Regularising Informal Settlements in Latin America’s Megacities
Informal settlements – unregulated, makeshift housing – create substantial safety and health risks in Latin American countries. While clearing of settlements is not a solution, letting them be is not an option. Gregory K. Ingram suggests that regularising programmes combined with upgrading assistance can be effective means of improving conditions.
Informal settlements – the shantytowns, favelas, and makeshift neighborhoods built as illegal occupations of public or private land — are a fact of life in cities in both Latin America and most other developing regions. According to a 2001 estimate, nearly 130 million people-a quarter of urban residents-live in informal settlement in Latin American cities. Their dwellings have no legal title, are often constructed in a precarious location, and many lack basic urban services such as water and sanitation.
For many years, the great challenge facing Latin American nations and metropolitan areas has been to work with these areas in situ – to improve conditions and begin integrating them into the formal city. Wholesale removal with evictions and massive relocations to new public housing is neither tolerated nor economically feasible in most countries. At the same time, because governments need to prevent additional informal settlements, their improvement policies must not create incentives that stimulate yet more illegal development.
Informality has many causes, including low income levels, unrealistic urban planning and building regulations, a lack of serviced land and social housing, and a dysfunctional legal system. Residents of informal settlements face many costs, including insecurity of tenure, lack of public services, discrimination by others, environmental and health hazards, and inequitable civil rights. Informality also poses both high direct costs for local governments when they undertake upgrading programs, and substantial indirect costs when they address other impacts of informality such as public health, criminal violence, and related social problems.