A radical reform of Khartoum’s housing policy is required to improve the living conditions of slum dwellers. For this, we need to examine the socio-economic situation of the urban poor and of those who live in the city’s informal settlements.
The population of Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, jumped from 245,000 in 1956 to more than 7 million in 2012. More than 50 per cent of residents are living in informal settlements and squatter settlements on the outskirts of the city, or in neighbourhoods that lack basic infrastructure. These households live in slum conditions; they have no access to clean water and sanitation, their living spaces are overcrowded, and their accommodations lack durable living structure and security of tenure. Consequently, slum households are extremely vulnerable to climate change, diseases, and crimes. This vulnerability is exacerbated by a local government that, instead of developing solutions, poses the constant threat of forced evictions.
This lack of reasonable response by the government is partly due to a very peculiar perspective on urbanisation among policy makers. They tend to perceive urbanisation as depopulation and degradation of rural areas, as a main cause for poverty, and possibly as a seedbed for political movements that would threaten the dictatorial regime.
Due to the government’s unwillingness to deal with the realities of the urban poor, Khartoum is exposed to rapid “slum urbanisation”, meaning that as long as urbanisation processes continue the slums will keep growing. This has been an ongoing trend: for instance, in 1960 only 0.5 per cent of Khartoum residents had no access to improved water network. By 2010, this had jumped to 45 per cent.
The Lack of Appropriate Policies
The Khartoum local government lacks an inclusive policy to meet the growing demand of adequate housing. Instead, it directs its efforts at attracting financial capital by selling land to investors. But those highly profitable property projects, like the Al-Mogran Development Project, only cater to the demands of wealthy people.
In contrast, public housing projects still fail to meet the demand for adequate housing among the urban poor. Most of the projects are located on the outskirts of the city, some of them up to 20 km away from the city centre. The absence of functioning public transport makes it difficult for residents to reach work places, hospitals, and other institutions located at the city centre.
The Comprehensive National Strategy 1992-2002 considers public land as a commodity that can be used and sold to finance the local governments. This policy legitimises the government to sell land to investors without consulting the local community while allocating dead lands on the outskirts to house the urban poor.
According to the national government, the New Urban Agenda is the guideline for urban development and slum upgrading in Sudan. The Agenda emphasises the promotion of resilient and resource efficient infrastructure, including the rehabilitation and upgrading of slums and informal settlements.
In effect, however, there is no implementation of the agenda. Instead, there is a lack of collaboration and participatory planning approaches among urban stakeholders and policy makers in delivering an inclusive approach to urban development. This could be seen, for example, when the Ministry of Finance refused to fund a sanitation plan developed by The Ministry of Urban Development of Sudan which was part of a larger of slum upgrading project. Consequently, 49 per cent of the Khartoum urban population still has no access to improved sanitation.
Instead of slum upgrading, government officials adhere to forced evictions and demolishing of squatter settlements. This tends to happen without ensuring fair relocation mechanism for the dwellers. While authorities often claim that they initiated consultations about relocation and compensation with residents prior to the evictions, evictees claim that this is not true, for example in the case of the El-Shajara neighbourhood. In 2016, the local authority forcibly evicted local communities settled in the area, surprising the residents with a large number of police and security to evacuate and immediately destroy the houses in the area. This is a common pattern: with most evictions, there is no previous notice sent to slum dwellers, no compensation delivered, and no relocation mechanism enacted.
Local authorities justify their actions as a necessary means of a citywide re-planning process which includes demolishing “illegal buildings.” Yet, the reason behind these evictions often is to sell the informally inhabited areas to investors without including the slum dwellers in the planning process. The onsite realities show that more than anything else these actions cause a lot of harm to slum dwellers. Cases of physical violence, including the use of batons, tear gas, and live ammunition against evictees and those who demonstrate and stand in solidarity with them have been reported frequently.
The local government of Khartoum has tried to develop solutions to the housing issue. For example, it established The Housing and Construction Fund in Khartoum City (HCFKC) aimed at facilitating access to adequate housing for all social classes. But it failed to do so due to several reasons. First, HCFKC relies on profits from luxury housing for funding. Because of the low demand for luxury housing, HCFKC is not getting enough funds to create public housing. Second, access to public housing is based on a rating system that, for example, prioritises applicants who have lived in the city for more than ten years, excluding a significant number of people who were among the many who arrived in the city in recent years. Third, eligibility regulations dictate that applicants have to present prove of formal employment, excluding the majority of poor people who work in the informal sector. Finally, most public housing projects are located outside the city centre, excluding those whose income does not allow them to travel far distances to their workplaces.
An Urgent Call for Policy Reform
Urbanisation is a source of social capital and if it is well managed, there are many opportunities for further urban development growth. If not well managed, this process has negative impacts, as can be seen in Khartoum’s slum urbanisation. This situation dictates, among other means, a radical reform of current policies. Policy makers should therefore adhere to the following recommendations:
- Develop a constitutional right to adequate housing that includes clear measures regarding affordability, culture adequacy, secure land tenure, access to social services and infrastructure, appropriate space, durable building structure and protection against climate change hazards.
- Develop slum upgrading program that make use of existence building structure and local skills
- Make suitable housing allowances for employees in public and private sectors obligatory and develop a social security system for workers of the informal economic sector.
- Support the mass production of local building material, control its cost to ensure affordability, and ensure an environmentally friendly production process.
- Establish housing funds that work for the urban poor and workers of the informal market by ensuring suitable lending processes, down payment rates, interest rates, and mortgage terms. Allocate an amount of the annual budget to public housing. Ensure appropriate taxing systems for capital obtained from selling land, for vacant lands, and for the commercial use of land. Invest these additional financial resources into improvement of infrastructure in slum areas.
- Support political parties, organisations, and local communities that address housing issues. Create a participatory housing committee to include all city stakeholders, including slum dwellers, in urban planning processes. Provide workers, planners, and staff working in local councils and public sectors with courses on efficient housing.
- Develop architectural models for sustainable and low-cost housing. Develop an integrative approach to urban planning.
To really make a change towards the vision of the New Urban Agenda, a new policy has to employ an inclusive approach that responds to the needs of the poor, instead of a neoliberal approach that focuses on attracting foreign capital to implement luxury housing projects serving the interest of high income people.