Hauwa Anaja Abu, Abuja

Shelter is a basic need of man. A house not only provides security, but preserves property as well. A house is where families are made and grow. There are, however, certain categories of people who do not enjoy the pleasures a house gives.

These people live in poorly constructed houses which are sometimes incomplete or near collapse. They live in unplanned, overpopulated settlements devoid of basic amenities and social welfare. These are places globally known as slums or referred to in some climes as ghettoes.

Slums are often located around major cities across the world. People migrate to such cities in search of employment but are often faced with the harsh reality of the high cost of living in those cities. Thus, they find affordable houses in areas around or far from them, which are often characterised by lack of basic infrastructure, insecurity and poor sanitation.

A United Nations report says as many as 70 percent of urban dwellers live in slums in some parts of sub Saharan Africa. As part of measures to improve on the living conditions of people, the UN set aside the first Monday of October every year to mark World Habitat Day.

The theme for this year’s event was “Voices from the slums” with the aim of identifying with slum dwellers by giving them a voice to share their experiences with policy makers, developers, town planners and other stakeholders in the housing sector to find ways to address the issues confronting them.

As part of the Millennium Development Goals, the World pledged to improve the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020. Yet, the efforts of governments across the world to achieve this appear to be inadequate in the face of growing urbanisation.

The UN estimates that there are already one billion people living in slums. Many of these are at the mercy of the devastating effects of climate change, as they are built on unsuitable spaces.

Experts in the housing sector say the theme of this year’s World Habitat Day challenges government to provide a mechanism for engaging with people who live in slums to work together to gradually improve on their conditions.

Slum dwellers are said to have a level of organisation, despite the belief that they are unorganised. In some areas for instance, the people organise themselves into Associations of Landlords, tenants, motorcycle riders, among others.

According to Prof. Akin Mabogunje, Chairman, Foundation for Development Initiative, it is expected that government at all levels identify such groupings, engage them and work through them to gradually improve the physical conditions of the slums.

Whereas the federal and some state governments have embarked on demolishing illegal and unplanned structures with the hope of checking slums in the country, critics opine that it only leads to the creation of more slums, as victims are sent out of one slum, only to create another. They proffer that slum settlements should be integrated into the city by upgrading them through the provision of basic infrastructure such as roads, potable water, electricity, and rehabilitation.

Government must provide adequate and affordable housing for its ever growing population.  The United Nations’ benchmark for adequate and inclusive housing is premised on a safe and healthy living environment for all — with particular consideration for children, youth, women, the elderly and disabled; affordable and sustainable transport and energy; promotion, protection, and restoration of green urban spaces; safe and clean drinking water and sanitation; healthy air quality; job creation; improved urban planning and slum upgrading; and better waste management. The current collaboration between the Nigerian government and the private sector to provide affordable and decent accommodation for Nigerians across the country is commendable and should be sustained.

It is however not enough to provide these facilities. Nigerians must also learn to be responsible and maintain their environment. Slum dwellers should be guided to build on appropriate spaces with basic housing facilities. That way, slums would gradually be phased out from cities across Nigeria.