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Sunday, 12 October 2014

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Shanties disappear - new apartments built in Colombo:

Moving into better living conditions


President Mahinda Rajapaksa handing over houses to occupants of Lakmuthu Sevana Housing Scheme

Urbanisation has hit the townships in Sri Lanka on a large scale particularly in the city of Colombo. Families living in dire situations in temporary shelters which they called home, made out of chip board, metal sheets and wooden planks - these 'houses' hardly had the basic requirements for decent living. no toilets, clean drinking water not even a clean place to sleep at the end of a long tiring day. This was their lot for many decades, thanks to the urbanisation program, they will now live in comfortable homes.

According to statistics with the Urban Development Authority, nearly 53% of Colombo's population lives in under-served communities such as shanties, shabbily maintained apartments and line-houses.

There are shanties or squatters, slums, dilapidated labour quarter sites, service schemes and low cost flats clustered in different parts of Colombo metro. Shanties or squatters could be considered as the worst of its kind.

Within Colombo, these communities live on nearly 900 acres of land. According to the UDA the number of households to date in these communities is more than 68,000 with a population of over 300,000. They are occupying only 10 percent of the total area of Colombo. The lands they live in are mostly in the northern and eastern parts of Colombo such as Modera, Borella and Dematagoda which are with high commercial value.

New apartments

Sirisanda Sewana housing project

Sirisara Uyana Housing Project in Wanathamulla

To release these commercially viable lands 15,000 housing units are under various stages of construction in the Colombo area, as projects of the Urban Development Authority.

The first 500-unit project that was completed and handed over over to the slum and shanty dwellers in November 2013 - was Mihindusenpura in Dematagoda.

The latest housing project was opened on October 7 at Mayura Place in Wellawatte by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

This project with 118 housing units was named as Lakmuthu Sevana.

UDA continuing the project to address the housing needs of these backward communities have completed two more apartments to provide houses for these low income families.

These two housing projects will be handed over to the public by President Mahinda Rajapaksa within the course of this month - one in Bloemendhal road which will be handed over to residents on October 17 and the other in Wanathamulla in Borella on October 27. . Once known island wide for its dire situations these two areas have now transformed in to unbelievably liveable places with so much of fresh air to breath.

The 'Siridsandasevana' housing scheme which is a walk up apartment provide houses for 366 families who were living in shanties for a long time in and around Bloemendhal area.

The 'Sirisara Uyana' and the 'Methsara Uyana' in Wanathamulla will house over 1140 families who were living in temporary shelters around Wanathamulla and parts of Borella.

The apartments comprise modern houses with ample space, rooms, balcony and proper sanitary facilities as well as safe drinking water, electricity. It is a life these people who were working hard to earn a meager income were dreaming since the day they settled down in Colombo.

People living in these under-served communities comprise almost all the labour force that make the Colombo city function. They are an important part and parcel of the society. "Many of these people work in the harbour, Railway Department and Municipal Council forming their entire labour force. They are playing a pivotal role in the proper functioning of the Colombo city," said Head of the Project Planning Unit of the Urban Regeneration project under the UDA, E.A.C. Priyashantha.

The Lakmuthu Sevana Housing Scheme in Bloemandhal road
Methsara Uyana Housing Scheme in Wanathamulla, Borella

Thus they need to be housed within Colombo and they need to be given the due recognition.

"Many past Governments attempted to bring a solution to this problem. Though the UDA had no involvement in those initiatives we can see that the difficulty in getting lands to rehouse the shanty dwellers and inadequate funding made those projects collapse," said Priyashantha.

Change

Yet this time under the guidance of the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the UDA launched the program, coordinating with other ministries to liberate their lands to rehouse people and issuing a Rs. 10 billion debenture. When rehousing had to be done there was a method to get the necessary lands and money was there to make it a viable project, according to Priyashantha.

The land liberation program is not only confined to Colombo. The UDA is spearheading projects in key cities of the country like Kandy and Kurunegala.

The intention is to elevate the cities to commercial hubs along with proper planning, according to Priyashantha.

Today the UDA has not only built proper housing for these people but have taken steps to lay a support line for these shanty dwellers to get used to their new surroundings.

The duty of the project coordination unit of the Urban Regeneration project is to analyse the true situation these shanty people live in and coordinate their requirements to the project management. "All their rehousing locations were in close proximity to their original homes without taking them away from the area they were living in for many years," said Prasad Ranaweera, the Head of the Project Coordination Unit.A team of UDA officials from this unit, which also includes graduates in Sociology, have visited every house of these under-served communities."Under the direction of the Secretary of the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the UDA first selected the 40,000 shanty dwellers living under the worst conditions among the under-served communities," said Ranaweera.

Vacate

Such communities who were living in Aluthmawatha, Colombage Mawatha, Cyril C. Perera Mawatha, Wanathamulla in Borella were areas where they could easily vacate the land.

"The re-housing project is now located in the closest proximity to their original houses and today back in their original 'watta' only few families remain - mainly due to unsettled legal disputes within their families and financial problems. To those with financial problems we are coordinating with well-wishers to get support to settle payments for the new houses," said Ranaweera.

With regard to protests by a few communities initially, Ranaweera said after the Mihindusenpura rehousing project was completed in Dematagoda, people of other shanty areas gave their consent.

"People said that they will relocate if they are given houses like those at Mihindusenpura. And as for the UDA, we were planning similar projects for these people. We were planning to provide a much better living standard for these people and they accepted it at the end without any protest," he said.

Training the people to use the facilities that were made available for them in the new apartments was a responsibility of the unit Ranaweera headed. From dumping garbage systematically to organising community events, the officials of the unit got involved.

They were there to ensure that the people would happily in their new homes and surroundings. And this will continue in their future endeavours too.

The challenge lies in the future. More people settling down in cities and urban areas is not an isolated event but a global phenomena. According to UN-HABITAT half of the global population live in cities and it is predicted that within a decade or two nearly 60% of the world population, that is around five billion people will become urban dwellers. Sri Lanka will be no exception. The next big challenge for the authorities and urban planners is to face this and ensure the smooth functioning of cities!

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