Urban poor transform slums in 100+ cities in 15 Asian nations

News, 14 September 2011

The lives of hundreds of thousands of people in Asian cities have been transformed thanks to an innovative project that enables the urban poor to improve their living conditions in partnership with city governments.

The successes will be revealed tomorrow (17 September) in the latest report of the Asian Coalition for Community Action (ACCA) programme, which the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights is implementing in 150 cities in 15 Asian countries.

Across Asia, ACCA's investment of US$2.3 million has unlocked US$35.6 million worth of government land for poor people's housing.

ACCA has allowed people to take charge of their own development and make changes as quickly as possible and on a city-wide scale. This contrasts with the islands of development that governments and donors tend to create, and which rarely engage poor people as active participants.

Under the ACCA programme, the first step is a city-wide, community-led survey of what is needed. This identifies the priorities for small upgrading projects, which do things like improve drains and toilets, water and electricity supplies, or build roads, community centres, bridges and playgrounds.

Such projects have a maximum budget of US$3,000, which forces people to economise and think hard about how to spend the money. After two years of the three-year ACCA programme, 549 of these projects have been approved and 253 completed. In total, 185,000 households will benefit.

ACCA also supports bigger housing projects, of up to US$40,000, that enable poor communities to secure land and build or upgrade houses. So far 66 of these projects have been implemented and 7,654 households have benefitted.

"Many development projects fail because they are driven by outsiders and implemented in isolation as pilot projects that are never scaled up," says Somsook Boonyabancha, the ACHR's secretary general.

"ACCA is different. It supports city-wide activities and national processes and is driven by the demands of the poor communities, who lead and partly fund action to improve housing and infrastructure, and supply water, sanitation and electricity."

In many of the ACCA countries, the work by communities to upgrade their cities has translated into changes in policy.

Across Asia, ACCA's successes are built on the strengths of existing community-level savings groups and their long experience of managing money and making communal decisions. When communities own the process of change this makes change on a big-scale possible and cost-effective. The scale of change achieved in just two years far outweighs the investment.

"The world is changing," says Boonyabancha. "The ACCA experience shows that it is important to let people be the solution. It has shown how to reconfigure relationships between governments and the urban poor, and if the urban poor can do it, every can."

ACCA is funded by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. IIED also supports ACCA by providing input into its design and learning processes, and ensuring that the project’s findings are shared with academics, training institutions and multilateral development agencies in Asia and beyond.

The report will be officially launched on 17 September at the ACCA Regional Committee Meeting in Penang, Malaysia.

Download the report from the ACHR website or request a PDF by emailing: mike.shanahan@iied.org

Read a related blog post -- No easy, quick solutions to improving life in the "slums" -- by Diana Mitlin


For interviews, please contact:

Somsook Boonyabancha at the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights achr@loxinfo.co.th – see http://www.achr.net

Diana Mitlin at IIED’s Human Settlements Group diana.mitlin@iied.org +44 (0)20 3463 7399

Notes to editors

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) is an independent, non-profit research institute. Set up in 1971 and based in London, IIED provides expertise and leadership in researching and achieving sustainable development (see: www.iied.org).

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