A profile of underserved settlements in Colombo

When it comes to developing world cities, Colombo is one example of a city that does not fit the usual text book models; no massive sprawling slums on the periphery of the city, no rampant in migration to the city and very few houses which could be classed as extremely poor.

 So terms like “squatter settlement” and “shanty” don’t really apply to Colombo.

A better term for low income settlements might be Underserved Settlements or USS; and underserved is a term that applies to the houses of the urban poor wherever you go.

Text book examples are helpful up to a point, but what students get are generalisations. What students need is hard facts from real examples, whilst understanding that what they see is the result of a set of circumstances which is some ways is unique to a particular country.

This is the first of two short articles looking at the situation of the urban poor in Colombo Sri Lanka. It focusses on the nature of the underserved settlements. Most of the information is taken from a report by the NGO Sevanatha ( featured in an earlier article )

Brief History  

According to the first census of population in 1871 the city Colombo had a population of just under 99,000. By 1911 this had risen to just under 200,000 and it rose steadily throughout the 20th century  at rates between 1.5% and 3 %.  It now stands at 642000. ( The Colombo district is of course much larger with the 2012 census putting the population at just short of 2,310,000.)

There was never a period of explosive growth or in migration.

According to the literature underserved settlements ( USS) in Colombo date back to the time of colonial rule when the British brought in workers from surrounding rural areas, and from India, to work in offices, factories and the port itself.

They were housed in Northern Colombo mainly in rented accommodation. These areas in what we will later call district 1 became a focus for new migrants entering the city. Over time the supply of housing began to lag behind the demand and so as the low income population continued to grow people began to encroach on marginal areas such as canal banks, along railway lines, in marshy areas and abandoned paddy fields.

Land was also set aside for new settlements in the East and South of the city.  For various reasons these settlements were never provided with basic urban services so jsut as with the USS in District 1 they remained lacking in basic service provision and that is the way things have remained.

Over the years there have been a number of improvement schemes. Even so, it is thought that around 50% of the population of Colombo city can still be classed as low income living in underserved settlements.

Sevanatha ; the survey

The NGO Sevanatha undertook a detailed survey in 2012 of all the USS in Colombo. In order to do that, the city was divided into a number of districts; see map below.

district map

Map 1: Enumeration Districts

Researchers from Sevanatha then visited all the USS in the various districts located them on a map and used a scoring system based on a range of poverty/deprivation indicators to classify settlements into one of 4 groups; see table below:

Score % Assessment Category Priority level
> 41 Extreme poor settlement needs immediate attention 1
41-60 underserved; needs improvement 2
61-80 upgraded; but can still be improved 3
< 81 fully upgraded 4
  • priority in this case means priority for improvement

and these are the types levels of service provision we are talking about

Priority 1: unauthorized settlement; houses are temporary, self built, lack of all basic services; water, electricity, individual toilets, proper access roads. In this case the railway line is the only access point. Typically there would be around 100 houses and 134 families living here.

d06-sri3-480

photo 1; railway settlement

Priority 2: this is an underserved settlement. Most of the community have freehold status. Around 75% of the houses are permanent; built with brick/cement block with tiled roofs. Most will have electricity but water supply, individual toilets/bathrooms will be lacking. There will br no connection to the main sewage system.. no proper access or internal road. Typically ther might be 50 families living here.

j09-sri1-480

photo 2

Priority 3; This is an upgraded settlement and it is much bigger; maybe 1500 houses and 3000 families and a population of around 6000. The land is owned by a government agency (National Housing Development Agency). The residents all have permits to live here. nearly all houses are of permanent construction; 80% will have electricity, and water meters and some of the inner roads will be paved. Many will have their own bathrooms.

type 3

photo 3

Priority 4: these are fully upgraded and are probably similar to lower middle class housing elsewhere in the city in terms of electricity supply, water connection, connection to the mains drainage, good standard access and inner access roads. These are often the oldest and most established USS in the city. This one has been in existence for over 30 years.

type 4 improved

photo 4

Low income housing  in Colombo

There are currently 1735 USS in Colombo, the majority of which are small; the following are the main points to note

  • 22% – under 10 houses
  • 32% – 10 – 20 houses
  • 30% – 21 – 60 houses
  • so 84% of USS have 60 houses or less;
  • only 5% of USS have more than 100 houses

When you look at the distribution of the settlements on map 2 below you can see that they are scattered throughout the city; however,

USS map

  1. there is a clustering of settlements in the north of the city  District 1, 2a and towards the Eastern boundary Districts 3 and 4
  2. Districts 1 and 2a hold 72 of the population and 74% of the USS
  3. there is a secondary cluster towards the South East District 4
  4. The western central area is relatively free of  USS District 2b and District 5
The data
  1. Settlement categories by district

Settlement Categories as a % of the total

Area Location total .houses Ex poor underserved upgraded full upgrade % total
1 North 382 0.8 10.7 51.0 37.4 22
2a Central 522 0.2 2.3 43.1 54.4 30
2b Central 376 0.3 5.6 75.0 19.1 22
3 Borella 264 0.4 6.1 56.4 37.1 15
4 East 131 0 3.8 56.5 39.7 8
5 West 60 0 13.3 31.7 55.0 3
total 0.3 5.9 54.4 39.3 100
  • So most settlements have been upgraded to some degree. Only 0.3% are the lowest level; priority 1.
  • The only district with significant numbers of priority 2 settlements  is district 1; the north of the city
  • Fully upgraded USS are similar to lower middle income households. if those are excluded the number of USS reduces down to 1053
  1. Land ownership in the USS   breaks down as follows
  • owned by occupants:             40%
  • owned by govt:                      32%
  • owned by CMDC                    16%
  • privately owned                      7%
  • unclear                                    5%
  • 22% possess user permit
  • 43% own the freehold
  • overall it is estimated that 57% of occupants do not enjoy security of tenure
  1. Housing conditions

more than 84% are classified as permanent

  1. Water/Toilets/Sewage
  • overall 41% of settlements have to make do with common toilets
  • 8% have no toilet facilities
  • 33% of USS have n0 metered water connection
  • 33% either use common facilities or rely on outside sources
  • 5% of communities are in need of safe drinking water and levels of service are rated as a serious problem in 8% of USS
  • 28%  of settlements of USS have serious problems in respect of safe disposal of sewage; only 50% are connected to the city’s sewage network
  1. Electricity supply

 most USS (98%) have electricity connection so not really an issue, BUT lack of street lighting is an issue for 34% of USS communities

  1. Garbage collection

15% of USS report irregular or no collection

author’s note: not sure how reliable this figure is; It is quite common to see mounds of garbage in the USS and there have been problems with garbage collection city wide over the last few years.

  1. Road conditions in settlements
  • 40 % have well maintained tarred roads/pavements with good width access
  • 41% have poorly maintained tarred roads
  • 19% do not have tarred roads
  • adequate drainage is non existent on 83% of internal roads leading to local flash flooding and waterlogging of internal roads

8.  Income levels

  • in only 22% of USS do the majority of households earn more than 20000 lkr (lkr is the sri lankan rupee; 200 to £)
  • in 50% of USS  2/3rds of households earn less than 20,000 lkr
  • overall monthly income in 63% of USS communities is rated as inadequate
  • in the majority of USS less than 10% are in receipt of samurdhi payments; (a kind of state welfare benefit forthe low income/unemployed)
  • in 15% of USS more than 50% of households are single parent households

Other points

  •  community based organisations do not exist in 83% of USS
  • 86% of USS don’t not have community centres
  • community savings programmes are only available in 8% of settlements;
  • there are only 23 setllements where more than 75% of households are engaged in community savings
  • 31% of USS are classified as being in high risk/vunerabilty situations.. particularly flash flooding
  • more than 60% of USS are in the municip[al rate paying category

what this means is that residents are not organised or empowered to negotiate with local or national government agencies to improve service provision and living conditions.

What do USS residents identify as issues and problems

  • need for connection to city sewage network
  • need for private toilets
  • lack of play spaces for children
  • 20% feel social environment could be better
  • 49% feel level of services is inadequate
  • common view is that there is no consultation with residents where major redevelopment schemes are concerned
  • low status and lack of legal identity of the USS makes it hard to enrol children in schools, getting service connections e.g. power and obtaining state benefits
  • where rehousing is concerned, 28% favour on site low rise development, and most wanted any future housing developmentt to take place within their USS

The view of Sevenatha is that these communities need to become  organised and therefore empowered, and to that end this NGO works with local communities to equip them to improve their local environments; see Sevanatha the work of an NGO

Conclusions

If you want to understand the nature of low income settlements in the developing world you need to understand that the conditions in which they grew up in each major city is to some degree unique. That makes generalisations about  low income settlements of limited value.

Most of the urban poor in Colombo have solved the basic need: shelter. Not only that, in many cases they have gone much further in terms of improving their individual homes although this has taken them a fair amount of time to acquire the funds to do it. This is a pattern you see across the developing world.

What has been lacking in Colombo is any real drive by the authorities to support the efforts of the USS residents by adding in mains water supply, connections to the sewage network, and improving access and internal roads.

Once again the residents have realised that they have to do this themselves which is why the efforts of  Sevanatha and the women’s cooperative bank  (see earlier article) have gained traction

next up:

The government response has been different.

I was around in the 1960’s in the UK when comprehensive redevelopment and slum clearance brought in the hi rise urban council estates.. and we maybe can reflect on how (un)successful that was..think of Hulme in Manchester, (thankfully now bulldozed away) for example.

Sadly the authorities in Colombo seem bent on making the same errors..so the next article is all about the current rehousing scheme or enforced resettlement depending on your point of view.. what, where, how and the likely impacts.

 

 

Welcome to Geo Sri Lanka: case studies for A level geographers

Hi, my name is Phil Brighty. The title for the blog Geosrilanka comes from the fact that I lived and worked in Colombo  for nearly 7 years, and came to really love the country and its people. You will find case studies focussed on geographical  issues in a developing country: Sri Lanka. Up until recently South Asia has been a neglected are for study; however, it is a rich area for study geographically and,  just as importantly, offers new material for students. As a teacher I was always on the lookout  to get away from the same old examples everyone uses…which is why I set up this blog. I hope you find the case studies useful.

List of articles; click on this link to see the full range of  articles

Dengue in Sri Lanka:
Dengue fever in Sri Lanka is reaching epidemic proportions: check out the latest Dengue update.

Apart from Geosrilanka I write mainly for for GeoFactsheets.. However, I have also published in The Geographical Review, and Geofile Online.

Before that I was Head of Geography at The Sixth Form College Colchester and then was based at Colombo International School as HOD and Head of Secondary School. In the past I have been an A level examiner for OCR, AQA and also an examiner for IB diploma geography.

 Fieldwork in Sri Lanka;

Sri Lanka is a great place to undertake fieldwork for A level geography..most places are accessible and value for money; plus for students it can be the trip of a lifetime because with careful planning they get to experience what regular tourists never can:

If you are interested click on the live link above to find out more..

Feedback; would love to have some

What would be interesting to know is how people are using the case studies..are students being referred to the site? are teachers using them in class or as research and prep for lessons?

The blogs are very much summaries of often large numbers of links, websites etc. If anyone wants to know more, wants help with resources, especially with Sri Lanka in mind, then I would be happy to respond.

There is an opportunity to comment so do send comments in and I will put them up.

Stop Press: Just added

Making sense of the Sri Lankan monsoon

Dengue Update; dengue cases could top 150,000 this year!

Colombo Garbage Dump Collapse

The Indian Ocean Monsoon part 1: is the monsoon becoming less predictable?

Plus 2 articles have been updated

Dengue Update

Challenges ahead for the Sri Lankan Garment Industry

more… 

Next Up: 

The Monsoon, Drought and Global Warming in Sri Lanka; prospects and problems

 

Colombo and its garbage problem: is the Aruwakkalu project a viable solution

I came across this excellent article written by Malaka Rodrigo and with his permission have re-printed pretty much in its entirety. His blog Window to Nature is well worth a read and is a real good source of information for all geographers interested in people and environment issues.

For any student of geography this is an really good and detailed case study of one of the main (but often overlooked) problems of urban growth and development; and for anyone living in Colombo dealing with the day to day problems of waste disposal I guess it will ring a lot of bells. What it tells us is that for every solution to a major urban problem there are a number of environmental costs. How to balance the human and physical environment; how to develop a sustainable approach to solid waste disposal; these are major questions for Colombo going forward but can be found in most large cities not just in the developing world

So here it is: it is longer than usual but well worth reading through. However, before you read through the report have a read through the following:

Garbage disposal has been a major headache for Colombo which generates as much as 1,200 metric tonnes of rubbish every day. The main dumping site is located in the eastern suburbs of Colombo at Meethotumulla low income residential area. It was opened in 2010 when an existing site in Colombo was closed down but is bursting at the seams. Currently the dump site , which is 90 metres high dominates the area and pollutes the surrounding neighbourhood.

As the situation has deteriorated, a new project to collect the garbage, and transport it by train and dump it in a sanitary landfill site in Puttalam emerged as a solution.  Environmentalists  raised serious concerns over the project. As a result it appears that this scheme has been shelved, at least for the moment.

This has left Colombo Municipal Council and the Government without any kind of plan; and while they procrastinated the dump at Meethotumulla grew in size and became increasingly unstable. This has led to a kind of paralysis in decision making. Were the authorities hoping the problem would go away? It did not, and the result was the partial collapse of the dump killing 28 people and leaving many more homeless. (see below)

note: a large section of the Meethotumulla dump collapsed onto local houses on 14th April; for more information click on the live link below:

https://geosrilanka.wordpress.com/2017/04/17/colombo-garbage-mountain-time-for-the-government-to-act/

Government Paralysis ? or how to pass the buck

Check out this excellent article published in the Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) on 22/04/17 GONE TO WASTE (live link) says it all; no additional comment needed.

 

 

IMG_1039

The Meethotamulla garbage dump reprinted with permission Malaka Rodrigo

The compacted waste was to be be packed in 20-foot containers and sent by train to the landfill site at Aruwakkalu, just North of Puttalam, about 170 kilometres away from Colombo.

The 30-hectare Aruwakkalu site, leased out to Holcim Cement Company, has many abandoned quarries, from where limestone was extracted by the Cement Corporation some 20 years ago.

The site was designed to absorb up to 4,700,000 cubic metres of garbage for 10 years in 2 phases.

MeethotamullaGraphicnew

reprinted with permission; Malaka Rodrigo

Environmental Nightmare: reasons to challenge the location of this proposed landfill site

To the dismay of environmentalists, the site is within the one mile buffer zone of the Wilpattu National Park – a fact that has been highlighted in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report.

  • The document points out that the site is frequented by several wild animals, including elephants and warns that once the garbage comes, it can attract more elephants to the area, aggravating the human-elephant conflict, especially in the fishing village near the site.

The EIA report recommends several steps to prevent elephants and other animals from coming to the area. They include erecting an electric fence and closing up the landfill on a daily basis after the garbage has been deposited.

  • The forest adjacent to the landfill site is also home for a critically endangered legume crop, a wild relative of ‘Bu-kollu’ (Rhynchosia velutina) which has so far been spotted only in two places in Sri Lanka.
  • The environmentalists also express concerns over the impact of the project on the Kala Oya/Lunu Oya Estuary which supports the largest, richest, and the most pristine mangrove patch in Sri Lanka and is also just 200 m northeast of the site.

Hemantha Withanage of the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) says the project is a crime and not worth the cost. He says the solution lies not in dumping garbage at landfill sites but addressing the root cause.

“Go for a zero-waste model promoting recycling. It will be a sustainable solution. Sometimes drastic measures such as banning polythene and plastic might have to be taken – but it will help in the long run,” he said.  Mr. Withanage said the people must also act with responsibility to minimise garbage.

The US$ 107 million landfill site project was approved by the previous government after a cabinet paper was submitted by the then President Mahinda Rajapakse in his capacity as Minister of Urban Development.

Environmentalists fear that just as the previous regime showed scant respect for EIAs and tweaked the findings to do development at ‘any cost’; the present government also could distort the EIA.

Many experts recognise that the solid waste problem requires an urgent solution but it does not mean creating another environmental crisis.

Due to the limestone base and dynamiting, the base of the solid waste pit could be permeable.

The leachate will contaminate the pristine habitats of the Kala Oya. Some experts suggest that to minimise the negative impacts, the solid waste should be dumped in the abandoned Holcim pits which are more towards the interior of Aruwakkalu. But the company is not in favour of this suggestion, environmentalists say.

This is why the present site has been selected for the project even though its negative impacts are apparent. It is also feared that uncontrolled dynamiting could damage the bottom lining of the landfill site, paving the way for leakages.

When contacted, a Holcim spokesperson said the quarry was being blasted with permission from the Geological and Mines Bureau and the company was following standard protocols. They said the landfill was a government project and it had nothing to do with it.

However, the project needs approval not only from the Central Environment Authority (CEA) but also from the North Western Provincial Council and the Wildlife Conservation Department (DWC) as the site is located within the buffer zone of a national park.

 

Wedi Pitiya: 25 million year geological heritage site cannot go under garbage 

Palaeobiologists who explore prehistoric biodiversity have joined environmentalists to oppose the Aruwakkalu project as it is likely to harm South Asia’s prime Miocene fossil site.The quarry that Holcim excavates contains fossils belonging to the Miocene era some 25 million years ago. During this era, this area had been a sea bed and the cement raw material that is being dug is in fact calcified fossilised shells or bony remains of many sea creatures which died millions of years ago.

The site known as ‘Wedi Pitiya’ is particularly unique as it is in its vicinity that P.E.P. Deraniyagala documented nearly 40 species of prehistoric invertebrates and marine vertebrates such as Dugongs, dolphins, whales and sea turtles from their bony remains belonging to the Miocene era.

This indicates that ‘Wedi Pitiya’ could in fact be a deeper zone of the sea. The Red Bed which lies above the Miocene Bed also contains stone tools, potsherds, beads and bony remains of prehistoric human habitation dating back to more than 250,000 years.

Considering its place in the history of Sri Lanka and its evolutionary importance to biodiversity in view of possible future finds, the Palaeobiodiversity Conservation Programme under the Biodiversity Secretariat of the Ministry of Environment, in collaboration with the Forest Department (to whom the land belongs) and the Department of Archaeology has identified a 300m x 500m area at ‘wedi pitiya’ along with 3 other sites in Aruwakkalu to be gazzetted as a protected area.

This tiny area will be the only remaining Miocene area in Sri Lanka after the Holcim Company has finished mining Aruwakkalu, but sadly a section of ‘Wedi Pitiya’ has been included in the proposed landfill site.

“Aruwakkalu is a gold mine for palaeobiodiversity studies. The excavation for limestone made visible a large cross section of a wall showing the fossil layers and this could easily attract foreign students studying paleobiodiversity to Sri Lanka,” says Kelum Manamendra-arachchie, who is Sri Lanka’s palaeobiodiversity expert.

“The Aruwakkalu site is the only visible Miocene site in Sri Lanka. Its prehistoric artefacts, the traditional fishing village of ‘Gange Wadiya’ and the legend of Kuveni can be utilised to promote ‘geo tourism’. So it is pity that our heritage is going to be covered by garbage,” Mr. Manamendraarachchie said.

 

“The site is the worst, but concept is good” – Waste Management expert 

The 30-hectare land chosen for the sanitary landfill is the worst possible area in Aruwakkalu, says Solid Waste Management expert Sumith Pilapitiya.

Primarily, the site is too close to Kala Oya, an important water source in the area. Secondly, it is located within the Wilpattu Buffer zone, an ecologically sensitive area.

The site is also close to ‘Gange Wadiya’, the only human settlement in the area and, therefore, the traditional livelihood of the villagers will be disturbed, he explains.

However, unlike many other environmentalists, Dr. Pilapitiya believes that in the absence of a solution to Colombo’ solid waste problem so far, a sanitary landfill at Aruwakkalu could be a good idea only if an alternative suitable site is selected in the same area.

The search for landfill sites within a 50 km radius from Colombo to dump wastes has been going on since 1990 with little or no success amid protests from residents living near the possible sites.

Experts describe this dilemma as typical of the NIMBY syndrome- all want a solution to Colombo’s waste problem, but at the same time they say, “Not in my backyard (NIMBY)”.

This compels the authorities to go for temporary solutions which in turn lead to environmental pollution, the magnitude of which is much bigger than the originally proposed solution. The crisis over the Meethotamulla dump is a classic example.

Aruwakkalu in Puttalam is not a populated area and it has already suffered environmental damage as a result of limestone quarrying by cement companies. Since a suitable landfill site cannot be found closer to Colombo without drawing public protests, this could be a viable option, if the project is properly implemented, Dr. Pilapitiya explains.

To address the concerns raised by some environmentalists, he proposes to select a site further south, more towards new Holcim quarries. “There is about a 15 km stretch of land between the currently selected site and Holcim excavating sites; so there is space for an alternative site,” he says.

Asked about how safe it is to transport solid waste in train wagons, Dr. Pilapitiya says there are specially designed rail rolling stock and containers that will not even let the smell out. He says the authorities should go in for such rolling stock and the cost of buying them could be added to the project.

Considering all these options, Dr. Pilapitiya proposes to make it a National Level project to solve not only Colombo’s solid waste problem but also those of other major cities.

The waste management expert also proposes to sort garbage and compost the perishable waste to minimise pollution and the load to be sent to the sanitary landfill. In this way, the dangerous leachate generated at the landfill site could also be minimised.

People are afraid of sanitary landfills, but if designed and managed properly, a sanitary landfill is good as it will confine pollution within the site, Dr. Pilapitiya says.

Commenting on other solutions proposed for the solid waste crisis, the expert renowned for his waste management work in Sri Lanka and abroad, says some propose incineration that involves the burning of waste material at high temperature as a solution, but garbage in Sri Lanka is largely organic and high in moisture content, and therefore this method is not economically viable.

Another option is plasma gasification – a process in which carbon-based waste is converted into fuel – gas that can be utilised to generate electricity. This has been successfully implemented at small and medium levels to deal with solid waste within a local council area. But Dr. Pilapitiya points to the project’s high human and capital costs and asks whether the authorities could afford it.

“When over 2/3rd of the Pilisaru funded compost plants in the country cannot be operated without odour and flies, I would not advocate sophisticated technology,” he says.

However, if the service provider is from the private sector and has the funds and capacity to sustain a hi-tech project, such an alternative could be explored.

Decision makers should study the waste disposal mechanisms that are being successfully operated in other South Asian countries – this is because the garbage is more or less similar in composition — and take a decision on a proper technology, he advises.

“Under these circumstances, my preference would be for composting the organic portion of the waste and landfilling the residual waste in an engineered, sanitary landfill. If the engineered, sanitary landfill is properly constructed, even if operations slip a little, the pollution can be largely contained,” says Dr. Pilapitiya.

This article is reprinted with minor edits with the permission of its author Malaka Rodrigo. It was also published in the Sunday Times 04.10.2015 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/151004/news/environmentalists-derail-garbage-train-to-aruwakkalu-166659.html

Photo Credit: thepublicsquare.com

For the latest on this have a look at: http://www.sundaytimes.lk/160417/news/garbage-in-kolonnawa-off-to-puttalam-in-three-months-189920.html

Why Sri Lanka?

I lived in Colombo on and off for 5 years; love the city and the country. As a geographer teaching at Colombo International School, what struck me was how much geography there is to study, and how much of it was fresh and original.

I used to be a geography examiner for OCR and more recently the IB diploma and what I found staring at me from the pages of examination scripts was the same tired old case studies, sketchily drawn, not always appropriate.

Finding new case studies was always a problem for me when I was teaching; and I didn’t want to use the stuff in the standard text books. I always wanted to broaden my “library” of case studies but, motivation, time pressures..too much form filling.. all those things got in the way.

Now I have the time and this blog is all about sharing my experiences and insights on a country and people who I have grown to love.

My aim is to summarise the results of my research in Sri Lanka. If you want to know more or want info for case studies, you can contact me by e mail on philbrighty@gmail.com; if you want to comment feel free.

Sri Lanka is a  beautiful island with wonderful, smiley people who are optimistic for their future. I am too.

Photo credit: Brett Davies