The Vishnumati Link Road (VLR) project refers to the planned construction of a road to link the north and south sections of the ring road around Kathmandu, in order to improve access to high density areas and improve traffic flow in the city. The road was planned to run along the Vishnumati River, where a number of communities have lived in informal settlements for between 3 and 50 years. The concept of the VLR project was first raised as a possibility in 1969, and over three decades of planning was conducted by government, aided by the Asian Development Bank and the Norwegian Institute of Technology.
Before the evictions
No actual steps were taken towards construction until 1999. That year, and again in 2000, notices were published warning residents in five affected communities to move, as their houses would be demolished to make way for the road. After numerous meetings between the residents, Lumanti, federations and government, road construction was indefinitely postponed.
All people have a right to secure housing. After evicting them from their homes, the government has an obligation to provide secure housing for the families affected by the VLR project. This obligation was stated in a formal agreement with Kathmandu Municipality, which promised permanent housing for the families and rental compensation until the housing was delivered.
After the evictions
However, more than 18 months later, the families are no better off. They have lost their homes, which provided shelter and the bases for their livelihoods. Some families have been separated, while others have moved to other parts of Kathmandu, losing the support of their communities. Many are heavily in debt, especially to landlords and without steady income. The reinstatement of Mayor Keshav Sthapit and his proposal for re-housing brought new hope to he affected communities. Lumanti's challenge was to keep up the pressure to ensure that these promises are delivered. In doing so, it was important that Lumanti and the communities continue to work together to present a common message to KMC. It was also crucial that the Mayor's commitment is taken on by KMC, even if the Mayor is replaced in the future. A Major achievement since the evictions has been the announcement of the Urban Community Support Fund, which provided an opportunity for the families to build and improve their houses and generate income.
Establishment of Urban Community Support Fund
In 2003, Lumanti together with Kathmandu Metropolitan City, Nepal Mahila Ekta Samaj, Nepal Basobas Basti Samrakshan Samaj and other stakeholders of the city discussed and refined the concept that eventually led to the creation of the Urban Community Support Fund (UCSF) in Kathmandu Metropolitan city. This fund is established at the municipality level and promotes the sustainable physical and socio-economic development of poor communities in Nepal's cities. A major aim is that the Fund be easily accessible to the urban poor communities, assisting them to improve their socio-economic situation, housing and physical facilities. The following are the key objectives for the establishment of the Fund.
• Address growing urban poverty and housing issues by setting up a proper mechanism involving the city government, NGOs and the communities
• Provide soft loans to urban poor communities to improve economic condition, basic infrastructure facilities and housing conditions.
• Enhance the capacity of the urban poor, low income families and the community organizations
Contributors to the fund include Kathmandu Metropolitan City, Slum Dwellers International, Action Aid Nepal, Water Aid Nepal, and Asian Coalition for Housing Rights and Lumanti Support Group for Shelter. And by bringing all these groups together, Lumanti has helped build bridges and foster understanding that will be invaluable in future development.
The Urban Community Support Fund (UCSF), Kathmandu organized an inaugural ceremony to launch UCSF on 30thMay, 2004 at the City Hall, Kathmandu in order to continue the effort of alleviating urban poor. Representatives from Indonesia, Ghana, India and Thailand were among the distinguished guests. Government officials, experts from various national and international organizations, representatives of housing federation and women’s federation from different districts and people from different urban poor communities attended the programme. Through this fund the first housing project for the urban poor has been launched. The beginning of the Housing Project brings to a close the long process to resettle squatter families who were evicted and made homeless by the Vishnumati Link Road Construction over two years ago. Many of the worst affected families are the first to be resettled in new homes on the Kirtipur site.
Kirtipur Housing Project
The location for the housing project was decided after lengthy discussions with the affected families as to their needs and visions for their new community. Affordability also had to be taken into consideration given that the families must make monthly repayments to the fund. The housing design was chosen by the community from several alternatives presented, and a total of 44 homes are constructed. The houses will remain owned by UCSF until the loans are repaid by the recipient families. The land for the new houses is located at Paliphal- 6 in Kirtipur. This land was advertised by Nepal Sri-Lankan Merchant Bank. The tender was submitted. And fortunately we got the land.
Through the entire planning process, poor people have demonstrated their capacity to develop viable solutions and to prepare themselves to fight for housing rights and security of tenure by organizing themselves, saving money, planning houses, developing management skills, and remain firmly committed to building a better life for their families and communities.
Since only 30 housing units are required for the VLR affected families, it was decided that the remaining houses would be given to other needy urban poor. 3 families from Kalanki requested for the housing. They were affected by the road built in Kalanki. Also, settlers from Kirtipur itself joined the community. This has help the community feel anchored in their housing site.
In order to insure that the process of distributing the houses remains unbiased, we have placed responsibility in the hands of the Kirtipur Housing Management Committee to allot houses based on a lottery system. This system is a very effective means to allot houses since the lottery took place in front of the whole community. This is important in order to give validity to the process and make it more efficient. They have been very involved in all stages of planning and contributed to the decision making process both when making a sketch of the housing scheme and in the actual construction process. In addition, this step is very symbolic to them since they are finally able to fulfill the dream of claiming ownership over their home. More importantly, once they settle in their houses their lives will also be more secure as they exercise their right to have a roof over their head. The success of this project is also very important for Lumanti since we have been working with the urban poor for almost a decade now and during this period we have seen and made changes in the way squatters are treated. In order to advance progress in favor of the urban poor, Lumanti hopes to continue to collaborate with the most disadvantaged segment of society in order to advocate their cause in a public forum and develop strategies to explore ways to relieve urban poverty.
A founding principle of the project is that the finances to the housing project are to be managed by the people. This is illustrated by the fact that it is the Housing committee, who has the responsibility to manage all the transactions of the project. It is their task to pay the contractors, consultants, as well as to allocate resources for anything else that is needed to complete the project. The Urban Community Support fund is only to give loans for the needy; in this case the VLR affected families.
This project is done to benefit the poor, not burden them. The future owners of each unit, however, will still have to pay around 350,000 NRS for the housing. The land is subsidized by the fund whereas infrastructure component is supported by Water Aid housing department and UN Habitat.
This project is the first of its kind of rehabilitation project in Kathmandu. It not only provides shelter to the affected families but also sets a precedent of being an environment friendly community. The houses are constructed in two rows with open spaces which can be used as play grounds and other purposes. Two wells are constructed and effort is being made to get a drinking water pipe line from the government. During dry season the water shortage is worse in the urban centers so to overcome this problem, rain water harvesting is introduced. Three underground tanks are built to collect rain water. And for the optimum usage of water waste a low cost, natural waste water treatment option ie Reed Bed Treatment system (RBT), is also installed so that the treated water can be reused for various purposes like gardening, cleaning and flushing. A constructed RBT is an ecologically balance system using low energy and a low cost alternative and natural process for the removal of undesirable nutrients from the waste water. The community has initiated to take over the responsibility of the operation and maintenance of the RBT, and also created an operation and maintenance fund. People are more conscious about their surroundings and the implication it could have on their health. Hence, all the families have agreed and are practicing solid waste management of their homes themselves. Training on this is imparted to all households demonstrating how waste is collected, managed and converted into compost which they can either sell and earn money or use in their garden.
In addition to practicing effective waste management, people were also made aware of water optimization concepts and the issue of water quality. In this context, people are made aware of various options for water optimization techniques through value base water education and water treatment techniques that can be practiced at the household level, which in general terms is called Point of Use (PoU) treatment mechanisms. Popular PoU options, Solar Disinfection System (SODIS), chlorine liquid (PIYUSH) and bio-sand filter have been promoted for treating rainwater, and ground water before consumption.
An important goal of this project is to eradicate the psychological burden of being a squatter from the people's minds. It is to be emphasized that this project is not about relocating squatters as such. The project aims at giving the people the opportunity to become fully free citizens with the right to decide over their lives, property and employment.
Strong database increases confidence for advocacy:
While discussing the issues with the government and other concerning parties, it was essential to have the detailed information on the communities affected. This increased our confidence to talk, gave weight to the case, and raised the interest of the decision makers.
Continuous follow-ups without hesitation are important:
It is important to keep in touch with the key people concerned. They need to be regularly contacted for information sharing and updating of the situation, as different people seemed to have different level of information.
Updating the community on the status of advocacy is equally important:
The community must understand the efforts that the NGO is making in dealing with the issue. The meetings and dialogue are invisible activities – the community people should understand their importance. In order to build the community's confidence that a positive result is possible, they should know what is happening - what the government is thinking, what the local government is thinking, how we can convince the government that our demands are justifiable.
The community should be prepared for future action.
The communities need to understand the issues and be ready to confront the worst scenarios. They need to have a plan to deal with the situation. They must have a unified voice and trust one another. Solidarity is the key to building the communities
Alternative and proposals should be prepared to address the issue:
Identifying problems cannot help in solving the problem. The practical solution needs to be identified. These alternative ideas to address the situation need to be presented while negotiating with the government.
Flexibility in dealing with people's ever changing thinking levels is a must:
The communities affected by the VLR are heterogamous in terms of caste, ethnicity and length of stay. People understand and interpret the issue in different ways. The more discussion with the community takes place, the clearer the picture becomes, and people start revealing their fears, and confusion. Every time we visited the communities we faced a new question, a new problem, and we had to accept the situation as one of the many manifestations of deep-rooted poverty.
Continuous use of the media helps in disseminating information:
Print media should be used to highlight the issue. The more regularly the media reports on the issue, the better. Printed stories are also evidence of the problem, and can be used while negotiating with the government.