Tag Archives: Urban Poor

Succeeding in the Sahel

One of the greatest rewards of working on housing issues in rapidly urbanising countries is the opportunity to see how resourceful people are when it comes to obtaining land and housing, even when they have extremely limited resources. The World Habitat Awards, organised and funded by BSHF, provide a wealth of examples of such innovation and I was grateful to be invited by the Director, David Ireland, to visit the 2016-17 World Habitat Awards winning project in Senegal.

A Roof, A Skill, A Market’ was the inspiration of a French mason visiting Burkina Faso in 1998. He saw the vast potential of earth architecture in the arid rural areas of the Sahel and proposed that the Nubian form of mudbrick vaulting be revived as a form of building that would be more comfortable, affordable and environmentally sustainable than conventional reinforced concrete structures. Its unique structural advantage is that by building the arches so that they lean against the end wall, later bricks can lean against earlier arches, making it unnecessary to use wooden formwork until the arch is complete. This means that the system can create vaults of any length and does not need to use increasingly scarce and expensive timber during the construction process.

The program started in Burkina Faso in 2000 with support from the French government and a small team of committed professionals. The Nubian Vault Association has now completed more than 2,000 houses in Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal varying in size and area from modest single storey structures to luxury two storey villas.

With a maximum span of 3.25 metres, buildings provide congenial and calming spaces and can either link to adjoining vaults to create different layouts, or include reinforced concrete beams so that large open spaces can be created. In this way, the structural system can be adapted to meet different uses and the program has already inspired local groups to build school buildings, community centres, mosques and maternity centres.

What makes ‘A Roof, A Skill, A Market’ so special is not, however, just the buildings, great though they are. The greatest achievement is that the team promoting it see the approach as increasing employment opportunities for people of different skill levels in a context where population growth has exceeded economic growth, leading to mass migration out of the region. It is also based closely on market costs in order to demonstrate its economic viability compared to expensive and less environmentally efficient imported materials. Being 100 percent carbon free, it has also been accepted by the governments of Burkina Faso and Senegal as part of their national policies in meeting the global Sustainable Development Goals Sustainable Development Goals.

During a short, but extremely productive and enjoyable visit, the project team of Cecilia Rinaudo and Emmanuelle showed us impressive projects in the rural areas near Dakar, the World Heritage town of St Louis and Podor, on the border with Mauritania. A community managing an environmental reserve told us, “we can manage the reserve better now we have a place to manage it from”, while a school that had previously been reporting low examination results became the top performer the year after the new vaulted building was completed because the improved thermal comfort helped students to concentrate. A local entrepreneur told us his neighbors had expected his house to be washed away when the first rains came and were amazed when it not only withstood the rains but coped just as well when he added a second floor! Finally, a medical doctor said he was happy to spend extra hours at work because the clinic where he worked was more comfortable than his own home!

The program has been expanding at 30 percent a year and has ambitious plans to maintain momentum so that the system is accepted as appropriate for different building types as well as housing and can operate without external financial support.

While most buildings using the system are in rural areas where the majority of the population lives, there is considerable potential for urban and particularly peri-urban areas where population pressure is increasing the demand for affordable housing and where labour intensive methods are ideal. The Nubian Vault Association team hope to apply the approach throughout the whole Sahel region from the Atlantic to the Red Sea and from Algeria in the north to Nigeria in the south. They even plan to reintroduce it in the Nubian desert of Sudan where the tradition first started centuries ago, a great example of learning from the past to meet the challenges of the present and future.

The program and the dynamic team managing it are a deserving winner of this year’s World Habitat Awards!


This article is published in BSHF webpage


Improving tenure security for the urban poor in Cambodia

Geoffrey Payne visited Phnom Penh, Cambodia between 05-18 September as part of the ongoing project funded by Cities Alliance, GTZ and UN-Habitat to improve security of tenure and property rights for the urban poor.

The visit was mainly intended to attend a workshop being organised jointly by UN-Habitat and GPA on preparations for a national housing policy and the tenure project. The visit also enabled meetings to be held with His Excellency Im Chhun Lim, Minister of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction and His Excellency Kep Chuk Tema, ,Governor of Phnom Penh, together with many senior officials, leaders of NGOs and CBOs, academics, and representatives of donor agencies.

Cambodia is a country on the move. When our project started, residents of informal settlements were routinely being evicted at short notice and relocated to plots well outside the city. This not only disrupted their lives, but also increased poverty since they had to spend long times and increased costs travelling to places where they could earn a livelihood. Since early 2003, however, there has been a fundamental change of direction. The Prime Minister has announced a programme to upgrade 100 informal settlements a year for five years and only relocate existing settlements in cases where the land was needed for urgent public purposes or people were living in environmentally sensitive locations.

Our project is contributing land tenure options for these upgrading settlements, together with pilot projects on land sharing and new affordable developments. We are considering options for communal leases in order to minimise the burden on the municipality and provide residents with long term security in ways which discourage higher income groups from buying up plots. We also hope to liaise with local NGOs and the Asian Coalition of Housing Rights which are developing major initiatives on community led development projects in which tenure issues are important. Developments are anticipated later this year on the tenure front. GPA will also contribute a section on tenure to the draft housing policy.

Improving Tenure Security for the Urban Poor – Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Funding body: Funded jointly by Cities AllianceUN-Habitat and GTZ .

The project followed on from a research project funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) to assess the tenure situation facing the urban poor in Phnom Penh during March and April 2002. The subsequent project has sought to develop innovative approaches to providing secure tenure for the urban poor in Phnom Penh as part of the capital’s social and economic development strategy. It has adopted an incremental approach to increasing formal tenure status and property rights to all informal settlements for a short initial period, during which surveys would identify those settlements considered suitable for in-situ upgrading and those which would need to be relocated. For those settlements to be upgraded, the objective has been to integrate them into the formal tenure system over time, in order to minimise speculative pressure, protect tenants from rapid rent increases and minimise distortion in land markets.
The main objectives of the project are to:

  1. Improve security for urban low-income households in Phnom Penh by offering residents of informal settlements in environmentally hazardous or economically strategic locations, Temporary Occupation Licenses (TOLs), and those in other areas longer terms of tenure security.
  2. Undertake a regulatory audit or review of the present urban planning regulations, planning standards and administrative procedures to identify options for reducing the cost of entry to legal and affordable shelter, thereby reducing the need for future slum formation;
  3. Identify available sites for Guided Land Development or other innovative approaches within the present urban boundaries to which households in environmentally hazardous or economically strategic locations can be moved before the expiration of their TOLs, unless applications to extend these are agreed, in which case such relocation will be on a voluntary basis. Residents of areas where TOLs are allocated will be encouraged to participate in the planning and form of such new developments;
  4. To strengthen the capability of central and local government agencies to undertake pro-poor programs for upgrading and new urban development.

Duration: March 2003 – October 2004

Project outputs:

  1. Four project reports (Inception, Workshop, Progress and Final Reports).
  2. Design and undertake settlement survey of informal settlements to identify those suitable for in-situ upgrading and those for relocation.
  3. Recommendations on changes to tenure system. A Summary of these recommendations can be found in ‘Getting ahead of the game’ (G.Payne) Environment & Urbanization Vol 17, No 1 April 2005.

In 2001, research carried out on tenure issues in Cambodia by Geoffrey Payne and Dr Beng Socheat Khemro demonstrated the potential for innovative approaches to improving tenure security for the urban poor. On completion of the project, a request was made by the Royal Government of Cambodia for assistance in developing practical options for improving secure tenure and a proposal was submitted to Cities Alliance, UN-Habitat (Fukuoka) and GTZ (Cambodia) for funding. This was approved and work commenced in March 2003

The project is based on research undertaken as part of an international research project funded by DFID with support from UN-HABITAT to assess progress in the provision of secure tenure for the urban poor in ten countries. Cambodia was one of the major case study countries, together with the Philippines, and fieldwork for the research was carried out in Phnom Penh during March and April 2002. The research demonstrated that there is a wide range of land tenure and property rights systems in Phnom Penh each of which forms part of a continuum in terms of the degree of security and rights they provide. It also demonstrated that the present policy of relocating residents of unauthorized slum settlements has increased poverty by removing poor households long distances from the central locations in which they earn their livelihoods. It has also discouraged households able to afford improvements from doing so. A subsequent workshop involving representatives of central and local government, international donor agencies and local civil society groups accepted that a range of alternative approaches deserved to be tested to see if they could meet the needs of the urban poor, whilst encouraging investment in the city and improving its environment. The research report presented some initial proposals to the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Development and Construction and the Municipality of Phnom Penh.

On completion of the project, a request was made by the Royal Government of Cambodia for assistance in developing practical options for improving secure tenure and a proposal was submitted to Cities Alliance, UN-Habitat (Fukuoka) and GTZ (Cambodia) for funding. This was approved and work commenced in March 2003. This subsequent project was intended to build on the City Development Strategy currently in its final stages.
The project comprised proposals for four phases, as follows:

  1. Phase 1: Undertake a regulatory audit or review of the present planning regulations, standards and administrative procedures affecting access to legal shelter.
  2. Phase 2: Identify existing unauthorised settlements in environmentally hazardous or economically strategic locations and identify available sites for Guided Land Development projects.
  3. Phase 3: Issue Temporary Occupation Licenses and detailed plans prepared for a Guided Land Development.
  4. Phase. 4: Reports prepared on research studies in Siem Reap and Battambang and Guided Land Development. Workshops to be held and final reports prepared.

The project recommended that security of tenure be increased on an incremental basis for residents in informal settlements on selected state private land as well as state public land. The reason for this incremental approach, rather than the conventional approach of providing full individual titles to households in informal settlements was to prevent a dramatic increase in land values within inner city settlements. This was considered undesirable in that it would:

  1. Encourage many residents to sell their houses, probably for less than their new value to developers and speculators
  2. Encourage such sellers to invade other state land in an attempt to repeat the process
  3. Increase rents or lead to the eviction of existing tenants, who represented the poorest social groups
  4. Place an excessive burden on the existing administrative agencies responsible for surveying informal settlements and issuing titles.

For these reasons, an initial Moratorium on Relocations and Evictions (MORE) was proposed in order to guarantee residents in all informal settlements a minimum period of security for a period of up to nine months. During this period, criteria were developed and surveys carried out to identify any informal settlements which would need to be relocated because they are on land needed for a public purpose, or which is environmentally unsuitable for housing. Discussions were held with the relevant authorities to confirm the list. However, the Municipality considered that residents may interpret a moratorium as providing longer term tenure and the proposal was not adopted.

Following this decision, it was proposed to move directly to the second stage of providing a Communal Land Right (CLR) to designated informal settlements to be upgraded in-situ as part of the RGC policy announced in May, 2003 of upgrading 100 slums a year for five years. It was intended to introduce this in selected settlements during late 2003 and early 2004. This would have enabled the project objectives of providing practical improvements to tenure security to be realised within the project period and provided a framework for introducing longer term tenure arrangements (Communal Land Titles) within a five year period covered by the CLR. Any household still wanting to obtain individual titles would be free to do so provided they resolved any competing claims, agreed borders with their neighbours and paid the associated survey and registration costs.

After many discussions with key persons responsible for the legal framework on land issues at the Ministry of LMUPC, the conclusion was reached that a CLR could be issued once a sub-decree on registering urban poor communities was approved. Since Cambodia has no such sub-decree, it is recommended that this be drafted and approved by RGC as soon as possible.

‘Land Rites’ Film to be re-transmitted on BBC

The Earth Report V ‘Land Rites’ Video which was transmitted on BBC World Television during the United Nations Istanbul +5 Conference in New York in June 2001 is scheduled to be re-transmitted in November 2002. Further details will be announced when available. Copies of the video are still available in English, French or Spanish. Contact TVE international for details by mailing TVE distribution. The video was produced as part of the ‘Innovative approaches to tenure security for the urban poor’ project funded by DFID. For more information on this project click here.

Land Tenure for the Urban Poor

Funding body: Department for International Development (DFID).


To review and disseminate examples of innovative, intermediate tenure systems and their impact in improving security of tenure for urban low-income groups and reducing distortions in urban land and housing markets.

Duration: 1st April 2000 – 30th June 2001


The following were produced as outputs of this project:

  1. A book reviewing major examples of innovative tenure systems and their impact in improving security for the urban poor, planning and land management and tenure security. The book was launched at the World Urban Forum at UN-HABITAT, Nairobi in Appril/May 2002 and at a Cities Alliance seminar on “Secure Tenure for the Urban Poor” in Washington DC in May 2002
  2. A documentary Film (transmitted on BBC World television in June 2001) as a contribution to the United Nations Istanbul +5 Conference.
  3. A video version of the film in VHS and BetaMax formats in English, French and Spanish (available from TVE International, mail TVE distribution for information on delivery).
  4. An information or media pack entitled ‘Land Rites’ for international distribution to media networks, NGO’s etc.


Security of tenure, or the lack of it, is emerging as a key factor in the ability and willingness of poor households to protect themselves from the threat of forced evictions, or to invest in improving their living conditions. Recent approaches have varied between the extremes of removing unauthorised settlements or granting residents full freehold titles to their plots. These approaches impose further suffering on the poor, or grant them windfall benefits which distort land markets and may even encourage further unauthorised subdivisions. Various intermediate forms of tenure, such as Certificates of Use, Community Land Trusts, ground rent, condominium titles and transfer development rights, have been introduced to increase rights and security without intensifying land market distortions. These appear to offer improved security without raising expectations and can be implemented without recourse to legislative or administrative reforms. However, no comprehensive evaluation of the performance of such progressive, intermediate systems in practice has yet been undertaken. This project reviewed the extent to which key examples have improved perceived security and encouraged local investment in dwelling and settlement improvements.

Security of tenure for the poor has been recognised by the United Nations as one of two issues (with governance) which will form the key issue for UN-HABITAT’s future programmes. These include a new Global Campaign for Secure Tenure and should be seen as the strategic entry point for the effective implementation of the Global Plan of Action for the Habitat Agenda and considers that legal recognition of tenure is one of the most signifiant steps that a national government ran take towards giving expression to the right to housing. The research provided a survey and assessment of innovative approaches which was presented at the UN Istanbul+5 meeting in 2001.

Security of tenure is a basic requirement in enabling the urban poor to survive and also improve their economic status within increasingly market based land markets. Providing households with appropriate forms of tenure security which are affordable to the poor, and protect the rights of tenants, women and other particularly vulnerable groups, is a prerequisite to reducing poverty and providing access to employment and essential services. Which cross cutting themes (i.e. gender, environment, sustainability) will be addressed by this project

Gender was a central concern of the project, as many women are denied access to security of tenure on equal terms to men, even though a substantial proportion of households in many countries are now female headed. This severely disadvantages both women and their children from obtaining secure accommodation. The provision of affordable and secure shelter can reduce the need for poor families to settle in environmentally sensitive or hazardous locations and therefore improve the urban and peri-urban environment. Effective tenure systems can also enhance economically and socially sustainable urban development. The project reviewed intermediate forms of tenure which seek to address these issues and assess the extent to which they have succeeded and offer lessons for other locations. It also identified the cultural and institutional factors which need to be considered when transferring such approaches from one context to another.