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 Post subject: 54% of the Colombo’s population lives in huts, slums
 Post Posted: Thu Feb 16, 2006 5:11 am 
Quote:
More than half of Colombo’s population live in huts, slums

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
TML / 16FEB2006


The present Colombo city infrastructure, though used by a mammoth population, was created over 100 years ago for a city population of 35,000. According to recent surveys, 54% of the Colombo city population lives in huts, slums or unauthorised structures. According to statistics, some 1,000 acres of state land and other reserves are being occupied by these people — and that means they are illegally occupied. Out of the estimated 1,000 acres, 71% have been taken over by those living in shanties and huts. Colombo has some 63 slum areas which reflect a massive housing problem.

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Giving lie to the good social indicators that Sri Lanka is justly proud of is the startling fact that more than half of Colombo’s population live in huts, slums or unauthorised structures.

Recent surveys have shown that 54% of the city population occupies dwellings that are either illegal constructions or designated unsuitable for humans. What is worse is that it is a problem that would grow in the coming years as more people would migrate to the city in search of jobs resulting in a further increase of slum dwellers.

While 54% remain a mere statistic to the Housing and Construction Ministry, it is significant to note that this also means having to deal with a population deprived of basic amenities and infrastructure, as well as resources that are necessary.

According to statistics, some 1,000 acres of state land and other reserves are being occupied by these people — and that means they are illegally occupied.

Massive problem

Out of the estimated 1,000 acres, 71% have been taken over by those living in shanties and huts. According to the Ministry data, Colombo has some 63 slum areas which reflect a massive housing problem coupled with a migration trend. Likewise, 12% of the land so held are occupied by those living in unauthorised dwellings.

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Some 6% of the land has been used for resettlement schemes — though they are a little more than the conventional ‘line’ room type houses. Another 4% also have set up their various homes in these 1,000 acres of city land.

According to Ministry officials, these people are adding to the already stretched-to-capacity resources and infrastructure of a city that is bursting at its seams unable to hold its occupants — once again resulting in concentrations of communities and groups in highly limited land areas increasing the number of slums.

The Housing and Construction Ministry, which is also responsible for providing the city with utilities and infrastructure, claims the present infrastructure, though used by a mammoth population, was created over 100 years ago for a city population of 35,000 or so.

Today, facilities are sadly disproportionate to the number of beneficiaries. These people, the entire 54%, fall into the category of low-income groups. This also means that they do not pay many a tax that is payable by ordinary citizens.

The Water Supply and Drainage Board vouches for the fact that slum dwellers and those living in unauthorised structures do not pay the water tax. "This means they place a huge burden on the city’s resources besides being an economic burden. The resources are stretched beyond capacity," says a Ministry official, who calls for adequate town planning that would recognise designated areas for poorer sections of the population to occupy.

Recent settlers

"Otherwise, ad hoc creation of shanties would take place," he warns.

From the people’s point of view, they have reached the city for a purpose. Some 30% of the 54% are not from the city or its environs. They are recent settlers who have come to Colombo looking for jobs or simply unwilling to live in their village homes.

The tsunami has added a new dimension to increasing population and housing problem in Colombo. Coastal dwellers have moved inland.

According to the National Housing and Development Authority (NHDA), with the original decision to maintain a buffer zone of 100 metres from the shoreline, a section of the fisher folk were compelled to move inland.

NHDA confirms that the tsunami has caused serious migration to cities away from the coast. Only research would prove how significant the issue is. As far as Colombo is concerned, it has added approximately 8%.

According to the Fisheries Ministry, out of the properties damaged or destroyed by the tsunami, some 68% are unauthorised structures.

The Ministry insists that as they pay no government taxes for the occupation, the government could easily undertake a relocation drive. This has not happened, and despite the destruction of property, the unauthorised homes and slums have returned.

"Sri Lanka requires a resettlement scheme which would prevent sporadic shanties from coming up," says Social Services Minister, Sumedha Jayasena. But Jayasena and her Ministry do not possess such.

Margin for disasters

Furthermore, such resettlement given the present context should also keep a huge margin for natural disasters, as the island proves more vulnerable to natural calamities than before.

The poor slum dwellers, compelled to live with limited infrastructure and resources, also do not have attractive resettlement packages on offer. But authorities complain that there have been some efforts in Colombo to move shanty dwellers into housing schemes, only to have them return to their original places.

"Some even rent and sell the government given properties. It is not easy to help them. Most like to lead the life they are used to," said Jayasena.

Scientists have already warned that Sri Lanka like several other island nations has actually exceeded the "carrying capacity."

With the island already being densely populated, more migration to ‘safer’ areas would mean further stretching of resources. Its devastating impact would be felt by urban areas like Colombo and help breed the prevailing slum culture.


Quote:
Slums came into existence with the expansion of export trade associated with the rubber boom after World War II, especially during the Korean War in 1953. The character of Colombo changed in keeping with the new economic demands for warehousing, workers’ housing and road networks. Colombo became more congested and the city elite moved out into more spacious residential areas in the suburbs. The central part of Colombo became characterized by predominantly low-income residential areas, mainly slums, and the northern and eastern parts contained most of the shanties. Slums and shanties are the most common types, with slums on the high lands of the old city that consist of the oldest low-income housing – mostly from the 1930s and with a definite legal occupancy status. Shanties along canal banks and road reserves have emerged since independence in 1948 onwards, and consist of unauthorized and improvised shelter without legal rights of occupancy of the land and structures.

Although there are no formal definitions as such, fourcategories are recognized:

Slums: these are old deteriorating tenements or subdivided derelict houses. The slum tenements, built mostly of permanent materials, are very often single roomed and compactly arranged in back-to-back rows. The occupants have a definite legal status of occupancy.

Shanties: these consist of improvised and unauthorized shelter, constructed by the urban squatters on state or privately owned land, without any legal rights of occupancy. The areas are badly serviced and very often unsanitary.

Unserviced semi-urban neighbourhoods: these are badly serviced residential areas in the suburban areas of Colombo and secondary towns. One difference from the squatter areas is that residents of these settlements have definite legal titles, and the sizes of the plots are relatively larger than the shanties.

Labour lines: these are derelict housing areas that belong to the local authority or government agencies, and that are occupied by temporary or casual labourers. These settlements are in an unsanitary and derelict condition due to lack of maintenance over a long period of time.


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