Tag Archives: Informal Settlements

A plan of action, talk of action, chain reaction, yet?

Alex Ndibwami from Uganda Martyrs University write on the recent African Union of Architects Congress in Kampala, Uganda, and its relevance to the work and goals of SAMSET.

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the African Union of Architects Congress in Kampala.  This was the first time Uganda was hosting the event whose theme was Our Architect, Our Communities, Our Heritage. 

While there were a number of presentations and discussions, I will focus on three of particular interest specifically because they are at the heart of the issues SAMSET has set out to deal with.

Ms Jennifer Musisi, the Executive Director of Kampala Capital City Authority, delivered a keynote presentation on urbanisation in general and what direction is being taken to improve the conditions in her city; while Mr Medie Muhammad Lutwama, Executive Director, ACTogether Uganda, presented the approach to their work in informal settlements, challenging the built environment professional rethink their attitude towards urbanisation and the challenges it comes with; and from a gripping and  inspiring philosophical point of view Ms Lillian Namuganyi of Makerere University, College of Engineering Design, Art and Technology discussed socio-spatial landscapes in a historical and ideological sense, and what form it could take to renew a contextually rich socio-cultural dynamic in a contemporary sense.  Ms Lillian Namuganyi is also a practising architect and a researcher.  What these three presentations had in common was that they are concerned about the future of the city dweller.

What I will dwell on though are the subtle hints for a collaboration that these three players in the built environment are signalling.  While Ms Jennifer Musisi may have concluded inviting professionals to get on board and Mr Medie Muhammad Lutwama reechoed the need for professionals to be less elitist, Ms Lillian Namuganyi simply set the arena for a renewed attitude toward the socio-spatial landscape.

But what does it all mean in practical terms?  We all know that governments focus on infrastructure the best way it fits their political agenda while Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) actually tend to be more hands-on attempting to solve the real problems at the grassroots, yet unless efforts are combined any discourse will remain academic and the existence of the built environment professional float for elitist.

Is there room for a real collaboration that deals with the issues collectively and could deliver lasting solutions?  Who is well placed to lead this and sustain the momentum – a city manager, an NGO activist, an academic/researcher or a built environment professional?  It is difficult to tell in a society where accountability born of collective effort is not part of the work ethic.

Might Ms Lillian Namuganyi suggest a starting point for us in her assertion that “Whether operating within or at its margins, the re-working of the strategic city is a logic and order of fragments, scraps that are pieced together moment by moment.  It is a city of micro-logics of the people’s social and especially economic survival – many small thoughts and actions of many people, woven into the detailed space of the city, unpredictable, never static, ever mutating.” So I dare ask again without deliberate collaboration that acknowledges the complexity of the city and the contribution from different players is the plan of action simply talk of it?  Or is there potential for real change – a chain reaction of possibilities borne of new partnerships that combine astute managerial skills, compassionate activists, avant-garde professionals and more outgoing academics.

The SAMSET project is an action oriented research project setting out to close the capacity gap at municipality level while in a participatory manner developing strategies that will support energy transitions.  Indeed, capacity and engagement are a precursor to action, but without the acknowledgement of and investment in structures that promote inter disciplinary work ethos, is it sustainable?

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Informal settlements: to electrify or not?

Xavier Lemaire recently wrote a guest blog for UrbanAfrica.net representing the SAMSET projcet research. The blog is reproduced here in its entirety.

Informal settlements constitute a major part of African cities: more than two thirds of the urban population of sub-Saharan Africa lives in slums. In spite of evidence to the contrary, such settlements are typically considered temporary aberrations by governments and are not recognised as permanent features of the urban landscape. As a result the needs of their inhabitants tend to be ignored by urban policy-makers.

This is notably the case when it comes to the electrification of informal settlements, which are seldom included in electrification efforts. The attitude of electricity utilities and municipal electricity distributors to the inevitable flourishing of “illegal” connections in these areas is at best to ignore them, or, when the situation deteriorates too much, to engage in repressive measures, such as disconnections, harassment, fines and/or imprisonment for what is considered as electricity theft.

Some authorities still take refuge behind electricity industry norms and spatial planning schemes that are rooted in the colonial era and designed to favour the wealthy, effectively denying the poorest rights to such services.

Municipalities and utilities do not want to legitimise informal settlements by electrifying these ‘illegal’ structures. They also do not want to risk increasing a low-income customer base who are expected to be unreliable payers. Furthermore, they do not want to electrify areas where there are higher technical risks and safety concerns for which they could be held responsible.

The situation leaves few alternatives for informal settlement inhabitants: to move (where?), to remain without modern energy, or to establish electricity connections themselves. In the human endeavour to improve their living conditions, it is not surprising that the latter option prevails. Even if most inhabitants can afford to pay for their connection and have demonstrated a willingness to pay, the authorities do not electrify such areas as a rule, and thus residents are pushed into illegality in their attempts to improve their welfare.

The proliferation of illegal connections comes with numerous problems, such as greater safety and fire hazard risks linked to sub-standard connections, overload of networks, loss of revenue for utilities (so called ‘non-technical’ losses), and economic exploitation of the poorest by informal resellers of electricity, who may charge more than double the official electricity price. By denying access to electricity in informal settlements, utilities create situations where both the welfare of citizens and the effective functioning of the utility are compromised.

The attitude of municipalities and utilities to informal settlement electrification has been demonstrated to be unnecessary and far too conservative in places where informal electrification has been pursued. Where countries have adopted a more flexible, appropriate approach to this dilemma there have been significant benefits for both residents and utilities.

The case of Cape Town

After the end of apartheid, South African municipal electricity distributors and the national utility Eskom developed innovative approaches to low-income household electrification, which they extended to informal settlements over time. Cape Town municipality has been one of the pioneers in this field.

Key aspects of the approach used by the Cape Town municipal distributor are as follows:

First, it demarcates areas where electrification is materially possible from those where it is not feasible, by adopting broad criteria which include a maximum of inhabitants. While the dense configuration of many settlements can indeed restrict access by electrification vehicles and equipment, with aerial electrification most parts of a settlement can be reached. However settlements on privately-owned land are not electrified, as the law prevents municipalities from installing assets on such land. Floodplains are still categorised as unsuitable for electrification, although some experts consider that these areas can be electrified as long the network is kept out of reach of water and disconnection points enable operators to isolate specific areas when flooding occurs.

Secondly, appropriate electrification technologies are used which enable all households to be reached, such as the ‘maypole’ approach (as the name suggests, houses are connected from a central pole in a radial ‘maypole’ fashion), and external pole-mounted meters are used which communicate with in-house displays, making it easy for officials to disconnect, check for faults and identify tampering. These innovative technologies and approaches have been important enablers to informal area electrification, as they have proven themselves to be safe and cost-effective.

Thirdly, tariffs have been adapted for this context, with small connection fees which are not collected up-front but paid over an extended time, and pre-paid-meters both protecting the utility revenue as well as enabling low-income households to purchase small amounts to suit their pocket, as the poor often have a variable income.

Fourth, local communities are engaged with extensively during the electrification planning and implementation process. This engagement goes beyond a superficial survey and implies time and effort from the utility to identify concerns and interact on a regular basis with the community-chosen representatives, as well as directly with the inhabitants to be electrified.

This integrated approach to informal settlement electrification has spread access to electricity to almost all households in Cape Town, with associated welfare benefits for its citizens. Using technologies, standards and approaches imported from the developed world, as was done initially in South Africa, would have constrained such access significantly.

One of the surveys conducted within the Supporting African Municipalities with Sustainable Energy Transition (SAMSET) project, as part of research running into 2017, compares the approach taken in the six municipal partners of the project to see how best practices could be replicated in other African municipalities.

Xavier Lemaire is Senior Research Associate at the University College London – Energy Institute. He is co-leader of the SAMSET (Supporting African Municipalities in Sustainable Energy Transitions) project. A sociologist and socio-economist, his research interests focus on clean energy policies, energy transition and energy access in the Global South. Contact: x.lemaire@ucl.ac.uk

References

Informal Electrification in South Africa: Experiences, Opportunities and Challenges, 2012. Sustainable Energy Africa, Cape Town. Available at: http://www.cityenergy.org.za/uploads/resource_116.pdf

Policy guidelines for the Electrification of Un-proclaimed Areas, DoE South Africa. Available at: http://www.energy.gov.za/files/policies/electrification/unproclaimed%20areas%20policy%202011.12.pdf

Nuances of Collecting Data – A Uganda Experience?

Josephine Namukisa from UMU writes on the challenges and discoveries made during fieldwork for the SAMSET project.

At the heart of the process of generating a State of Energy Report is field surveys to garner an energy picture. Surveys may range from questionnaires and one-on-one interviews. The latter have been quite beneficial to the SAMSET research team in Uganda as a means of carrying out preliminary data collection. The experiences of carrying out interviews in Jinja and Kasese municipality were enriching in many cases sometimes far more than the data collected eventually and are therefore worth reminiscing about. We encountered lessons on formality versus informality and at times had to slow down and demystify energy concepts. Following are two encounters.

Formality Vs Informality
Clad in jeans, canvas shoes and rack sacks, we arrived at Jinja Municipality Offices ready for a day in the field, which because of our seven months experience so far, we approached with open-mindedness. We would be as flexible as need be and handle every interview as it came although with one constant; to walk away with the most credibly-possible data in keeping with the project ethos. In our estimation, the task would be even easier because an official from Jinja Municipality would be accompanying us into the field. Could we get more credible than that? In our minds, we saw our usually long verbal introductions highlighting organizations that our respondents hardly know about shortened and their responses lengthened simply because of the trust created from dealing with their own. We were in for a rude awakening.

At the municipality head quarters, we were ushered into a large office with leather sofas and a large mahogany desk behind which our soon-to-be “field assistant” was seated, his secretary was rapidly typing out a letter of introduction nearby. We sat quietly for an hour waiting for the official business to be completed before heading out into the field. Our first stop was the UMEME office and the moment our suit-clad field assistant handed over our introduction letter to the Manager and uttered a short “We are from the Town Clerk’s Office”, it was like a brass gate fell between us and the Manager because she visibly acquired an intensely formal stance, ushered us into her office and for the next fifteen minutes explained to us the procedure of carrying out research at UMEME field offices, inclusive formal letters to the Head Office, authorizations and other requirements that in her estimation would take no less than a month. Case closed. Yes our introduction was short, her answer long but both of them absolutely futile.

In Kasese a week later, we were the wiser. Again armed with field clothes, lengthy introductions and the attitude of researchers and not government officials, we made what we referred to as a “courtesy call” on the UMEME office. Again we were offered seats but not so that we could be briefed on protocol but rather on the goings on at the office. The Officer in charge then called his Area Manager informing him of our visit and even though the manager was skeptical at first, that being his first month in the position, on meeting us he relaxed and plunged into a lengthy and fruitful discourse about his work. When we told him about an earlier visit to HIMA cement and Mobuku Power Dam, all things he cares about as part of his work, he opened up about electricity service delivery in Kasese Municipality, the main consumers and strategies for distribution and future projects such as OBA – a project to connect homes for free. Yes, clearance from the Head Quarters in order to access more detailed information was talked about but we walked away information-richer than was the case in Jinja

Unpacking the Bill
One old lone figure on the verandah of an aging post-colonial house is watching the road, her maize cobs spread out in the sun to dry in the large compound of her daughter’s estate- the daughter who lives in Kampala but pays the bill monthly; utility and Dstv bills, the latter without fail so that her twin daughters, the old woman’s grand children can be entertained hourly, daily, weekly and monthly.

Our arrival is greeted with wariness; the team of two who could be anything from walkers who have lost their way, door-to-door evangelists or bill collectors but certainly not researchers into that which eludes her on a monthly basis; the green and white UMEME bill she cannot read because it has no Luganda or Lusoga translation. However, once we introduce ourselves as SAMSET researchers, enquirers into Long Range Energy Alternatives; planners with a vested interest in her energy future, the bill becomes a prop that sets us on common ground. The twosome is the old woman’s dream come true; a magnifying glass to help her make sense of what is eating up the largest chunk of the allowance her daughter sends monthly. She, on the other hand is the bane of the research’s existence; a single micro entry with no records to enter into a statistical sheet. But we take the chairs she excitedly offers, retrieve our pens, magnifying glasses and Luganda vocabulary because for the next hour we shall translate Kilowatt hours, amps and appliance types.

“Aaaah!” it finally dawns on her after no less than an hour; the revelation that the electricity bill has been accurate all along. “But what can I do to keep it down?” The old woman enquires, not sure which would be wiser; switching off the fridge and forfeiting ice-cold water or denying her adorable granddaughters two hours of Cartoon Network a day. That, we leave to her discretion and armed with a table of calculations and statistics; the copy we quickly made after she requested an original she couldn’t read, we head off into the sunset in search of more homes to survey.

Cape Town Electricity Department Meeting – 11th November 2014

Xavier Lemaire and Daniel Kerr from UCL, and Yachika Reddy from SEA, recently met with Maurisha Hammer and Zwelethu Zulu, representatives from the Cape Town Municipal Electricity Department’s Electrification Division, to discuss the city’s approach to the electrification of informal settlements, and the challenges facing informal settlement electrification across South Africa.

The Cape Town approach to informal settlement electrification is pioneering compared to the approaches of other countries and metropolitan areas. Informal settlement electrification is under a separate project management procedure to that of formal settlement electrification in the municipality. Formal settlements are project managed by developers, housing associations and “Section 21” companies, which are non-profit housing project developers. Informal settlement electrification is directly project-managed by the Electrification Department, and projects are selected in-situ, i.e. any existing informal settlement has the potential to be electrified under the Council approved Residential Electricity Reticulation policy that requires that  it is a stable settlement (i.e. not transient) and has not been identified for upgrading or relocation . To be considered for electrification, an informal settlement may not be situated

  • in a road or rail reserve or in a servitude, unless otherwise permitted by land owner;
  • in an area below the 1:50 year flood return period contour;
  • in a storm water detention pond; or
  • on unstable land.

This approach is in contrast to other countries’ and cities’ experiences with informal settlement electrification. For example, while cases exist for “slum” electrification in India (notably Chennai and Mumbai) and Thailand (Bangkok), these are processes dependant on the formalisation of property rights for informal dwellers. Part of the rationale behind the Cape Town approach is to do with the constitutional mandate for municipalities in South Africa to provide basic municipal services (electricity, water, sanitation, and refuse management) to all inhabitants of the municipality. Whilst funding constraints prevent the fulfilment of this mandate in many municipalities, Cape Town seems to be succeeding in doing so through this program.

Another major contributor to the success of the program is the community engagement aspect of informal settlement operations. Repeated meetings with community leaders, and notably members of the community themselves, throughout the duration of an electrification project, significantly contribute to investment and participation of the community in the project, nurturing trust in the services and engendering community spirit, cutting down on electricity theft and grid overloading. The opportunity is also used to get cooperation from the community to open up access ways in densely populated areas, not only to facilitate the installation of an electricity reticulation network but also to be maintained as access ways for health emergency services as well as the provision of other basic services such as water and sanitation where possible

The electrification of informal dwellings in the backyards of formal housing developments is a recent initiative. Two pilot projects have been successfully completed in what many regard as a first-of-its-kind program. The main challenge with these projects is the reinforcement of the existing reticulation network serving these properties. In most cases the additional load posed by backyard dwellings makes it necessary to replace the backbone infrastructure. At this stage the programme is restricted to backyard dwellings on properties owned by the City (rental housing) due to legal restrictions around enhancing private properties with public funds.

South African municipalities generate significant income from electricity distribution, and are responsible under their mandate to electrify urban areas, with rural areas under the jurisdiction of ESKOM, the national utility. Given the low rates of return for informal settlement electrification, for less affluent South African municipalities, replicating the Cape Town experience may prove challenging. While the electrification of informal settlements and backyard dwellings may not make financial sense if viewed with too narrow a perspective, the City emphasises wider benefits such as better living conditions, economic stimulation, health and safety, job creation and education opportunities. In view of the challenges faced with the delivery of free formal housing due to growing demand faced with urbanisation and historic spatial planning legacies amongst others in formal housing, informal housing has an important interim role to play and will not disappear overnight. It is with this knowledge that the City Of Cape Town decided more than a decade ago to provide electricity to those living in informal settlements.

In all, the Cape Town experience in informal electrification has useful implications for the SAMSET project. The management of informal electrification projects by the municipality has served to mitigate a number of risks inherent in informal settlement electrification, and this experience -under a number of conditions – could be cross-applied to great effect in other metropolitan areas in developing countries globally, particularly in the Sub-Saharan African context.

The iShack Project in Enkanini, Stellenbosch, South Africa

SAMSET project team members, municipal project partners and attendees from the CPD course “Energy and Sustainable Urban Energy Transitions in Africa” visited Enkanini on the 19th November 2014. Enkanini is an informal settlement in Kayamandi which was established in 2006, Stellenbosch, South Africa, and as part of the CPD course team members visited the iShack sustainability project, based in the settlement.

iShack is an organisation established in 2010, through collaboration with residents of Enkanini and  the University of Stellenbosch’s Sustainability Institute, promoting sustainability in the settlement across a wide range of applications. The “demonstration” shacks run by the project incorporate a number of energy-efficient and sustainable technologies.

Improved insulation and building materials were an early focus of the project, with leftover/recycled materials being used to insulate walls and ceilings, as well as innovative layered wall constructions offering cooling in the daytime without the use of air conditioning, improving the indoor environment.

Enkanini blog image 1Energy and Sustainable Urban Development course attendees in Enkanini, Stellenbosch, South Africa. Image: Daniel Kerr

Biogas is another focus of the project, and biogas digesters utilising human solid waste are installed in the demonstration shack bathrooms, enabling cooking from biomethane.

Water is another focus of the project. The project is expanding dissemination of grey water flushing for public bathrooms in the settlement, firstly in 2011 through gravity flushing. This approach has met with some resistance from residents due to the lack of convenience of the system, and the project is currently experimenting with upgraded mechanical flushing and collection systems for grey water and rain water.

Finally, the project also runs an off-grid solar home system business for residents of the settlement, and is aiming to develop this as a franchise model for export to other informal settlements, this being the first of these franchises. Solar home systems consisting of a 70Wp panel, two indoor LED lights, one TV, an outdoor spotlight and phone charging facilities are provided to residents on a fee-for-service basis, with customers paying an initial installation fee of R200, and monthly installments of R150 thereafter to use the system. Users can also choose to up-rate their panels to cover other appliances such as a radio or television. iShack takes responsibility for operation and maintenance of the system, and since 2011 over 700 systems have been installed out of 2,500 households in the settlement under the project.

enkanini blog image 2Enkanini, Stellenbosch, from the steps of the iShack demonstration shacks. Image: Daniel Kerr