chapter  1
16 Pages

Street Work and Dev-talk: Who Controls the Truth?

Imagine one of those largely improvised and fast-changing cities that regularly feature in UN ledgers and annual human development reports with alarming statistics on poverty, child mortality, environmental degradation, rates of urbanization and political instability. Its population is growing at some 6 per cent annually – its supply of housing services and utilities has long ceased to match demand through formal channels, public or private. Because of this rampant urbanization, its centre will be choked with traffic and traffic fumes, with pavement dwellers and illegal construction; its periphery will sprawl uncontrollably with formal and informal settlements, markets and business parks. Productivity will be severely constrained by inadequate infrastructure, overly restrictive regulations, unenforceable policies on land reform, tariffs and taxation, and by institutional corruption. Its poor majority will earn less than $2 a day and some less than $1 a day – most of whom will be unable or unwilling to pay for services. Some 30 per cent of its population will lack safe water; one in five will have no access to health care. And because its people are poor, its local government will also be poor, because collecting taxes or tariffs for services will

cost more than they could hope to collect. Investment in education, shelter, water and sanitation will be limited without aid, despite the added burden that aid will place on national economics. Therefore, at best, only between 20 per cent and 50 per cent of all solid waste will be effectively disposed of and half its housing stock will be in slum or other informal settlements, most of which are on marginal and unsafe land – on dump sites, railways or canal easements, on landfill, unstable hillsides, under bridges, along fire breaks, on roof tops, in cemeteries, behind chemical factories or on flood plains. Gender and other inequalities – age, disability, ethnicity and class – will be accentuated in the competition for credit, houses, land, jobs, education, health care, transportation, safe water and sanitation.