Monday, May 19, 2008


After spending some time in slums in India and Bangladesh, this one definitely was hard to swallow. Its reality is harsh. A strange site greeted us upon entering. The City was upgrading one of the main entry points into Kibera. Good, I thought. However, as we actually entered the slum, the challenges of upgrading became clearly obvious. A large bulldozer was sitting on the side overlooking a number of already demolished structures. In order the make the road work it has to widened. And in order to be widened in a place as dense as Kibera, structures have to be demolished. And since it is a main thoroughfare, just about every one of these structures is income producing. I asked my friend about compensation, or something. He said, “Tough luck.” As we continued down the path, all the structures along the road had a big red X on it. Either you take down your structure or we’ll do it for you.

But, a road is good, right? Maybe. Goods seem to make it through there pretty well, although the occasional vehicle does have a time fighting mud, people, and animals. But, maybe it could enhance economic activities, further increasing people’s earning capacity. But, a little later I thought about. Since they have all the road torn up, why aren’t they adding any infrastructure such as water and waste lines? My friend said that they can just focus on one thing at a time. And there is Kibera, continually talked about improving, with small scale changes happening, big projects and dreams never taking off, while the scale and reality of the settlement overwhelms everything around it. Yet, people exist. They live. They strive. They survive. They smile. They work. They dream. They watch futbol. They get by.

Recycled commerce

The tracks around which Kibera was built

Local grocer

Much of the people living in Kibera are tenants. When you look at an aerial view, you see a lot of long roofs. Usually under one of these roofs is four or five rooms, which families rent out individually. The crazy thing is that there are many wealthy people and connected people that own these structures, and make a lot of money off the people living there. It is not just housing, but in the services as well. A report on Kibera published by COHRE said that informal residents pay between three and thirty times more for water than the rest of the city!

One of the community members working on the public space project showed me his house. It was a 10 x 10 foot space with two couches, a table, and a curtain shielding the bedroom. He had just recently had a baby, so his mother and sister were there with him. Five of them in such a small space. He pays about $25 a month in rent, but said he had a good landlord.

Low rise, high density

The thing that is somewhat different from other slums is that Kibera is basically all one story structures. Most of the homes are mud wattle and daub with small poles to support the corrugated roof structure. Since most of the people are renters and the homes are not built with enough structure to support vertical expansion, there is little opportunity for growth and additions of any homes there.

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