Illegal housing precariously built on the volcanic archipelago of Cape Verde threatens to increase erosion, land disputes, disease, flooding, and crime, according to the government and its NGO partners who are trying to contain the damage of clandestine urban sprawl.
Cape Verde’s population is estimated at close to 500,000 for 2008, with about 125,000 living in the capital Praia on the island of Santiago, according to the government’s National Statistics Institute.
Sara Lopes, Minister of Decentralisation, Housing and Land Management, told IRIN successive droughts and persistent unemployment have pushed people from Cape Verde’s eight inhabited islands into Santiago, overwhelming unprepared city officials: “The municipality of Praia has not planned well. Up until now, land has been developed without any planning.”
Lopes said if structures are not in place to allow people to rent or buy land, they build: “At night, they mark a plot and start building, basically by ‘junta mao’ [Creole phrase for “hands together,” communal work].”
In Safende and Calabaceira in the north section of Praia, the Italian NGO Africa 70 estimates that only five percent of the homes are legally built, based on its 2005 figures.
Pointing out the homes that scale the hilly terrain of Safende, Africa 70’s architect Gian Paolo Lucchi told IRIN haphazardly planned housing poses immediate physical dangers: “You see that dirt staircase? Can that staircase support fire fighters answering an emergency? Are these homes strong enough to survive the inevitable dirt avalanche caused by erosion from the illegal housing being built farther up the valley?”
Lucchi said precarious housing, even when built with solid cement or brick materials, disrupts a community: “It will be hard to build roads since there was no planning. No roads and no drainage means more flooding. ” He said in the past two years, flooding shut down schools.
He added that illegal settlements can lead to disease outbreaks: “Drainage and roads are the essential elements to urbanisation. Its absence can create conditions for [waterborne] diseases, and worsen flooding in coming years.”
Housing Minister Lopes said the situation is worse in the islands of Sal and Boa Vista: “You don’t see it so much here [Santiago], but the houses [in Sal and Boa Vista] are made of plastic and tin.”
Based on a May 2008 government anti-poverty strategy paper, about 25 percent of the national population lives in absolute poverty. Five years ago, the World Bank estimated this rate was 37 percent.
Brothers Orlando Jose and Jose Armindo Dias Bareto, 50 and 44 years respectively, told IRIN they have lived in Safende for more than 20 years. Orlando Jose said none of their neighbours live in legal housing: “The government occasionally arrests people who cannot show housing permits, which is most everyone here.”
Minister Lopes told IRIN: “At some point the government has to say ‘enough’.” But when asked if tenants squatting illegally are violating the rights of the municipal government, the minister responded: “Yes, but they [the city of Praia] are also violating the right of residents. [If] Praia doesn’t plan, people build.”
Depleting city resources
Lopes said illegal settlements have worsened the already tough energy problems facing the island: “How can we extend the electrical network with so many clandestine neighbourhoods? You can get a contract with [state electricity company] Electra only if you have a certificate of occupancy.”
As a result, people steal electricity, said Lopes: “If they [tenants in illegal housing] have electricity, and they often do, it is illegal, ‘clandestine plugging in’….So much electricity is stolen. It is awful. They [tenants] damage cables, they break cables.”
Lopes said the government passed a law in October criminalising energy theft.
Power cuts increased by 15 percent between 2003 and 2006, according to the government.
The minister said people living in illegal housing also do not pay the three percent tax the state should collect on the value of a building -- money that goes toward construction, sanitation and other city services.
The state Institute of Housing Promotion estimates that tens of thousands of homes need to be built and rehabilitated, especially on the island of Sal. Lopes told IRIN the government is launching a yet-to-be financed urbanisation management programme in 2009, which includes a national housing needs survey, land regulation reforms, and environmental protection in urban areas.
Lopes said changes are already underway: “We must legalise [well constructed] houses [that do not block roads.] If it’s a good house, leave it.”
But for architect Lucchi, housing and land reforms must address not only physical structures, but also social security: “To manage urbanisation and prevent land disputes, erosion and other physical damages, yes it will take judicial and administrative reforms. But then you will still have a concentration of poor people on one piece of land. You will need more than bricks and concrete to transform that community.”