Living Heritage of Sri Lanka

Sustainable Shelter Development Through Good Governance

by Christopher A. Wijeyeweere
Director, (UN-HABITAT Activities), of the Ministry of Housing and Construction Industry, Eastern Province Education and Irrigation Development
The Sunday Times (Colombo) of Sunday, 10 October 2004

Designing a national human settlements policy has to be done with the objective of improving the living environment for a sustainable future. The policy so formed has to identify and implement strategies aimed pat reducing the level of poverty in human settlements, including the realization of the goal of shelter for all.

The existence of a large and a growing number of homeless, especially the poor and the disadvantaged and the pressures of rural immigrants invading the cities, not only clouds the possibility of sustainable development, but also threatens community integration, social peace and political stability. To achieve the desired results of their policy, the authorities have to take a bold move in the execution of their project proposals. Many an urban problem in all sectors of development was the result of poor governance land lack of institution-building. Today the most descriptive word "Good" has been dismissed. Terms like open, accountable, just, responsible and transparent, a set of fancy and artificial terms have been used to qualify governance.

What is good governance?

Commitment towards an enabling local leadership, decentralizing authority and resources, formation of community based organizations, institutionalizing a participatory approach to development and management, conducting and managing a continuous dialogue with civil society, capacity building and training, promoting equal access to reliable information and ensuring the availability of education are the major areas that constitute good governance. This is what we lack today in this country.

Thus the national shelter policies and programs generally tend to remain at national level and are rarely localized. Non-penetration of national policies to local level or non-availability of appropriate mechanisms for localising national shelter policy programs appears to have broken down the effective and enabling shelter programs that were available to the poor and the disadvantaged communities in the rural and urban sectors.

Lack of integration, coordination and communication between and among the executing agencies and the stakeholder partners have left the local authorities and the community isolated. The "Doing it alone" habit of the implementing agencies should change. If action is taken to reinvent the wheel, the opportunities of sharing experience and lessons learnt, creating synergy, replication and up scaling are easily possible. This will lead to positive changes even in the development of new technology, to further reduce the cost of improvised and conventional housing technology that existed in Sri Lanka in the past.

National-local linkages

We need to develop national and local linkages between policy and practice. This will ensure proven good practice and feedback into the national policy- making process and help them to include new thinking into the policy frame. Achievements and performance at local authority level should be recognised and they should be given the responsibility in the implementation of national policy and tackling urban poverty which has become a national phenomenon. The national shelter policy program should always be compiled and combined with poverty alleviation, provision of potable water, health, sanitation and organised solid and liquid waste management. If such measures were to be adopted, development of urban-rural linkages would be much easier in the Sri Lankan context.

Lessons for Sri Lanka

Good governance is a global campaign that Sri Lanka needs to adopt to realize sustainable Human Settlements Development through a participatory development and decision making process. This is a very forceful process where capabilities, abilities, competencies and responsibilities are continuously transformed to the tasks of local leadership and their partners in the management of affairs of their own city or the village. The stakeholder partners will pressure the city fathers and the city administration to provide more efficient and effective responses to the needs of their cities and citizens. This is what we need to promote to develop our rural and the urban areas.

A sustainable village can afford to acquire urban facilities for its citizens. A village that acquires such urban facilities only will transform itself to a city. This type of transformation of rural towns to urban cities will turn out to be sustainable. Migration of rural population to urban centres or to major cities has created housing of poor quality. Acute problems created by rapid urbanisation are most visible in the existing city slums and shanty developments that have taken place in the vacant state lands in the periphery of the major cities.

The urban population is expected to grow rapidly with over 50% of the people expected to be urban by year 2010.Therefore human settlement policies should cater to improving the facilities at village level to that of the urban settlers.

Goals of the millennium

This alone would not be sufficient. The state should ensure that environmental and development settings of the village are gradually transformed into economic centres. These economic centres need to develop their capacities to meet the demand of the metropolis and other capital cities. This type of changes will promote and facilitate the commitment to realize the Millennium Development Goals of the UN Habitat, and will reduce the suffering of the less privileged in the rural and the urban areas of Sri Lanka.

In other words the Millennium Development Goals should be localized to the level of the Pradeshiya Sabha and to the Grama Sevaka Division levels, if we are to overcome the present plight of our rural and the urban poor. We need to transform sustainable rural economic centres into mini urban town centres with all urban facilities that are available to other urban settlers.

Human settlement policies, issues and activities by their very nature are cross-sectoral inter-institutional and involve a multitude of sectors.

Therefore it is necessary to identify the key subject areas of physical and service elements in human settlements. In this context participatory decision-making is the most powerful tool that would support a process of good governance and promote shelter development to match the needs of stakeholder recipients.

Plan with the community

There are 14 Municipal Councils, 39 Urban Councils and 258 Pradeshiya Sabhas in the country.

It is the need of the hour that the National Shelter Program and other development activities should be broad based and carried out with the support and assistance of committed stakeholders in the public, private and popular sectors, political leaders, officials at the helm of the key sectors, community and private sector representatives and leaders of women's and youth organisations. Academic institutions may be potential stakeholders and partners in shelter and other development programs.

The stakeholder partners identified should be formed into a permanent consultative committee comprising the city fathers and the city administrators. Decision making, planning, project designing and execution should be done though this consultative committee. This consultative committee should be institutionalized and made one of the standing committees of the council.

Role of key state agencies

Shelter development cannot be taken in isolation. Water, sanitation, solid and liquid waste management, health care, energy, agriculture, fisheries and industries are important sectors that need special attention for the upkeep of lives of those in occupation of any human settlement, whether urban or rural.

The state agencies involved in shelter development and the local authorities themselves must define what they need to ascertain in compiling a profile of their local areas pertaining to its needs in the shelter sector.

City profiles

Each local authority should compile a city profile of their local authority area. This would be an initial investment on their future development programs. In some localities people based development committees have been formed.

Housing and community development councils that have been formed in some municipal councils have become strong decision making bodies.

In some local authorities where the Sustainable Cities Program (SCP) of the UN Habitat is in operation, thematic working groups have been formed and the stakeholders take decisions in conducting its affairs with the participation of the local authorities. We need to make this process stronger.

Today we are on the threshold of a new era. Past experiences have proved the old ways of administration do not work to meet the present development challenges.

This is why we need to restructure our development strategy giving high priority to development though a process of good Governance, where the youth could effectively participate in their city development programs.

Change of attitude

We can make this process a success only with the participation of every segment of our community. In this effort, all the development agencies of the central and the local governments have a critical role to play.

Our local governments need to be made strong institutions with sufficient powers to enable them to execute national polices at the local authority level.

This would easily transform them to be the bedrock of public service. If we need a change to our society we need to consider the local government as the focal point.

The development agencies of the central government must assist them in conducting their development programs with the local authorities through a process of good governance, if the country is to remain peaceful in the future.