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Outside Aid Focuses on Africa's Growing Slums


A slum in Port Harcourt, Nigeria is one of many across the continent

A slum in Port Harcourt, Nigeria is one of many across the continent

Activists are increasingly looking to help the growing number of slum residents in Africa through local organizations and economic programs. This reverses previous activism in Africa focused on improving human rights and rural areas.

A resident of the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, introduces himself in an activist video on the Internet.

"My name is Joseph Djemba. I was born in a family of 11, so after the death of my father because we were many, everybody had to go and look for his own life, so that is how I came to Kibera," he said.

The short video was released last year in conjunction with a book called "Megaslumming."

The book's author Adam Parsons explains that with the current worldwide economic downturn, difficult living conditions in slums are getting more difficult.

"In the boom times most people in the developing world did not benefit from increases in global wealth and in the bust times of today it is the poor who suffer disproportionately by losing both income earning opportunities as well as government support," Parsons said.

Parsons is also the editor of the British-based "Share the World's Resources" website.

He recently wrote an article called the "Seven Myths of Slums", which argues against notions that slums are places of crime, violence and hopelessness.

The U.S.-based aid group CHF International is currently using funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help slum residents in Ghana.

Country director Sandrine Capelle-Manuel explains the acronym of a current project called Scale-Up.

"Scale-Up is standing for Slum Communities Achieving Livable Environments with Urban Partners," said Capelle-Manuel.

She explains aid workers act as catalysts to organize forums, help encourage dialogue with local authorities, and spur decisions to improve infrastructure.

She says even though it may increase their rent, residents in the Avenor slum of Accra are being encouraged to have their landlords build new sanitation.

"Out of these 400 houses, you have only one house with a toilet and for these 9,000 residents you have one public latrine that was built in 1958, just to give you an idea of the situation," she said.

Vocational training is also being offered for very targeted jobs such as mobile phone repair.

In recent years, Capelle-Manuel says aid activists for the world's poorest generally focused on having them fight for their rights, rather than helping them change their conditions themselves.

"What we can consider an old-fashioned way of advocacy saying that this is your right, that can be really a kind of frustration machine because it will not change the life of the slum residents to better know their rights," said Capelle-Manuel.

Another change, she says, is moving aid focus from rural areas to big city slums.
"So many years, decades that donors, invested in rural development thinking that they will manage to stop or to regulate the urban flow, but it did not work. The economic opportunities are not in rural [areas], they are in the cities," she added.

United Nations agencies estimate more than 800 million people live in urban slums worldwide, with nearly two-thirds of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

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