On June 24-25, the Comparative Urban Studies Project, along with the National Institute for Urban Affairs, brought together experts for a two-day forum to discuss basic service delivery and infrastructure for the urban poor in Asia. The meeting was held at the India Habitat Center in New Delhi, India. The forum focused on how the urban poor in cities and towns can have access to safe, reliable, and affordable infrastructure and urban services. Participants discussed how the urban poor can benefit from small scale and large infrastructure projects, with particular emphasis on the accessibility and affordability of such services. Panelists presented experience-based studies as well as examples of community organized and civil society managed initiatives to improve access, quality, and affordability of services to the urban poor such as transportation, solid waste management, and water.
Walter North, Director of USAID/India Mission and Ms. Km. Selja, Honorable Minister for Urban Employment and Poverty Alleviation, Government of India participated in the opening ceremonies. They both conveyed the importance of including urban areas in development programming as well as developing innovative ways to make services available to the urban poor.
The first panel, The Urban Poor and Their Access to Infrastructure and Basic Services, provided an overview and background of the urban poor in Asia. Aprodicio Laquian, Professor at the University of British Colombia, began the panel with a brief overview of the varying definitions of poverty and factors associated with urban poverty. Dr. Laquian noted that poverty is not absolute, but relevant to location and country as poverty thresholds vary. He briefly presented the key issues to be discussed throughout the forum including housing, transport, water, solid waste management, and governance. He defined four factors which contribute to access of infrastructure and urban services for the poor: location of urban poor settlements, the legality of tenure of the urban poor over land and shelter, the resources available to the urban poor that are necessary to survive in an urban setting, and planning and governance mechanisms.
Jamal Ansari, Acting Director of SPA, offered an in depth presentation on planning for housing in Indian cities. Dr. Ansari noted that as many as 32.6% of the Indian population are poor. Poverty rates, coupled with an increase in housing shortage in urban areas, has resulted in a proliferation of unserviceable, temporary, and inadequate housing structures for the urban poor. Although home ownership in India has increased, there is an excess of households over houses and many of the existing homes provide inadequate shelter. He noted that most public sector housing programs do not target the poor, and the poor actually benefit the least from these programs. Since the poor mostly access housing through the illegal and informal private sector, it is the middle income groups which benefit most from such schemes. Dr. Ansari concluded that the only options for the future are to improve and increase access to serviced land, land sharing, incremental development and urban basic services. He also noted the importance of public-private partnerships in this process.
Usha Raghupathi, National Institute of Urban Affairs, emphasized the need to rethink approaches and programming in her presentation on access and improving basic services for the urban poor. She called for more flexibility when working with the urban poor, and noted that although many government schemes have a wide reach, the inability of the programs to adapt to local needs makes them ineffective and inefficient. Basil Van Horen, University of Queensland, discussed community upgrading and institutional capacity building projects. Community upgrading is one of the few strategies which can reach the poorest of the poor. However, these projects have many weaknesses and pitfalls, which must be overcome. Outdated conceptual frameworks, project design, and ineffective management are just a few. Dr. Van Horen outlined five categories of assets that need to be put in place during upgrading: natural assets, physical assets, human capital, relational assets and a viable local economic base. These are all essential to ensure the longer-term continuity of upgrading. An additional factor to be considered is the extent to which upgrading makes a positive impact on reforming governance institutions. In particular, this includes policy reform and changes to the regulatory frameworks that set the legal parameters for upgrading and capacity building. Creating a framework, which elaborates practical measures in respective categories is essential for the effectiveness of such projects.
Madhav Badami, Professor at McGill University, was the first presenter of the second panel, Improving Access and Affordability of Urban Transport. Dr. Badami spoke about bridging the gap between transport policy and transport needs in Indian cities. He discussed the recent increased growth in motor vehicle activity and the disproportionate adverse impacts on the low-income groups. In addition to bearing the burden of environmental pollution and increased accidents, the lowest-income groups also typically spend the highest percent share of income on transport. The challenge is to provide low-cost, affordable public transport using existing infrastructure. Murtaza Haider, Professor at McGill University, described the transport situation of Pakistan, focusing on the recent privatization of certain transport routes in Islamabad. Dr. Haider used a case study to focus on the mobility concerns of the lower and middle-income groups in the Greater Islamabad Rawalpindi Area (GIRA). His presentation documents the opportunities and constraints resulting from privatization of public transit and bus franchising. Dr. Haieder noted the many obstacles to implementing a strategic and comprehensive transport strategy that include transport for the disadvantaged and affordable fares for the poor and lower-income groups, who already may spend up to 46% of their income on transport alone. It is critical that the impact of fare hikes, resulting from privatization, on households be evaluated and subsidized for low-income households to ensure equity.
Zhong-Ren Peng, University of Milwaukee, gave a comprehensive presentation of urban transport strategies in Chinese cities. Traffic problems are the guiding principle of urban transportation policies in developing countries and in particular, China. Many large cities like Beijing and Shanghai have created urban transportation strategies that focus mainly on combating traffic congestion and modernizing the transportation infrastructure. Dr. Peng notes that these supply-oriented transportation development strategies overlook the basic transportation modes such as busing, biking, and walking generally used by the poor. The impact of the supply-oriented urban transportation strategies in China has greatly affected the urban poor, as bicycles and other forms of non-motorized transport are now dangerous and risky due to new planning policies. It is essential that government and planners consider the needs of the poor and non-motorized transport in future planning. James Jixian Wang, Professor at the University of Hong Kong, examined transport in Hong Kong. The situation of the urban poor is quite unique in comparison with most other Asian cities for a variety of reasons. First, poor people in Hong Kong are mainly the unemployed, those on welfare, and the elderly, a situation that is more common in affluent societies. Second, the great majority of Hong Kong's working populations commute by public transport rather than by private car because car ownership and car use are extremely expensive. Travel needs of the urban poor can be met through both increased investment in physical infrastructure for transport, adjustment of the overall pricing principle, and/or improvements to broader accessibility.
The second day of the forum continued with a discussion on water, sanitation, and solid waste management. Virginia Maclaren, University of Toronto, began the third panel, Providing Water, Sanitation, and Solid Waste, with an overview of solid waste management in Asian cities. Dr. Maclaren considered two important aspects of waste management and the poor. First, the poor as recipients of waste management services and the second, the poor as active participants in the informal waste economy. In the latter role, the poor derive income from waste, but also experience significant health risks as waste workers. She described the characteristics of waste in urban areas and how this influences choices about waste management collection and recovery programs. She examined the inequalities in the provision of waste collection services and discussed several community-based initiatives that have been introduced in Asian cities. Dr. Maclaren notes that inequitable provision of waste collection services is an environmental justice issue under which the urban poor suffer.
Nazrul Islam and Salma Shafi, Centre for Urban Studies, Bangladesh, outlined waste management in Dhaka. Dhaka, with a population of nearly 7.5 million people, produces about 4,000 metric tons of solid waste everyday. Due to inefficient management, nearly 50 percent of its waste remains uncollected. Approximately 45% of the city's population is poor. Waste management systems have a number of implications for the poor. In particular, the poor, as recipients of waste disposal service, enjoy only a marginal status. However, the poor play very significant roles in the collection, transportation, disposal, recycling, reusing and composting activities. No fewer than 100,000 people are directly associated with the process, most of them as informal operators. However, the socio-economic conditions of the poor in waste remain precariously low. Managing its solid waste has been one of the more critical problems faced by the city. Solid waste management in the city is very ill organized and inefficient. However, the poor of the city are closely involved at all stages of the solid waste management process in large numbers. On the other hand, the poor as citizens receive only marginal service from city or municipal authorities. It is essential that the poor become recipients if a successful waste management strategy is to be implemented.
Teti Argo, Institute of Technology, Bandung, Indonesia, and Aprodicio Laquian, University of British Columbia, continued the panel with a joint presentation on the privatization of water and sewerage in Jakarta and Manila. Both presenters debated the pros and cons of the privatization schemes and outlined how these projects affected poor communities. Both schemes did not extend services to urban poor communities in hazardous areas and, in fact, contributed to the elimination of informal arrangements that used to provide water and sanitation facilities to residents of such areas. The emphasis on managerial efficiency tended to adversely affect the lives of the urban poor as well, because the concessionaires found it inefficient to extend water services to urban poor areas. The reliance on local leaders and contractors to manage community-based efforts to distribute water in congested slum and squatter communities was a good innovation but it also added an additional burden on the urban poor because these local leaders tended to over-charge residents to get their share of the profits. Managerial efficiency, therefore, contributed to the inequitable distribution of benefits arising from water and sewerage projects. Since it was more difficult and inefficient to extend water and sanitation to communities of the urban poor, the private concessionaires expanded their services to high income and middle-income communities, leaving the poor with limited, expensive, or no immediate source of water.
The fourth panel, Planning and Management of Urban Infrastructure and Services, analyzed planning strategies to incorporate the urban poor. Ellen Brennan-Galvin, Professor at Yale University, discussed the change in orientation over the past decades from authoritarian, top-down urban governance styles to community organizing and participation among the urban poor, which has been aided by NGOs and other civil society groups. The experiences of how poor urban households move from a passive to an active stance is still not sufficiently understood nor is the experience of municipal governments in dealing with poor communities. She called for a demand driven approach and strategic frameworks to include the poor, not exclude. Dr. Brennan-Galvin also cited the many examples and case studies of bottom-up approaches, but there are few documented cases of top-down approaches which demonstrate how government interacts with community groups. These are essential for understanding how to incorporate poor, underserved communities in the governance and planning process.
KC Siveramakrishnan, Centre for Policy Studies at the Institute for Social Sciences, offered an informative presentation on municipal and metropolitan governance in India. In spite of constitutional amendments which give rural and urban local bodies the right to function as institutions of self-governance, city corporations and municipalities continue to operate largely within a regulatory and restrictive frame work. Poverty alleviation schemes in India also tend to be outside of the municipal sphere of influence, and the agencies in charge tend to be parasitic or departments of the government which are large, hierarchical and not sufficiently accountable to the public. Yet, given the fact that India's basic structure of governance relies on democratically elected entities, it is expected that municipal bodies as instruments of local self government would serve as the organizing principle of urban governance. It is also conceded that the municipal pattern of governance is not oriented or receptive to the public. Mr. Siveramakrishnan hopes that democracy will make it so gradually, because if it does not the poor and the non-poor alike will suffer the consequences.
Participants emphasized the need for a larger role of the private sector. The complete fragmentation of responsibility with regard to the poor is crucial to understanding and improving basic services. What level of government and who is responsible for poverty and the poor? It is important to consider questions such as why do slums persist? Do inadequate housing and service reflect a failure in physical planning or governance? Urban poverty is a complex issue requiring continual examination and research. Far greater understanding is needed on what poverty is and how the forces of urbanization, globalization, and politics impact it.