as a crucial skillset that I needed and lacked, not because an ethics committee alerted me to my potential for inflicting mental or emotional harm on my participants.
Social science methodology literature likewise comes up short in this regard. Most often, texts discussing research about violence neglect to mention the researcher at all, treating us as just the instruments for doing research. More reflexive pieces tend to focus on four topics: the ethics of working with victims and victimizers, difficulties accessing people and places, the absence or unreliability of data, and threats to researchers’ physical health and safety. As with the concerns above, these topics pose real challenges to the successful undertaking of fieldwork and merit serious debate and consideration.
But none of that illuminated any path that I could see towards feeling whole again, returning to the field, and finishing my work. Eventually, finally, I came across work that addressed the gaps. The scholars who produce it, most of whom are anthropologists, contend that shame around mental health in general, and concerns about bias and subjectivity in academia in particular, silence our ability to engage with what we see, hear, do, and feel as we gather information. More progressive criticism faults researchers for focusing on ourselves while the people we study are the ones who are actually suffering. Plus, unlike the privileged researcher, our participants may have few avenues to alter their circumstances.
Humility, perspective, prudence, and grit are essential in this type of work, but they do not change the fact that researching violence implies experiencing it. Breaking the silence around researcher trauma, rather than being unscientific or self-indulgent, permits clarity in the theories, concepts, and methods we develop to make sense of violence as a social phenomenon.
In January I am organizing a workshop at UCL called “Fortify and Heal: Researching Sensitive Topics and Violent Places” that will be the starting point for a collective process of seeking and finding guidance and support. The workshop will bring together students and staff for sessions on defining and managing trauma, supervising sensitive and violent research, and recalibrating risk and ethics protocols. Many researchers lament the external barriers to researching violence—earlier this year a charity rejected my funding application because “the successful candidates are carrying out less risky fieldwork”—so this is an opportunity to explore our individual and collective needs and how our institutions’ can comply with their duty to care such that more people, not fewer, feel able to research violence. Outside scholars will facilitate each session so that our ideas and debates reverberate around other campuses.
Jeff Hearn, who studies men and masculinities, writes about finding a paradoxical positiveness in violence from the possibility of change to non-violence. Engaging with our trauma—bracing ourselves, finding comfort, rejuvenating each other—is a first step.
“Fortify and Heal” will take place at UCL on Tuesday 8 and Wednesday 9 January 2019 from 14:00 to 17:00 each day. For more information or to attend any or all sessions, please contact Ariana at firstname.lastname@example.org by Sunday 6 January 2019.
Ariana is a PhD student at DPU researching how fear and trauma manifest and become defining parts of urban landscapes. Taking cues from this damage, especially in marginalized communities, she looks for alternative ways of repairing frayed social fabric and healing.
By Ariana Markowitz, on 11 December 2018
I spent an afternoon in August with a group of young men in a skate park on the outskirts of San Salvador, El Salvador. The park was part of a larger recreational complex and more people drifted in as the hours passed. The day was stifling and even if shade in the park was limited, at least sometimes there was a breeze in the air, unlike inside the low-income housing blocks that ringed the park and the shacks that climbed up the surrounding streets, splintering into a labyrinth of dead-end alleys.
The young men in the skate park told me story after story about police and gang brutality. At one point I asked them to draw a picture of a place or a situation in which they felt unsafe, uncomfortable, or anxious and another place or situation where they felt the opposite. One person stared at a blank piece of paper for 10 minutes, unable to think of any time or place where he had ever felt safe. Another drew an imaginary safe place where there were no abuses of power, people interacted as equals, homes were dignified, and greenery was abundant. After leaving the park later that day, a taxi driver told me about almost joining a gang some 15 years earlier, but changing his mind at the last minute based on the somber regrets of someone who had decided to go through with it. Later that night on my way home, I saw a body on the street. No one stopped and when I slowed down to get a closer look, my car was almost hit from behind.
This situation is part of what is driving Central Americans, especially from the so-called ‘Northern Triangle’ countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, to flee, seeking a better life or, in some cases, a life at all in the United States. More and more the migrants and displaced people are traveling in mass because most of their journey is through Mexico and the Mexican state has repeatedly demonstrated its unwillingness or inability to protect asylum seekers’ human rights, leaving them vulnerable to opportunistic people and cartel violence while they travel, often with babies and children in tow. The poor treatment of migrants and displaced people is an extension of the Mexican state’s similar unwillingness or inability to protect Mexican citizens’ human rights. Nearly 250,000 Mexicans have been killed in the last 10 years and there are more disappearances now in Mexico than there were under the dictatorships in South America, including the still unresolved case of 43 students disappearing in 2014, apparently at the hands of state security agents with assistance from organized criminal groups under the protection of military forces. Just like I saw in El Salvador, poverty in Mexico is both a driver and a result of violence, and decades of repeated abuses have corroded Mexicans’ confidence in each other and in their government. Several years ago when I was documenting police reform in Mexico, I was struck by how government insiders and partners recalled processes that were difficult but ultimately successful while outsiders saw failures and suspected conspiracies.
Amidst so much darkness, DPU’s Étienne von Bertrab has opted to look for light. A few years ago he began developing what is now Albora, an initiative that traces Mexico’s “geographies of hope” through identifying, studying, documenting, and showcasing transformative projects throughout the country. Spotlighting this work demonstrates the that there are other ways to develop, progress, and grow, ones in which no one mistakes violence for a solution, where access to water and other natural resources is universal, where citizens are informed and engaged, and where everyone strives for the greater good.
One such project is Agua para Siempre (‘water forever’), established 30 years ago by a then young couple, who decided that they would defend and support their poorest compatriots. They landed in the Sierra Mixteca in the Mexican state of Puebla, an arid and fast-eroding area that had been and continued to be hollowed out because of migration to large Mexican cities and the United States. With time, the couple understood that access to water was fundamental to addressing poverty and migration, so they began to study pre-Hispanic methods for soil retention and cultivation and advocate for their re-adoption in surrounding communities. Today, their organization, Alternativas y Procesos de Participación Social, AC (‘alternatives and social participation processes’), has 300 people and thousands of local partners who are seeing the fruits of their sustained efforts. Communities are beginning to have access to water all year for small-scale cultivation, animal husbandry, and human consumption, and hundreds of small cooperatives have begun to produce amaranth, a pre-Columbian pseudo-grain that, like quinoa, is high in protein, vitamins, and minerals. Reversing previous trends, migration is falling, as is child malnutrition, thanks to the inclusion of amaranth in local diets.
The search for transformative initiatives also brought the Albora team, which includes five DPU alumni, to Mexico City where a Mexican historian and novelist, his family, and a dozen others have formed the Brigada para Leer en Libertad (‘brigade to read in freedom’). The brigade has cultivated new readers through facilitating horizontal and informal access to authors, expanding the availability of books, and creating free places to read. So far, they have gifted or sold more than a million books at an affordable price to girls, boys, women, and men in a country where the high price of books makes bookstores elitist and inaccessible and public libraries are few. To that end, the brigade also establishes libraries, with a recent campaign resulting in the donation of nearly 70,000 books. These books have become the basis for carefully curated collections in formerly empty libraries in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The brigade promotes reading for pleasure but also as a political act—an essential step towards the full exercise of conscious citizenship.
These projects and others are harnessing the power of hope to fuel alternative visions of their society. They demonstrate the fundamental importance of restoring and cultivating hope, necessary for active citizenship, and united, powerful communities, not just in Mexico or El Salvador but everywhere where injustice and inequality construct blocks for us to stumble over. The projects challenge us to look beyond our cynicism and apathy.
Before I left the skate park in August, one young man told me that he was glad I had come. “Most people don’t come looking for us, and the people who do don’t listen to what we have to say,” he said. “I hope you’ve been able to hear us and that the stories of our lives help you do your work.”
To learn more about Albora and contribute to its crowdfunding campaign, active until Tuesday, 18 December and only funded if it reaches 100% of its goal, go here.
Ariana Markowitz is a PhD student at DPU researching how fear and trauma manifest and become defining characteristics of urban landscapes. Taking cues from this damage, especially in marginalized communities, she looks for alternative ways of repairing frayed social fabric and healing.
By Haim Yacobi, on 4 December 2018
This blog is the second of the health in urban development blog series. View also:
Health in secondary urban centres: Insights from Karonga, Malawi
If you are interested in DPU’s new MSc in Health in Urban Development, more information can be found on our website.
“I’m like a bird in a cage”, told Shaheen in an interview to Al Jazeera as she lay in bed at Al-Rantisi hospital. “Outside of my cage I can see water and food, but I can’t reach it. This is my condition right now.” Shaheen suffers from breast cancer, her condition has been deteriorating ever since she was denied exit from Gaza for treatment. The Gaza Strip does not have adequate resources to provide her with appropriate treatment, yet she cannot leave, as Israeli authorities rejected her permit three times in a row without explanation. But this is not an anecdote – current data indicates that 54 Palestinians, including 46 cancer patients, died in 2017 after their requests for permits were delayed or refused.
The case of Shaheen illustrates the ways in which health, death, life and space are entangled. It is not just about the crossing of the border between the Gaza strip and Israel, but also about being in a “cage”, an urban territory where electricity, clean water, sewage system and adequate housing which are basic conditions for ensuring a health – are absent. As already noted, in 2017 more than 96 percent of groundwater is unfit for human consumption, and the forecast is that the damage would become irreversible by 2020; Due to chronic shortage in electricity operating pumps, there is a constant threat of raw sewage flooding residential areas. The beach areas of Gaza strip are polluted by more than a hundred million litres of raw sewage flowing into the sea every day. This matter was recently defined by Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights as a “TOXIC SLUM”, claiming that Gazans “…are… caged in a toxic slum from birth to death”, a ghetto of 1.9 million residents (50% under the age of 18) living in one of the most densely-populated places on earth.
The spatio-politics of health, death and life goes beyond the notion of necropolitics; it is not just about the use of social and political power to dictate how some people may live and how some must die as Achile Mbembe suggests; rather it is also about the spatial dimension of “cage politics”. Within this context I argue that spatial organisation determines the right to kill as defined by Foucault; blocking Gaza, isolating its habitants, controlling the goods that can enter the strip (such as food, construction materials etc). Yet the question is not whether the organisation of space and health are linked, but why is space organised, controlled and destructed in certain cases so as to protect the right to health; What are the ideological forces and the political processes that promote or hinder the organisation of space?
The conditions in Gaza are not the result of any natural disaster, neither the outcome of the last few months events along the border. Rather, I would suggest to see it within the context of settler colonial political history, which prioritises territorial and demographic control over basic rights. As already noted the establishment of settler colonialism is based on “the will of erasure”, or at least the “systematic containment” of the original inhabitants. First of all, the refugees: close to 70% of the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip are refugees. Most of them ran away, or were expelled from villages, towns and cities that are part of the State of Israel today.
Since then, Israeli political discourse focuses on the idea that this problem would disappear by itself. Yet, as the last few months demonstrate this is not the case: Young Palestinians who are demonstrating at the border are the third and fourth generations of the original refugees, and they are willing to die for the right to return, reminding us that 1948 is still with us, waiting for a political (rather than military) answer. Indeed, links between health, death, life and cage politics should be understood within a wider context, where freedom of movement, access to public services and infrastructure, as well as freedom from pollution and environmental hazards, are obvious rights linked to space.
Indeed, the case of Gaza illustrates the ways in which people who have been displaced experience “root shock” – the traumatic stress reaction to the loss of some or all of one’s emotional ecosystem. As the case of Gaza demonstrates, the very historical foundations of the root shock are the expelled of Palestinians after the 1948 war from Israel, the creation of the “refugees crisis” and the ongoing violence in the last few decades. Root shock is both personal and collective: on the individual level emotional trauma affect a person experiences when his or her environment is destroyed. It causes the risk for stress-related diseases like depression and diminishes social, emotional, and financial resources. Here, several reports point on the growing number of mental illness in Gaza, including a growing number of suicides.
Importantly this has also an effect on the community level; root shock is expressed by the loss of interpersonal ties that is vested in the collective connections and affect negatively a community resilience. A telling example is the aspect of the high rates of sexual assaults in Gaza resulted of the common addiction to Tramadol which is available in Gaza, and popularly traded as an illegal street-drug. According to Mansour, the Tramadol side-effects have an immense impact on the frequency of sexual assaults and other un-healthy sexual behaviours. In general, Mansour describes Gaza as a society in “a tremendous and accelerated disintegration” in which “people are losing their humanity”. Another aspect is gender-based violence. In 2016, more than 148,000 women were subjected to psychological and physical abuse. Studies show a link between violence against women and the worsening of living conditions. According to the UNFPA, ‘The structural, cyclical and hierarchal nature of violence… means women often become “shock-absorbers” of the crisis’ in Gaza.
To sum up, cage politics violence has two dimensions that affect health conditions in Gaza. Active violence stemming from direct military actions and explicit policy. This affects water supply, electricity, nutrition. It also causes a severe shortage of equipment, medicines (including antibiotics and morphium), and medical expertise. This, for example, means injured people with gunshot wounds to the legs are not always treated quickly, leading to amputation. But cage politics is also discursive, symbolic and implicit; this is expressed in the very de-humansing and demonising public discourse in Israel, that in turn justifies active state violence. A current example is the building of an underwater sea barrier that according to the Israelis aims to prevent Palestinian infiltrators from entering Israel by sea. The barrier will consist of three layers. The first will be below the water; the second will be made of stone; the third will be made of barbed wire. An additional fence will surround the sea fence. The effect of this project on Gaza is clear: fishing, mobility, health and economy is one side of it, but this also takes us back to the very argument presented today: cage politics of health, life and death are highly political and that access to water, electricity and services, or proximity to environmental hazards, are not neutral facts but rather the results of policy and violence.
Haim Yacobi is a Prof of Development Planning and the Programme Leader of the Health in Urban Development MSc Programme at the DPU. In his current research he focuses on the ways in which ideology, planning and health are entangled in conflict zones.
By Donald Brown, on 23 November 2018
This blog is the first of the health in urban development blog series. View also:
Gaza: Cage Politics, Violence and Health
If you are interested in DPU’s new MSc in Health in Urban Development, more information can be found on our website.
They may be small, but don’t let their size mislead you. Secondary centres form a significant—though underappreciated—part of the global urban landscape. Drawing on my doctoral research in Karonga, a small town in Malawi, I explain why achieving a healthy urban future will depend increasingly on how urban growth occurs outside the largest cities.
It is widely proclaimed that we now live in an urban age, with more than half of the world’s population living in ‘cities’. While impressive, this statistic does not tell the whole story. It is widely assumed that most of the world’s urban population live in the largest cities and that they are the fastest growing. But there are relatively few mega cities (with more than 10 million residents) and they account for less than 10% of the world’s urban population. Many are also not growing especially fast.
Far more urban dwellers live in small and intermediate centres (with less than 1 million inhabitants), many in Asia and Africa. These ‘secondary’ centres constitute the bottom and middle of the urban hierarchy, where a large and typically growing share of the world’s future urban growth is expected to occur. But this is also where the capacity to plan and manage urban growth, provide services, and reduce environmental risks is so often lacking.
If the growth of secondary centres in Malawi and other sub-Saharan African countries is to contribute to a healthy urban future, research and action is required on several fronts:
The dynamics of in situ urbanisation
Most accounts of Africa’s urban transition have focused on the causes and patterns of urbanisation and peri-urbanisation. Much less attention has been paid to in situ urbanisation—the placed-based transition from a rural area into an urban one. These dynamics are of growing importance in sub-Saharan Africa given its low urbanisation level and moderate urbanisation rate, meaning that many small settlements have yet to emerge.
Karonga exemplifies the process of in situ urbanisation: it grew from a small trading post in the colonial era into a sub-regional service centre under the current national planning framework. The town’s population increased nearly four-fold from around 11,000 in 1966 (the first census year) to over 40,000 in 2008 (the last census year). Karonga is now the second largest centre in the Northern Region following Mzuzu.
Despite its size and growth, Karonga has no local government and so lacks the capacity to effectively plan and manage its growth. Numerous environmental hazards have subsequently emerged, ranging from poor sanitation, to seasonal floods, to large-scale disasters, posing major health risks.
The need for disaggregated urban data
Most demographic and health data is aggregated to provide averages for urban populations, obscuring widespread health disparities within and between urban populations. Basic health data is especially limited in sub-Saharan Africa in the absence of vital registration systems, disease surveillance sites and electronic health records, even though the region bears the brunt of the world’s deadliest epidemics, including HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
Where available, local information sources can be used to generate disaggregated data at the urban scale. Among the most valuable sources are hospital records, which provide information on the causes of disease in populations. To generate this information for Karonga, nearly 3,000 inpatient records from Karonga District Hospital (located in the town) were collected over a 12-month period (August 2016 to July 2017) to produces estimates of the prevalence of environmental disease.
While the sample is not completely representative of the town’s population, the findings reveal alarming patterns:
- 63% of all recorded diseases were environmental (i.e. related to factors in the physical environment);
- 64% of environmental diseases were infectious and parasitic; and
- cholera outbreaks during the rainy season are recurrent in areas with the poorest sanitation.
These observations support the longstanding suspicion that smaller settlements with limited capacities can be among the most hazardous places to live, highlighting the need for urban environments far more capable of preventing disease.
The dynamics of rural governance regime change
As in situ urbanisation unfolds, villages will grow into towns, towns will be reclassified as urban (raising the urbanisation level), and modern institutions will attempt to intervene in rural governance regimes that may be resistant to change. This process is creating new governance challenges for planning authorities attempting to intervene in towns once they have already emerged.
These challenges are heightened in Karonga in the absence of a local government, meaning the balance of power has not shifted from traditional to modern institutions in much the same way the planning system has not resulted in formal urban development. Instead, customary and modern institutions have intertwined in hybridised governance arrangements in which the authority and legitimacy of the state is contested.
Understanding the place-based dynamics of rural governance regime change in emerging towns such as Karonga is at the forefront of planning research on in situ urbanisation. Case studies of this kind have significant potential to reveal the possibilities and obstacles for planning healthy towns at the bottom of the urban hierarchy. This is where many of the future challenges facing public health will be increasingly concentrated, but where little scholarly or practical attention has been paid to this and other important urban development issues.
Donald Brown is an urban planner and researcher interested in the nexus between urban development planning, public health and (disaster) risk reduction in sub-Saharan Africa and other urbanising regions. His doctoral research focused on environmental health in smaller African urban centres as increasingly important to overall urban population health.
By Ruchika Lall, on 28 September 2018
Also by Ruchika Lall – Finding Spaces of Longitudinal Learning and Institutional Reflexivity
The global challenge of waste is irrefutable – it is visible, urgent and common to us all. Product-to-landfill life cycles make explicit how the global north and south are relational. Multinational corporations manufacture in regional hubs, for global markets, and transnational waste exports are offshored as recycled waste. Plastic debris floats from shore to shore.
On April 14th 2017, an avoidable tragedy – a man-made disaster – took place, as a mountain of garbage collapsed in North Colombo, Sri Lanka. Over a hundred homes were buried in the debris, displacing over 600 families, and killing 31 persons living at the edge of Meethotamulla land fill. The abandoned paddy field had been receiving tonnes of municipal garbage every day for over 20 years – growing to the height of a six-storey building, with a footprint of almost 20 acres. Reports list several causes for the collapse: (1) The incremental unsettling of the mountain of waste caused by rains; (2) Decomposition releasing methane and toxic gases which combusted into fire; and (3) A lateral landslide triggered when the lowest layer of the wetland soil couldn’t take the weight of the waste any longer. While emergency services were brought in and the dumping of waste has been stalled – a mountain of waste is still visible at the landfill today. More concerning still, several similar land fill sites that exist in Colombo remain fully operational – a shocking sight, yet unsurprising, given the global crisis of waste.
Often, communities living in marginal lands are caught within this crisis Sri Lanka, informal settlements often emerge alongside wetlands, canals and beach fronts. Engaging with these communities, as a part of efforts to improve waste management initiatives is therefore crucial.
In October 2017, Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre started a community-led Municipal Waste Recycling Programme (MWRP) in Dehiwala and Mount Lavinia – a municipality adjacent to Colombo. MWRP is a transnational initiative designed to reduce plastic pollution of the oceans. Funded by USAID, the programme is active in the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. As an NGO positioned as an intermediary between the state and communities, Sevanatha’s aim for the programme is to facilitate building a responsive society in partnership with the local municipality to address the challenge of waste. It aims to raise awareness around waste separation, for recycling and reuse, and to build partnerships between the government, private sector and civil society. The project focuses on a few key approaches in parallel – research and analysis, conducting awareness raising programmes in communities and schools, enabling a network of waste collectors and recycling businesses, and prevention of waste disposal into canals and beach fronts. Unifying these approaches, and inspired by successful iterations in Thailand and Indonesia, Sevanatha aims to establish community waste banks to promote a shift towards a circular economy. Across the municipality, Sevanatha has identified priority informal settlements in environmentally sensitive areas to work with – these are typically positioned along stretches of canals, wetlands, and the coastal belt.
Auburn Side, a coastal settlement, and a part of the MWRP area, is one such example. Auburn Side is split into two ‘sides’ by a coastal railway line that runs parallel along Sri Lanka’s South Western Coast. These are the ‘formal’ and the ‘informal’, separated as the ‘beach side’ and ‘land side’. While several residents of the ‘beach side’ qualify for state-built apartments in another part the city, they choose to live along the coast to continue their daily livelihood as a part of generational fishing communities. The informal categorisation of the settlement however affects the level of municipal services that the ‘beach side’ receives. While the municipality waste collection trucks serve the ‘land side’, they do not cross the railway line onto the ‘beach side’. Further, a storm water drain from the city regularly discharges plastic waste from the formal city into the informal settlement, before it spills out further into the ocean.
Given that waste as an issue bridges the formal and the informal – through urban lifestyles, production, consumption and disposal patterns – How can waste management projects that engage with informality, such as Sevanatha’s MWRP, leverage waste as an entry point for ‘scaling up’? I use the term ‘scaling up’ in the context of the search for scale within housing policy, through programmes that strategically engage with informality with ‘multi-dimensional, multisectoral and multi-scalar’ ambitions. This is especially relevant to Sri Lanka, where decades of policy and programmes such as the Million Houses programme that engaged with in-situ upgrading, have been steadily replaced by programmes that liberate land ‘occupied’ by informal settlements through ‘involuntary relocations’.
What would such an approach towards scaling up entail? I reflect on three approaches within waste management projects and three follow up questions, that could, in parallel, leverage waste as an entry point to scaling up –
1) Coproduction by building on existing on ground initiatives
2) Networks to share and platforms to cross-learn
3) Challenging assumptions and analysing parallel economies
1) Coproduction by building on existing on ground initiatives
An approach that uses waste as an entry point for scaling up would involve building on existing informal initiatives, making them visible and connecting them to larger institutional systems.
At Auburn Side, Sevanatha’s project team is familiar with a few supportive community members who are conscious of how closely their lives are dependent on the ocean. An elderly fisherman is an inspiration – recovering almost 25 plastic bottles from the ocean every day. His home – a living museum of our ‘legacy’ of waste – is decorated with his craft of upcycling these bottles as ornamental lampshades. Similarly, a resident who grew up in the settlement is a newly elected member of the municipality and wishes to set up a waste collection centre.
Can projects build on the actions and aspirations of such individuals within the community, to facilitate constructive institutional engagement?
Sevanatha’s strategy of incentivising separation of waste through establishing waste banks in partnership with the municipality, and operated by the community, is one opportunity to do so.
2) Networks to share and platforms to cross-learn
In order to pilot and iteratively develop the waste bank, Sevanatha’s team has, through trial and error, organised to focus on three settlements in the municipality – Badowita, Rathmalana, and Auburn Side.
This organisation provides the project team to iteratively learn from experiences in these three settlements, and to consciously inform approaches in the other. In Badowita, a waste collection centre owned by the municipality is operated by two women from the informal settlement along the polluted canal. While they collect waste from a formal settlement in the municipal area, they have also started to receive waste from their own community – for example, an enterprising woman in the informal settlement has started receiving waste from neighbours at her house, to deposit it at the waste collection centre. Similarly, post a beach cleaning programme in the informal settlement at Rathmalana, a few individual residents started collecting recyclable waste to send to the Badowita Waste Collection Centre, facilitated by Sevanatha. Sevanatha’s project team further hopes to use the experiences in Badowita and Rathmalana, to learn from and to further develop a suitable model of a waste bank at Auburn Side.
The iterative learnings and organisation of the project could further create opportunities for scaling up, when translated into facilitating networks between local champions from these three settlements, as well as municipal stakeholders – to create a network and platform to share cross learnings, that continues in the long term.
Further, how may stakeholders extend such networks of sharing, and platforms of cross learning, in other settlements, once fixed project periods finish?
3) Challenging assumptions and analysing parallel economies of waste
The opportunity within waste management projects that engage with informality, such as Sevanatha’s MWRP, to leverage waste as an entry point for ‘scaling up’ – is to position informality in the context of the city. With such an approach, a ‘community waste bank’ is not just about recycling the waste of the informal settlement but is also about enabling opportunities for the settlement to negotiate with and link with the larger municipal area – as a means of scaling up. The challenges within these approaches are two-fold –
First – to read between the lines of assumptions and regulations. Much of the assumptions linked to illegality and drug use have proven to be a convenient narrative to disengage with informality and small-scale waste collectors. These assumptions have become stereotypes that make it easier to marginalise low-income settlements and their rights, to the extent that the current low income urban housing programmes in Sri Lanka have shifted towards involuntary relocation. Scaling up involves rethinking municipal regulations on land use, while also actively reaching out to minority or vulnerable communities that may be engaged in the informal trade of waste.
Secondly, while project interventions may push for coproduction, there do exist parallel economies of waste. For example, in North Colombo, an agglomeration of settlements exists in Wattala, within an informal economy of land reclamation. In a low-lying area prone to flooding, residents and informal landlords purchase construction waste to increase the level of the land before (and even annually, after) construction, while several houses are visibly sinking due to the settlement of the soil. Understanding and analysing these parallel economies of ‘informal’ land reclamation and markets is relevant – as they potentially compete with processes of coproduction that projects such as MWRP may wish to support, while trapping communities in cyclical poverty – often so, with the influence of individuals with access to institutional power.
Finally, how may interventions build a discourse that moves beyond assumptions or existing formal-informal collaborations of clientelism, to instead recognise the agency of communities?
Ruchika Lall participated in the third wave of the DPU/ACHR/CAN Young Professionals Programme. During her time in the programme, she was embedded with Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Ruchika is also an alumna of the DPU’s MSc Building and Urban Design in Development (BUDD) programme.
Fiori, J., 2014. Informal City: Design as Political Engagement. In: T. Verebes, ed. Masterplanning the adaptive city: computational urbanism in the twenty first century. London: Routledge, pp. 40-47.
 Community Waste Banks exchange recyclable waste for incentives in cash or kind, to promote separation of waste and recycling at the household level.
 Scaling up seen “as not a quantitative process but a change in the quality of the city itself and in the nature of its political institutions; and as a political restructuring of urban institutionalities through synergies and contradictions across processes operating at multiple dimensions and scales, including social, economic and political” (Fiori, 2014)
 Urban Regeneration Programme of the Urban Development Authority, Sri Lanka
By Ruchika Lall, on 28 September 2018
Also by Ruchika Lall – Reflections on Waste, Informality, and Scaling Up
It is the Sinhala – Tamil new year, and my colleague (and friend) at Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre warmly invites me to her hometown, an eight-hour picturesque train journey from Colombo into the Sri Lankan countryside. For almost a week, I have the good fortune to meet her entire family and witness the rituals of celebration that bring multiple generations together in the same space to celebrate the new year. And in this celebration, I see how my friend explains to her Attamma (grandmother) about her work and her life in the city, as Attamma listens proudly. In the evening Attamma teaches us how to prepare her recipe for chicken curry. In many subtle examples, I witness, as is the case with numerous South Asian families, how families find spaces for conversation to share generational wisdom, and yet balance this with the freshness of the aspirations of the younger generation. Embedded in these rituals that make Sri Lanka – is an acknowledgement of the value of learnings compounded over time, and an evolving openness to new ways of living.
Move back into the changing urban-scape of development in Colombo, and my reason for being at Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre, through the DPU-ACHR-CAN internship programme. I wonder – as families continuously learn to balance and juggle old values and new – can Sri Lanka’s urban institutions similarly evoke a similar dialogue between old approaches and new aspirations – through spaces of institutional learning and reflexive conversations?
I write about longitudinal learnings, because Sri Lanka has a unique past of urban housing programmes – one which saw people centred urban development processes piloted, and then scaled nationally. These are approaches and conversations that the Development Planning Unit has very much been a part of. Between 1980 and 2010, more than 90 percent of the classified underserved  settlements have benefitted from some form of upgrading. However, times are changing in Colombo, and the current Urban Regeneration Programme (URP) seems intent on disregarding this legacy. In a distinct move away from earlier in-situ development models, the URP now looks to relocate settlements that have often engaged in years of upgrading processes, in a rush to transform Colombo into a world-class city, newly emerged after decades of civil conflict.
In 2018, the pulse of urban development in Colombo is rather urgent and anxious. Indeed, in the anxiety to create a strategic regional hub of finance and the knowledge economy, there has been much loss of institutional memory. This is paradoxical as such memory can be an inherently rich resource of learning through longitudinal reflection. In terms of housing policy, there is much merit in revisiting the past to reflect on the impacts, challenges and limitations of earlier housing programmes and asking how can these learnings inform current housing programmes?
This summer, the DPU field trip for MSc Urban Development Planning (UDP) students, facilitated by Sevanatha, attempted to recreate a space of reflection on settlement upgrading and relocation processes in Colombo. Founded in 1989 as an intermediary NGO between the state and communities, at a time when the state was clearly recognised as an enabler of people-led housing processes, Sevanatha were uniquely positioned to intermediate this project. Along with the experience of navigating almost three decades of shifting policies, overtime, Sevanatha have cultivated strong relationships with actors from within the state, communities, academia and civil society, making it possible to bring together multiple perspectives and open up a space of reflection on longitudinal learning.
For two weeks in May, UDP students were able to ground their research in three unique sites across Colombo – Nawagampura, Muwadora Uyana and Mayura Place.
- Nawagampura: Originally emerging as a planned relocation site in the 1980s, the interceding years have seen waves of informal appropriation, incremental self and state supported upgrading, transform Nawagampura into a community that belies its classification as an underserved Whilst not without its challenges, Nawagampura bears little resemblance to the underserved caricature put forward as justification for the URP.
- Muwadora Uyana: A multi-block, high-rise housing scheme, in which residents arrived from multiple relocation sites across the city, Muwadora Uyana is a recent URP project. The scheme offers many layers to unpack, including significant variance in the way in which each family (indeed each family member) experiences relocation.
- Mayura Place: Although officially existing as a URP relocation project, the twelve-storey development of Mayura Place could also be reclassified as an in-situ upgrading project given the site’s proximity to residents’ original dwellings and the active political engagement of residents throughout the process. This site offered a window into the value of maintaining social networks during relocation, whilst also opening up conversations concerning how different design, planning, engagement and management processes can impact residential experiences of relocation.
Within the three sites, and the larger context of urban development in Colombo, it was possible to observe a shift in the priorities and mandates of urban development institutions. With the facilitation of Sevanatha, a workshop and multi-stakeholder panel discussion was convened at the University of Moratuwa. The workshop enabled reflections from government professionals, academia and housing rights activists – each offering a different perspective on the challenges and opportunities of upgrading and relocation processes in the city of Colombo. Through these discussions, it was interesting to note how state programmes did engage in an internal reflection process that fed back into individual programme designs – for example changes to the apartment design across phases of the URP. The discussions however also highlighted the need for a space of cross-learning and longitudinal reflection on the shift in housing policies and programme approaches more broadly, taking a view that spans much further than electoral cycles or project tenure. As a long-term actor in Sri Lanka witness to these shifts over the last three decades, and as an intermediary between the state, civil society and local communities, Sevanatha has an important convening role to play in extending these much-needed reflections on urban development.
Ruchika Lall participated in the third wave of the DPU/ACHR/CAN Young Professionals Programme. During her time in the programme, she was embedded with Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Ruchika is also an alumna of the DPU’s MSc Building and Urban Design in Development (BUDD) programme
 Such as the Million Houses programme and the Urban Settlements Improvement project
 DPU engagement in the Million Houses Programme was started by Desmond McNeil, Patrick Wakely, Babar Mumtaz, Ronaldo Ramirez and Caren Levy. This involved capacity building with the Sri Lanka National Housing Development Authority, with funding from ODA from 1984-1990
 The term underserved settlements is specific to Sri Lanka’s classification of areas identified in the late 90s as low income with various constraints regarding access to basic services and tenure.
 As documented by a survey in 2012 by Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre, Colombo Municipal Council and Homeless International
 Western Region Megapolis Master Plan
By Tim Wickson, on 17 September 2018
This post was prepared by Balint Horvarth, Mateo Lu, Fernando Toro, Nada Sallam and Karlene Stubbs with editorial support from Tim Wickson and Barbara Lipietz
It is not every day that 35 post-graduate students from 21 countries have the opportunity to travel to a new country, partner with local organisations and policy makers and learn from the urban policies and practices at play there. In May 2018, this opportunity was presented to us through our MSc Urban Development Planning field trip. After months of desk-based preparation, we left London for Colombo (Sri Lanka) with only one certainty in mind: we were going to learn, not to solve. Our ambition was to listen to the city and reflect on what the different voices were telling us.
Guided throughout by Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre, a local non-governmental organisation (NGO), our work in Colombo focussed on exploring upgrading and resettlement in the context of an active state-led Urban Regeneration Programme (URP). The URP aims to deliver a slum-free Colombo by 2023 by moving 75,000 households out of so-called under-served settlements and into high-rise housing projects. Implemented by the Urban Development Authority (UDA), the programme’s financial model rests on a combination of end-user repayments and market cross-subsidy generated by the release of liberated land for private sector development.
Working in collaboration with recent planning, sociology and social work graduates from three local universities, our research benefited from in-depth discussions with affected local communities; face to face meetings with government officials; as well as structured inputs from a host of Colombo based experts and activists. Based on these experiences, we were able to build up nuanced understandings of how urban and housing policies operate at different scales in Colombo; problematise the under-served settlement and slum-free discourses; and begin exploring cracks for alternative urban development approaches in the city.
During our time in Colombo, we were encouraged to blend an appreciation of theory with an awareness of how urban practices get materialised in the city. This approach helped unpack relationships between different actors; and exposed the differential impacts of vested interests and influences at different scales. We worked with communities from across three sites in Colombo – Muwadora Uyana, Nawagampura and Mayura Place – and each contributed uniquely to our picture of the city.
Site 1: Muwadora Uyana
In the case of Muwadora Uyana, we chose to investigate how the Urban Regeneration Programme had impacted the quality of life enjoyed by those families and individuals who had been moved from settlements across the city into the high-rise housing complex that is Muwadora Uyana. As far as possible, and given the limited research time available, our (action) research and propositions were guided by the ideas and themes that arose from initial discussions with residents themselves. This approach enabled us to identify what quality of life meant to the relocated residents; avoiding the imposition of a normative framing.
Building out from this embedded definition; we pursued a mixed-methods approach comprised of floor by floor spatial analysis; participatory mapping with young people and children; and semi-structured interviews with over 30 residents. In so doing, we were able to unpack why it was that some people who are relocated into high-rises are able to thrive, whilst others struggle to survive.
As well as highlighting the importance of embedded research and face-to-face dialogue with effected communities, this project served to challenge the assumption that all people have the capacity to adapt to living in high-rise conditions. In fact, for many groups and individuals, their agency for adaptation is limited. As such, by introducing agency as a crucial determinant of quality of life, our research problematised the fairness argument often-used to defend a relocation policy based on standardised, one-size-fits-all apartments. Indeed, we argue that this reframing creates space to consider alternative options for both current and future residents alike.
Site 2: Nawagampura
Nawagampura is a thriving neighbourhood originally established as a relocation site under the Million Houses Programme in the 1980s. Over the past 35 years, the settlement has evolved and consolidated, stitching its residents into the fabric of the city. However, despite its centrality, the buzz of daily economic activity, and residents’ access to a range of services and facilities, the neighbourhood is still classified as underserved. In the main, this classification relates to the fact that many residents still lack secure tenure; although a number of structures also lack individual toilets and others suffer from periodic flooding issues.
The diversity in residents’ experiences and opinions of their neighbourhood served as an interesting point of departure for our research. In the context of state-led efforts to transform Colombo into a world-class city, all neighbourhoods classified by the state as underserved have been slated for future relocation. Though not under imminent threat of relocation, Nawagampura presented a rare opportunity to challenge the stereotypical depiction of underserved settlements and communities that underpins much of the state’s thinking around resettlement in Colombo.
Working directly with residents, community-leaders, and members of resident-associations we sought to provide a more nuanced picture of the challenges and opportunities associated with living in settlements such as Nawagampura. By helping reframe underserved settlements as complex and varied communities, this approach allowed for the development of grounded strategies in defence of in-situ upgrading as a just alternative to one-size-fits-all relocation.
Site 3: Mayura Place
Mayura Place (or Lakhmutu Sevana), sits at the edge of an area previously dominated by textile mills and weavers’ colonies. With the wider site long since shuttered and cleared for luxury real estate development, Mayura Place development is often depicted as a success story of the UDA’s Urban Regeneration Programme’s (URP); an exemplary demonstration of how underserved working-class communities can be successfully resettled into purpose-built high-rise towers. However, as our research unfolded, a more complex picture began to emerge.
On the one hand, the experience of Mayura Place residents reinforces the value of keeping communities together during relocation from horizontal settlements to high-rise apartments, as well as relocating communities as close as possible to their original homes. Such an approach, contrasting with larger URP projects that drew residents from across Colombo and constituted new communities through a lottery allocation process, has clearly limited the disruptive impact of relocation on the social fabric of Mayura Place and offers valuable learnings for the UDA.
On the other hand, a number of issues were brought up in discussion with inhabitants, questioning the ‘success story’ of Mayura Place. In particular, many residents are grappling with the shortage of common and private space necessary to realise a dignified existence, whilst the appropriateness of high-rise living for certain household industries was raised by a number of our interlocutors. Importantly too, the extent to which the burden of management and maintenance is born equally between residents and the UDA remains unresolved. Meanwhile, there remain serious issues regarding the fact that not all of the original Mayura Place community received rehousing in this block, due to an inconsistency between the UDA’s apartment for a house replacement policy and the reality of multi-family occupancy in former dwellings. Additionally, for those who have received replacement housing, many still lack official documentation recognising their right to secure tenure status.
Whilst our discussions with the UDA hinted at an apparent openness to debate and institutional learning, it remains to be seen how far this is constrained by the programme’s overarching ambition to liberate commercially valuable land and beautify Colombo. Overall, when considering the exceptionality of Mayura Place within the UDA’s broader urban regeneration programme, it is important to look beyond the façade and embrace this case in all its complexity.
Working across three distinct communities in Colombo provided a unique insight into the overlapping processes of regeneration, resettlement and upgrading at play in Colombo. Whether working in Muwadora Uyana – a labyrinthine high-rise housing complex home to 5,000 residents from across Colombo; Nawagampura – a vibrant working-class neighbourhood that is still classified as underserved despite significant upgrading initiatives; or Mayura Place – a former weavers colony now verticalised and stacked within Colombo’s largest luxury residential enclave – it was clear that the voice of Colombo’s diverse communities was almost entirely missing from formal plan-making in the city.
Delving into this issue further, our time in Colombo focussed on exploring and elaborating the cracks for alternative policy and practice to gain a foothold in the city, proposing grounded strategies for change and laying a foundation for future fieldwork projects to build upon. Example strategies included:
- Community-led Building Management – Increasing Transparency through Community Contracting: Building on Sevanatha’s existing experience with community-contracting models, this strategy was proposed for two reasons. First, to recognise the capacity of relocated residents to take ownership of common areas within high-rise developments; and second, to increase transparency around the way in which UDA-controlled maintenance funds are currently deployed.
- Learning Platforms – Bringing People to Policy: This strategy was designed to help systematise and extend the existing learning practices employed by the UDA through the creation of multi-actor learning platforms. These platforms would institutionalise multi-directional communication between actors from the state (UDA, Colombo Municipal Council etc.), representatives from academic, activist and civil society organisations, and local communities. By bringing together conversations and relationships that currently exist in isolation, this strategy aims to build synergies between actors helping identify and resolve issues within existing housing stock and planning processes and allowing the lived experience of residents to inform forward looking policy and design decisions.
- Changing Planning Language – Challenging the discourse of Underserved Settlements: Building on Sevanatha’s earlier mapping of Colombo’s underserved settlements, this strategy proposed the development of neighbourhood profiles (based on resident survey data, asset and risk mapping, documentation of upgrading etc.). These profiles would then be used to both challenge the idea that all underserved settlements suffer from an identical set of challenges; and strengthen the negotiation position of communities in the context of relocation.
Embedded in the lived experience of three specific communities, the tentative strategies proposed during this project sprung from a common source – the need to reintroduce complexity, diversity and fluidity into a planning context intent on sorting Colombo into the static, binary categories of underserved and regenerated; world class and working class; planners and the planned for. By failing to account for the multiple realities and capacities of Colombo residents, this reductive framing shuts down the space to think differently about urban development in Colombo and encourages the proliferation of top-down, standardised development models. In contrast, a reframed understanding of Colombo’s communities as dynamic, diverse, capable and connected creates room to advocate, adapt and evolve planning processes towards the achievement of more just, people-centred development. This reading of Colombo planning resonates strongly with ongoing work by academics, activists and civil society organisations in the city, some of whom are already actively engaged in efforts to develop and convey this message onwards to decision-makers. In this way, the fieldwork project enabled the DPU to add its voice to a growing call for more socially, spatially and environmentally just development.
Lastly, we would like to express our gratitude for the fantastic support provided by the MSc UDP staff team as well as all of our project partners in Colombo. In particular, special thanks is owed to Chularathna Herath (Executive Director of Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre) and Ruchika Lall (DPU alumna and DPU/ACHR/CAN Young Professional).
By Yasmine Kherfi, on 20 July 2018
The international field trip is an integral component of the MSc Development Administration and Planning (DAP). After months of desk-based research in London, our cohort traveled to Kampala, Uganda, to understand how development initiatives are formulated and implemented in a specific context.
What is “the field”?
Before embarking on our trip, we were challenged to question our assumptions and conceptions of “the field”. While the term in itself is a construction rooted in anthropology, sites of fieldwork largely remain overlooked and taken for granted in the discipline’s methodology and practice (Gupta & Ferguson, 2013). Similarly, the way we come to know “the field” remains under-researched and seldom questioned in literature on international fieldtrips (Patel, 2015). Our group reflections stemmed from a pedagogical need to address the lack of attention given to dominant narratives that underpin fieldwork research. In much of the literature on fieldtrips specifically, “the field” is still evoked through an orientalist lens, as a place designed “to produce exotic encounters” to maximize students’ learning experience (Patel, 2015).
While students and researchers are temporarily interjected in “the field”, frequently treating it as a neutral place, we should not disregard its politics, history and context, in our quest to find answers (Patel, 2015). Given the thematic focus of development programmes, fieldtrips inevitably introduce students to development initiatives that address social inequalities, which often involve working with vulnerable and marginalized communities (Patel, 2015). For practitioners committed to ‘development’ fieldwork, it is important to understand the different power structures and dynamics in the local context, as well those that stem from the history of fieldwork practice. Our module ‘Development in Practice’ served as a space for collective inquiry on our positionality, research ethics, as well as assumptions, stereotypes, and behavior that we wanted to avoid perpetuating. The assigned readings and conversations with peers also prompted me to reflect on the different kinds of institutional partnerships in the field of development.
Team Work Experience
Our class was divided into seven groups, each focused on learning from a specific initiative implemented by an NGO or CBO in Kampala. Our team partnered with Action for Community Development – Uganda (ACODEV-U), a CBO that focuses on community empowerment through a wide range of programmes. We chose to learn from ACODEV’s comprehensive adolescent sexuality education project, ‘Keep It Real’ (KIR), which ran from 2013 to 2015, and addressed the lack of reliable information on sexual and reproductive rights.
Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world. Our group was curious about the different pedagogical approaches available to support Kampala’s youth in accessing information about sexual health. I also wanted to learn more about the ‘projectification’ of public health in the field of development, considering the relationship between foreign aid and the country’s management of health epidemics, such as HIV/AIDS. Overall, ideas about public health, development, and planning, fermented in my head during the trip, and what I learned in Kampala helped inspire my dissertation topic. I benefited from evening lectures delivered by development practitioners and academics, and gained important insights from Peter Kasaija, a researcher at the Urban Action Lab of Makerere University, who supported us throughout the trip.
We conducted interviews with different project stakeholders and beneficiaries, who drew attention to the strengths and weaknesses of KIR’s implementation, with school students and out-of-school youth. Interviewees included a teacher from the Old Kampala Secondary School, current and former ACODEV employees, as well as staff members of SOMERO, a youth community centre located in the neighborhood of Bwaise in Kawempe. Interviewees welcomed us to their respective work spaces, and explained different aspects of their experience with KIR. They addressed the impact of various power dynamics on the transfer of knowledge between different actors involved in the project, the difficulties in maintaining KIR’s sustainability, as well as challenges that arose from intra-organisational structures. Fieldwork did not always go as planned, and we did not get the chance to meet everyone we wanted to interview. This experience taught us how to adjust our plans and expectations, given our time limitations.
After working with my team members intermittently in London, and daily throughout the trip, we became more open and comfortable with each other. We were able to constructively voice disagreement, frustrations, as well as share and reflect on personal and collective moments experienced during the trip. The conversations I had with teammates sometimes related back to how we navigate our privilege as students coming from the United Kingdom, and explored how we made sense of our multi-layered identities in relation to the new geographic context we were in.
The Role of Reflexivity in Development Practice
I was committed to documenting my reflections every day in the fieldwork diary, in an attempt to bear the fruits of radical vulnerability; “to write vulnerably in the service of creating new understandings” that would ultimately benefit me and the people I interact with (Norander, 2017). This personal assignment required us to engage in reflexive practice – a mental exercise that operates on two levels, in which the person writing is the unit of analysis (Cunliffe, 2016). First, the exercise corresponds to the process of examining our assumptions, actions, and feelings that social interactions prompt in us (Cunliffe, 2016). Secondly, the practice requires us to think critically about the broader structures of power and knowledge that inform how we think (Cunliffe, 2016). Most importantly, critical reflexivity is characterized by a relational understanding of the self –the ways in which I not only relate to others, but also how others relate to me (Cunliffe, 2009). It is an exploration of the implications of this two-way process (Cunliffe, 2009).
While often overlooked, reflexivity ought to play an integral part in research, and should be foregrounded in development practice. It helped me gain a deeper understanding of team dynamics throughout my group project, as well as the importance of effectively deconstructing the mystique of “the field”. I learned how to be more proactive in questioning my assumptions, and adjusting my behavior accordingly. While no one is immune to mistakes, reflexive practice allows us to better account for our positionality and strive towards a higher caliber of research quality and integrity.
Cunliffe, A.L., 2016. “On Becoming a Critically Reflexive Practitioner” Redux. Journal of
Management Education, 40(6), pp.740–746.
Cunliffe, A.L., 2009. The Philosopher Leader: On Relationalism, Ethics and Reflexivity—A
Critical Perspective to Teaching Leadership. Management Learning, 40(1), pp.87–101.
Gupta, A. & Ferguson, D., 2013. Discipline and practice: “the field” as site, method and location in anthropology. Etnograficheskoe obozrenie, 6, pp.3–44.
Norander, S. 2017. Embodied moments: revisiting the field and writing vulnerably. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 45(3), pp.346–351.
Patel, K. 2015. Teaching and Learning in the Tropics: An Epistemic Exploration of “the Field” in a Development Studies Field Trip. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 39(4), pp.584–594.
Yasmine Kherfi is a Master’s candidate in Development Administration and Planning, at the Development Planning Unit. She holds a Bachelor of Arts with Distinction from the University of Toronto, and is a recipient of the Bartlett’s Refugee Cities Dissertation Fellowship at UCL. Her current research looks at the adaptation of systems of health governance to protracted displacement.
Cultura Negada: Reflecting on Racialised Urban Violence and Practices of Resistance in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil
By Federica Risi, on 9 July 2018
Prominent academic debates around violence in the city most often seem to be concerned with how structural economic and political drivers codify violence into the urban space. To appropriate Harvey’s terminology, with how urbanisation by dispossession – in other words marginalisation – of urban groups contributes to increasing crime rates and gangs-related violence. It is only in recent decades that ‘institutional’ abuse – perpetrated by police forces under the blind eye of the Hobbesian state – as well as more structural forms of selective and – most often – race-based violence are confronted. And yet as a category of analysis of the urban, violence emerges as a causally less linear and more nuanced construct.
Measurability of course is an issue and deserves being questioned. What indicators are taken into account when defining urban violence? What types of data are considered? Who collects them? How are they read and disseminated? The action research conducted in Salvador, as part of the MSc Social Development Practice overseas field trip, has evidenced how municipal – and national – indexes reflecting increasing rates of homicides as related to organised-crime, robbery and drug trafficking overlook important aspects of the realities of violence lived everyday by vulnerable urban communities. Vulnerability on its end also warrant a discussion on methodology. Drawing from the Participatory Action Research (PAR) tradition in urban planning, vulnerability is here understood as socially (re)produced and as related to asset ownership (Moser, 1996; drawing on Sen, 1981) and the capacity to cope with shocks; whether environmental, economic, political or all of these combined.
In this blog series, I undress some reflections on how Salvador, the blackest city of Brazil, epitomises such a nuanced appreciation of how violence is urbanised, that is, how it becomes spatially codified in the city; and in turn is itself an agent of urbanisation. Graffiti is offered as an entry point for the analysis.
The Bahian capital is a city of contrasts and embodies the clash between the gentrifying force of globalisation as it manifests in the built environment and locally grounded social action reclaiming identity as forgotten history. Identity as ethnicity. Identity as part of the rich African heritage of Brazil and its institutional neglecting. As Kwame Dixon (2016) aptly elucidates in his book Afro-Politics and Civil Society in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, the country abolished legal slavery in 1888, but provided no institutional mechanism to free former slaves from racial discrimination. Almost a hundred years later, when Brazil returned to democracy in the 1980s, burgeoning blocos afros, black social and political movements revendicating Afro-Diasporic consciousness emerged to seek racial justice and equality, to claim their ‘right to the city’ as a right to live and exist in the city.
Despite having one of the oldest and largest black populations of the Americas, Salvador has never elected a black mayor nor has the Bahian State chosen a black governor to date (Dixon, 2016). And, if urban violence seems to follow the racial and spatially confined pattern of poverty in the city, with residents of majority black, poverty-stricken neighbourhoods being more likely to be killed than their better-off, white neighbours (Chaves Viana et al, 2011; Huggings, 2004); institutional memory as well as public opinion as shaped by the media exert more intangible, narrative forms of violence on these vulnerable groups. These narrative forms of dispossessions become activating agents of citizenship and identity revindication from within the city.
I wanted to talk about cultural syncretism, I ended up taking about violence…
It would be amiss to document and account for the richness and multitude of cultural manifestations in Salvador without engaging with how these are shaped by violence in the city, and how, in turn, they impinge on it.
A graffiti tour of Ladeira da Preguiça, literally “Slope of Laziness” helped vividly retrace the institutionalisation of racialised violence in Salvador. In the 17th century, the road, which historically connected the port area (cidade baixa) to the upper city (cidade alta), was used by African slaves to carry goods on their shoulders while being shouted at “to move faster” (Moreira, 2018). With the development of more easily accessible routes in modern Salvador, the Ladeira and its people were abandoned by public power. The area, as a result of its narrow streets and vacant warehouses, slowly lent itself to organised crime and, most recently, to drug-trafficking.
In recent years, the stigma of violence and insecurity –which is almost as damaging as violence itself– eventually provided the perfect justification for the municipality to push forward a privatisation project that was meant to regenerate –and gentrify– the area. Local moradores (“residents”), however, joined forces and, in 2013, collectively mobilised to rehabilitate the Ladeira, reconstructing collapsed mansions and painting decaying façades with colourful graffiti referencing the African Diaspora; exposing Brazil’s institutionalised culture of exclusion as a means to call for the city to remember and for reclaiming their housing rights. A vibrant cultural centre was founded by residents themselves, Centro Cultural “Que Ladeira é Essa?”, to breath a culture of resistance through art. By calling attention to Brazil’s rich African heritage, the centre offers classes of capoeira, afro-samba dance and percussions as well as painting and graffiti workshops. Cultural offerings then become an element of aggregation, an instrument for articulating a powerful counter-narrative to deconstruct stereotypes.
To say that civic action is a reaction to violence would be simplistic and necessarily reductionist. Nevertheless, the tradition of survivalism through art and symbolism has permeated the urbanisation of Salvador as emerging from the oppression and structural exclusion of black populations within the city (for a comprehensive analysis of the evolution of Brazilian popular culture read: Assunção, 2003).
Reflecting on causality
On the one hand, local practices of resistance rooted in the syncretism of Salvador’s condemned neighbourhoods are an unapologetic expression of resistance to the stereotyping narrative of the city. A violent narrative of violence; one that lexically and imaginatively reduces majority black-afro-descendant communities to urban realities of degradation, crime, and carencias (“deprivations”) . A narrative that is reminiscent of colonial oppression and a revivified vehicle of neoliberal domination.
On the other, it is precisely because of this concatenated cycle of oppression-marginalisation that non-white urban communities find themselves more exposed to violence stemming from their surrounding, built as well as non-built, environments.
In this direction, there is room for critical urban theory to expand its scope to explore how violence – and even more so the fear of it – shapes city making. In fact, if market forces and political discourses are key determining factors in the urbanisation of violence, in its physical as well as narrative manifestations, violence too influences how people (re-)claim the city, how they move inside the city, use collective spaces, build or adapt their houses.
Our co-investigation with local urban collectives and social movements in Salvador has revealed how urban violence and fear thereof shape the social production of urban habitats and community practices around culture, housing, use and production of collective space and mobility. Further considerations and findings from our field trip will be collated in a report produced with our partner, the research group Lugar Comum, and published in the coming autumn.
Assunção, M.R. (2003). “From Slave to Popular Culture: The Formation of Afro-Brazilian Art Forms in Nineteenth-Century Bahia and Rio de Janeiro”. Iberoamericana, Vol.3, No.12, pp.159-176.
Dixon, K. (2016). Afro-Politics and Civil Society in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. University Press of Florida.
Huggings, M.K. (2000). “Urban Violence and Police Privatization in Brazil: Blended Invisibility”, Social Justice, Vol.27, No.2, Issue 80, Criminal Justice and Globalization at the New Millennium (Summer 2000), pp. 113-134.
Manco, T., Lost Art, and Neelon, C. (2005). Graffiti Brasil .Thames & Hudson: London.
Moreira, W (2018). Graffiti Tour, Ladeira da Preguiça. 09/05/2018.
Moser, C.O.N. (1996). “The asset vulnerability framework: Reassessing urban poverty reduction strategies”. World Development, Vol.26, No.1, January 1998, pp.1-19.
Moser, C.O.N. (2004). “Urban Violence and Insecurity: an Introductory Roadmap”. Environment and Urbanization, Vol.16, No.2, October 2004.
Resident. (2018). Interview. Graffiti Tour, Ladeira da Preguiça. 09/05/2018.
Sen, A. (1981). Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. Clarendon Press, Oxford.
Federica Risi is the Graduate Teaching Assistant of the MSc Social Development Practice. Herself a DPU graduate from the MSc Environment and Sustainable Development, Federica has experience in participatory action research focused on urban risks. She is also a Research Associate at the Pastoral Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa (PENHA), where she is conducting an investigation on South-South Cooperation between Peru, Brazil and the Horn region.
 Residents reported that identifying as black and “saying you are from the Ladeira, it’s like admitting you are a criminal”, which “[…] stops you to get a job and continue education” (Resident, 09/05/2018).
 Capoeira and Candomblé rituals for example, emerged as practice for African slaves to compensate for the loss of identity (Assunção, 2003, p.160).
 Carnival Blocks.
 In the sense of being publicly perceived as unsafe and rife with violence.
 Where Portuguese ships would arrive to deliver materials and goods, historically, the part of the city dedicated to commercial activities.
 Here, were established the main government offices and churches; also where the aristocracy resided.
 Referring to the end of Portuguese colonial domination and Brazil’s independence in 1822.
 In the October 2004 No.2 Issue Vol.16 of Environment and Urbanization, with the article ‘Urban Violence and Insecurity: an Introductory Roadmap’, Caroline O.N. Moser draws on Galtung to extend the notion of violence as going “beyond situations of overt brutality to include more implicit forms such as exploitation, exclusion, inequality and injustice” (p.6). In this sense “…violence [can be] built into the structure [of society,] …show[ing] up as unequal power and consequently as unequal life chances” (Galtung, 1969 cited in Moser, 2004, p.6).
 Drawings and writings scribbled or painted through a variety of techniques on public walls; “a vehicle for [the excluded] of the city to assert their existence and self-worth, and to do it loudly” (Manco et al., 2005).