By Jessica Wolff

After graduating from DUSP’s Master of City Planning program in June 2018, Jessica Wolff worked for the International Rescue Committee to lead a research project and co-author a major international report titled Urban Refuge: How Cities Are Building Inclusive Communities. The report highlights the work of local governments in 23 cities to support refugees and internally displaced persons arriving in cities. To learn more, read the full report here or contact Jessica at jswolff73@gmail.com

Global forced displacement is at a historic high. In 2017, 68.5 million people were displaced from their homes, with 58 percent of refugees and at least 80 percent of internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in cities.[1] To national governments, displaced populations can be an abstraction, a complex political enigma to address with increasingly diffused policy responses. To cities, displaced populations are new urban residents who rely on city services, contribute new skills to the workforce, and bring new cultures to the community. As historic rates of forced displacement converge with increasing urbanization rates worldwide, local governments are at the forefront of responding to displacement. A new report from the International Rescue Committee, titled Urban Refuge: How Cities Are Building Inclusive Community, documents how cities around the world are showing unparalleled initiative and leadership, even with limited capacity and amidst challenging political contexts. It serves as a call to action for the private sector and international humanitarian actors to build on the efforts of cities in response to urban displacement and acknowledge local governments as equal partners.

Figure 1: Urban Refuge Around the World. Cities interviewed for the report.

Figure 1: Urban Refuge Around the World. Cities interviewed for the report.

The report highlights the efforts of 23 city governments worldwide, including case studies from cities at the forefront of current displacement, resettlement cities, and cities recovering from recent conflict. The comparative approach enabled a macro analysis to distinguish similarities and differences in cities’ experiences, policy responses and ongoing challenges to best support the displaced.

Urbanization and displacement converge in cities, requiring intentional responses and strategic planning on behalf of local governments in order to ensure that all city residents, including marginalized and displaced populations, have reliable access to services. Of the cities included in this report, 11 are in countries with projected urban growth rates higher than the global average (2%) for the next five years and they host an average of 404,800 displaced persons; this is ten times more than the average displaced population in the 12 other cities, which are in countries with projected urban growth rates below 2%.[2] Given these overlapping trends, cities are demonstrating leadership and foresight as they begin to incorporate migration into long-term strategic planning.

As stated in the report, “The reality of urban displacement requires a different approach to urban humanitarian response – one that puts cities at the center based not on their capacity, but on their willingness to host displaced residents and their legitimacy to oversee the delivery of services within their jurisdiction.” While some of the cities included in the report have rich migration histories, many are experiencing new patterns of migration. The latter need to develop a capacity and understanding of how to incorporate migration and the unique vulnerabilities of displaced populations into city planning policies. Of the 23 cities included in this report, 13 have a strategic plan to support displaced persons and address migration; however, only 5 of those cities have a dedicated budget for this work.

Comparatively, while humanitarian response organizations are attuned to the unique vulnerabilities of displaced populations, they are primarily built around refugee camp service delivery models which are ill-suited for urban displacement. Humanitarian organizations are beginning to learn how to work within the jurisdiction of a city government and should continue to align programming with existing city goals. As displacement becomes increasingly urban, partnership with local governments, and ensuring that humanitarian programming also works towards existing strategic and development goals, is critical.

Figure 2: Inclusive City Planning Diagram

Figure 2: Inclusive City Planning Diagram

While all cities included in this report expressed their willingness to support displaced populations, they also highlighted barriers that limit their capacity and scope. The following diagram shows the top request from each city, demonstrating that access to financial resources, greater representation at national and international levels and technical resources and capacity building are primary supports needed to expand city policies for displaced populations.

Figure 3: Top Requests from Cities.

Figure 3: Top Requests from Cities.

There is an opportunity for cities, the humanitarian community and the private sector to leverage their comparative strengths towards inclusive city planning, which the International Rescue Committee defines as strategic planning to ensure that plans, policies and programs explicitly include the needs and perspectives of displaced and marginalized residents. As cities are already taking the lead, humanitarian organizations and the private sector should consider cities as equal partners in urban humanitarian response. Doing so would increase overall efficacy, reach and sustainability.

To learn more about the case studies, as well as inclusive urban planning policy recommendations for cities, the private sector and humanitarian organizations, read more at Urban Refuge: How Cities Are Building Inclusive Communities.


[1] UNHCR Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2017. 2018. Available at: http://www.unhcr.org/5b27be547.pdf. Accessed 7 September 2018. ODI (2016). 10 Things to Know about Refugees and Displacement. Available at: https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/resource-documents/11168.pdf. Accessed 03 October 2018.

[2] United Nations Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2018). Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision. Available at: https://population.un.org/wup/. Accessed 2 October 2018.

URBAN INSTABILITY + DISPLACEMENT: Reflections on Migrants’ Housing and a Recent Beijing Fire

By Dr. Yulin Chen

Yulin Chen is an associate professor in the Department of Urban Planning within the School of Architecture at Tsinghua University, China. With a background in urban planning and sociology, Dr. Chen’s research focuses on urban governance in megacities, housing policy for migrants, migrants’ integration and spatial responses. During the academic year 2017-2018, Dr. Chen was a fellow with the Special Program for Urban and Regional Studies (SPURS) at MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

Migrant housing in Zhufang village, Beijing. Photographed by Yulin Chen, 2015

Migrant housing in Zhufang village, Beijing. Photographed by Yulin Chen, 2015

In late 2017, a major housing fire in Beijing triggered a great debate about housing for urban migrants. The fire in an informal mixed use building in Daxing district of Beijing was caused by an electrical wiring problem in a cold storage unit in the basement. Nineteen people who had been living in the building died; seventeen of them were migrants. After this tragic loss of lives, the Beijing municipal government implemented a citywide safety inspection of informal housing, with the goal of closing down unsafe living conditions. The outcome became very controversial. When the city declared thousands of informal places not fit for residential use, thousands of migrants were displaced, forced to vacate their homes in a short period of time. From a legal perspective, the demolition of informal structures was in accordance with the law. However, from the perspective of human wellbeing, this action destroyed stable social living conditions and made it harder for migrants to sustain themselves in Beijing. This action also caused great losses in rental income to Beijing villagers who owned these buildings. The construction of illegal housing in Beijing cannot simply be blamed on local residents who built the informal housing, nor on migrants who rented the informal housing. Rather, this event reflects structural challenges in rapidly transforming China, which include both the imbalance between rural and urban areas as well as a lack of housing options for migrants in megacities.

The first chanllenge lies in unequal development between urban and rural areas. Since the country’s opening-up policy in 1978 and the reform of household registration system since the 1980s, China has experienced an economic boom. Hundreds of millions of rural residents migrated to cities, providing a boundless labor force to drive the economic development. For example, Beijing’s migrant population increased from 2.6 million to 7.0 million between 2000 and 2010, with their proportion of the total population increasing from 18.9% to 35.9%. This large-scale migration results in a tremendous mismatch between people and housing: while large cities become more crowded and short of housing, small cities and villages are declining and becoming vacant. This problem of regional-balanced development needs to be addressed, especially in a country like China with a large population and a vast territory.

Migrant housing in Zhufang village, Beijing. Photographed by Yulin Chen, 2015

Migrant housing in Zhufang village, Beijing. Photographed by Yulin Chen, 2015

The second challenge comes from the institutional urban-rural division. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Chinese local governments have put most of their construction and management efforts in urban areas rather than in rural areas. As a result, most of the informal housing is built in peri-urban areas and suburban areas, where low levels of management and regulation allow local residents to build housing for rent on their farmlands (Wu, 2002). As more residents migrate to Beijing, this informal housing supply on the outskirts is expanding rapidly. However, unlike urban residents who can sell their housing for profit, rural villagers cannot sell their housing on the market, as their land use rights were allocated by the government to them as farmers to preserve agricultural land (Zhao, 2017). Therefore, to take advantage of the large rental market, rural villagers in peri-urban areas build informal housing on their land to rent to migrants.  Although the construction is illegal, it brings the villagers and the village committees a lot of profit and provides migrants with low-income rental housing. Even the township governments turn a blind eye to this kind of construction to enlarge their revenue. From this point of view, the safety inspection of informal housing in Beijing may be considered a reactionary response due to the government’s long-term neglect and management of rural areas.

Third, attention also needs to be given to migrants’ housing choice. Migrants’ incomes are generally not much lower than that of local citizens in most Chinese cities. In large cities like Beijing, while some migrants succeed in buying housing, most of them are excluded from purchasing housing because of soaring housing prices, and they are also excluded from the publicly sponsored affordable housing system because they do not possess a local household registration certificate. Therefore, most rural migrants have to live in rental housing. As many previous studies have pointed out, most of these migrants want to spend as little as possible on their urban residences in order to save money to build housing in their hometowns. Therefore, even if formal housing is available, rural migrants tend to choose an informal residence with cheaper rent (Wu, 2002; Zheng et al, 2009). This situation poses a policy and program question to the government: What kind of housing and affordability is suitable for migrants, if affordable housing is to be built for them in the cities?

To address these problems, in the long term, the Chinese central government needs to pay more attention to balancing development between rural areas and urban areas, in order to restore a match between the population and the space available. In the mid-term, the shortage of affordable housing in large cities needs to be addressed through multiple approaches. One helpful new approach was announced in 2017, when the Chinese central government released a new policy to allow village committee to build formal rental housing on rural land where farm houses are built, which could be a good news for both migrants and local villagers. In the short term, local governments need to be fully prepared for the possible social outcome of implementing their policies. The latest news from Beijing says that a complex of migrant rental apartments will be built on the site of the burned informal housing. Hopefully, similar residential opportunities will be built elsewhere. If it is, the tragic fire of November 2017 would have led to more inclusive development in China.  


  1. Wu, Weiping. Migrant Housing in Urban China: Choices and Constraints. Urban Affairs Review, 2002, 38(1): 90-119
  2. Zhao, Pengjun. An ‘Unceasingwar’ on Land Development on the Urban Fringe of Beijing: A Case Study of Gated Informal Housing Communities. Cities, 2017(60): 139-146
  3. Zheng, Siqi, et al. Urban Villages in China: A 2008 Survey of Migrant Settlements in Beijing, Eurasian Geography and Economics, 2009, 50(4): 425-446


Limitations of the Owner-Driven Reconstruction Model in Kathmandu, Nepal

In winter and summer of 2017, DRAN Research Assistant Kelly Leilani Main travelled to Kathmandu to learn from and assist local organizations working on post-disaster reconstruction efforts. In commemoration of the three years since the earthquake, this blog post seeks to shed light on some of the major challenges of reconstruction and the issues of protracted displacement. A second blog will highlight the work of Nepali NGO Lumanti, Support Group for Shelter and their reconstruction efforts.


On Saturday, 25 April 2015, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake occurred in Gorkha district, approximately 76 km northwest of Kathmandu. There were more than 9,000 estimated casualties and approximately 23,000 injuries. 31 of the country’s 75 districts were affected, with 14 severely affected. More than half a million structures were damaged or destroyed, displacing hundreds of thousands of families.[1]

The National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), established in December 2015, is the legally mandated agency for leading and managing the earthquake recovery and reconstruction in Nepal.[2] The agency was established with the explicit goal “to promptly complete the reconstruction works of the structures damaged by the devastating earthquake of 25 April 2015 and subsequent aftershocks, in a sustainable, resilient and planned manner, to promote national interest and provide social justice by making resettlement and translocation of the persons and families displaced by the earthquake.”[3]  The Post Disaster Reconstruction Framework (PDRF) is the institutional mechanism through with the NRA facilitates and oversees reconstruction, using an owner-driven reconstruction model which has been used in contexts such as Gujarat, India after the 2001 earthquake, and in Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake.

Owner-driven reconstruction (ODR) models center homeowners in the re-building process by giving reconstruction aid directly to owners vs contracting with intermediaries in the private sector to rebuild homes.[4] Most ODR mechanisms rely on multi-disbursement financing - where the government funds/grants are provided to residents in staggered installments -  to ensure code compliant reconstruction in each phase, reducing vulnerability to future earthquakes. In theory, ODR models can also minimize displacement by allowing homeowners to rebuild on the sites of their existing homes.[5]

Despite the potential benefits of owner-driven programs, the reconstruction program in Nepal faces many challenges. As of August 2017, thousands of affected households remain homeless and unable to rebuild. Of the 767,705 households initially eligible for the program[6] only 122,309 households have received their second installment, and an even smaller 32,801 beneficiaries have received their 3rd installment.[7] Inability to receive the second and third installments results from a failure to comply with the NRA’s earthquake resistant reconstruction guidelines.[8]

Based on research, in depth interviews, and site visits conducted in January 2017 and August 2017, the most common barriers preventing households in the Kathmandu Valley from rebuilding are land registration and documentation, lack of adequate financing, and strict building bylaws and design requirements. Thus, while owner-driven models can contribute to homeowner empowerment by involving them in the project of rebuilding, the experience in Nepal shows how, without the right systems in place to support vulnerable populations through the reconstruction process situations of protracted displacement can take hold.

Land Registration and Documentation

The first barrier is a lack of formal documentation of land title, one important feature of tenure insecurity. While households may have been living without documentation for generations, the earthquake brought challenges of land registration to the forefront. As a result, those households which have been identified as squatters, or those living on government-owned land, are often restricted from the program even if their homes were fully destroyed because they were unable to provide documentation of land ownership. The fact that beneficiary identification cards are issued at a local level by municipal officials or other local committees has benefits and drawbacks: local decision-making means that ownership can sometimes be determined through local knowledge; however, the process is also vulnerable to political patronage and corruption. To complicate things further, even if a household is provided a beneficiary card from local authorities, municipalities will not approve reconstruction designs or release funding until land registration has been finalized. Land registration through the central government constitutes a major barrier for many households because formal land registration is an expensive process that requires retroactively paying taxes to the government since the last round of land registration in 1979. High costs and lengthy procedures make this process prohibitive for many families. The requirement to provide formal land registration also favors private land ownership, as landless people and those who live on communally-owned land are ineligible from participating in the NRA’s reconstruction program. This challenge can result in already vulnerable populations becoming additionally marginalized through the reconstruction process.[9]

Financial Constraints and Identity Verification

Beyond the challenges of landownership described above, financial constraints remain the primary barrier to reconstruction for most families. Many of the households most affected by the earthquake are also the most socially and economically vulnerable. The PDRF mechanism distributes funding to households by direct transfers into beneficiary bank accounts. Thus, those communities without a bank branch, as well as those households without a bank account, find it difficult, if not impossible, to access disbursements. In some cases, commercial banks will not release funds to beneficiaries due to discrepancies in beneficiary identification and bank account information.

Lack of documentation is not only an issue for opening bank accounts; approximately 20% of the population in Nepal does not possess a citizenship certificate, especially vulnerable low-caste and indigenous groups.[10] Many people also lost citizenship documents due to the 10 year conflict and recurring natural disasters. The process for obtaining a citizenship certificate is not straight-forward and many individuals do not know the procedures to apply. Additionally, the documents required to obtain a citizenship certificate are documents may often require a citizenship certificate to obtain (such as land title or voter registration)[11]. This cycle has isolated many vulnerable groups from the reconstruction process and their prospects for obtaining the necessary requirements. These challenges are exacerbated by weak administrative capacity to manage such issues[12]. While local verification can be done by local officials and community agreement, beneficiaries still must wait for verification and authorization at the national level, increasing wait times.

Even if beneficiaries are able to provide documentation to establish bank accounts, the funding provided by the NRA through the PDRF is not enough to completely rebuild even the most modest Nepalese home, especially in urban areas where construction and material costs are high. Thus, families must find additional funding sources to complete each phase of construction, often relying on private banks. Unfortunately, commercial banks have not been able to meet the demand, and many low-income households are ineligible for loans.

The financial challenges of reconstruction are immense. However, the experience in Nepal shows that financial institutions such as banks and ODR mechanisms are often inaccessible to the most vulnerable groups, due to lack of formal documentation and limited access to financial resources.

Building Bylaws and Design Requirements

The last major challenge is that reconstruction guidelines are too strict and prescriptive to adapt to the multiple needs and budgets of affected families. Despite the wide variety of housing typologies throughout Nepal, the NRA put forward a limited number of different earthquake-resilient design options that could receive ready approval from municipalities for funding disbursal[13].  While this effort may be well intentioned in terms of ensuring earthquake-resilient structures, the small number design proposals are not sufficient for meeting the housing needs of the many diverse communities in affected areas. To access funding for reconstruction, anything different than the designs provided in the reconstruction catalog requires approval from with NRA engineering staff. The money and time required to go through the elaborate process of developing detailed architectural and engineering drawings to fit each unique structural need is nearly impossible for most households.

In particular, Newari communities in Nepal have faced challenges with rebuilding in their traditional homes, due to the high-density and narrow construction used in the urban and peri-urban agricultural settlements. While there are some examples[14] of communities who have been able to rebuild with engineering and design help from NGOs such as Lumanti, Support Group for Shelter, other communities facing similar structural requirements are not able to access such assistance to rebuild in a culturally appropriate way. Because cultural adequacy is an important component of the right to adequate shelter, this is cause for great concern. 


A disaster of the magnitude of the 2015 earthquake will undoubtedly take many more years to recover from, but the PDRF itself faces many serious challenges which warrant reflection and action. Programmatic and administrative hurdles at multiple levels act as an unnecessary hindrance for rebuilding, resulting in two problems: first, many households are moving forward with unmonitored construction resulting in a lack of control over seismic resistant construction, potentially leading to future vulnerability to earthquakes. Secondly, there is an increase in inequity between those households who can afford to rebuild without NRA assistance and those who cannot, further marginalizing the poorest, who are often in the most precarious housing situations. Rather than punish families for failing to comply with difficult and expensive building guidelines, the NRA should prioritize the right to housing and help families overcome the hurdles of the existing reconstruction process.

Reconstruction after a disaster such as an earthquake is a daunting task, but it is within the responsibility of government to ensure that all households are able to equally access the resources needed to ensure the right to housing after such catastrophic events. Without proper procedures in place to minimize these hurdles, protracted displacement for the most vulnerable households will undoubtedly continue. One useful model for approaching a more effective reconstruction program is by supporting community-driven reconstruction programs, instead of owner-driven reconstruction programs alone. One important example of this is the work of Lumanti, Support Group for Shelter, which will be the second blog post in this series.

[1] World Bank, Nepal Earthquake Post Disaster Needs Assessment. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/546211467998818313/pdf/97501-WP-PUBLIC-Box391481B-nepal-post-disaster-needs-assement-report-PUBLIC.pdf

[2] “National Reconstruction Authority,” National Reconstruction Authority, accessed March 2, 2017, http://www.nra.gov.np/news/details//.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Owner-Driven Housing Reconstruction Guidelines.” International Committee of the Red Cross, n.d.

[5] Tafti, Mojgan Taheri. “Limitations of the Owner-Driven Model in Post-Disaster Housing Reconstruction in Urban Settlements.” Department of Planning, University of Melbourne, n.d.

[6] It is important to note that this post focuses only on those families which were approved to participate in the reconstruction mechanism; thousands more families were deemed ineligible for the program for a variety of reasons, including political reasons such as discrimination and exclusion, lack of citizenship cards, or relative isolation.

[7] National Reconstruction Authority Website. Accessed 12/06/17. http://nra.gov.np/mapdistrict/datavisualization

[8] Gathered from interviews conducted by the author with municipal officials and NGO personnel. Nepal, August 2017.

[9] Oxfam. “Buiding Back Right Nepal: Ensuring Equality in Land Rights and Reconstruction in Nepal,” April 21, 2016.

[10] CARE Nepal, Community Self Reliance Center. “Housing, Land, and Property Issues in Nepal.” Care International, 2016. https://insights.careinternational.org.uk/media/k2/attachments/CARE_Housing-land-property-issues-in-Nepal_Feb-2016.pdf.

[11] Gathered from interviews conducted by the author with municipal officials and NGO personnel. Nepal, August 2017.

[12] Oxfam. “Buiding Back Right Nepal: Ensuring Equality in Land Rights and Reconstruction in Nepal,” April 21, 2016.

[13] “Design Catalogue for Reconstruction of Earthquake Resistant Homes.” Nepal Housing Reconstruction Program, Government of Nepal, Ministry of Urban Development, 2015.

[14] Gathered from interviews conducted by the author with municipal officials and NGO personnel. Nepal, August 2017.

Housing for All? India’s Forced Evictions Crisis Contradicts National Housing Policy

By Shivani Chaudhry (Executive Director, Housing and Land Rights Network: www.hlrn.org.in)

6. Pul Mithai.jpg

Despite the Indian government’s pledge to provide ‘Housing for All by 2022’ and its national scheme to operationalize this goal, public authorities across the country continue to commit gross violations of multiple human rights through forced evictions, primarily under the guise of ‘city beautification’ and clearance of low-income settlements. The stark contradiction of implementing housing policies through housing demolitions, draws attention to the major housing and human rights challenges currently faced by urban and rural communities throughout India.

Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) India’s most recent study, ‘Forced Evictions in India in 2017: An Alarming National Crisis’ reveals a growing trend of eviction and demolition of homes of the rural and urban poor. This silent crisis, however, continues to be unreported and ignored. As the Government of India does not collect data on evictions, HLRN has been monitoring forced evictions to raise awareness of the issue and promote an adequate state response. Our findings show that in 2017, government authorities demolished over 53,700 homes, forcefully evicting at least 260,000 people[1] across the country. This means that the state destroyed at least 147 homes every day or six homes every hour, evicting about 30 persons every hour in 2017. This is not just startling but also ironic given the government’s target of ensuring ‘housing for all’ by the year 2022. At least 600,000 more people are living with the threat of eviction. As this data only reflects cases known to HLRN, the actual number of people evicted and faced with the threat of eviction is likely to be much higher.

After analyzing 213 reported cases of forced eviction in 2017, HLRN has identified four broad categories for which individuals and communities were forcibly removed and displaced from their homes and habitats:

  1. 'City beautification’ projects and ‘slum-clearance’[2] drives [46 per cent of recorded evictions];
  2. Infrastructure and ostensible ‘development’ projects [25 per cent of evictions];
  3. Environmental conservation and wildlife and forest protection [14 per cent of evictions]; and,
  4. Disaster management efforts [eight per cent of evictions].

The highest percentage of evictions (affecting over 122,000 people) were carried out for ‘city beautification,’ ‘slum-clearance’ drives, and ‘slum-free city’ schemes. The notion that ‘beautification’ implies removing the poor from cities reflects an alarming prejudice and discrimination against the country’s most marginalized populations. In many cities, homes of the urban poor are considered ‘illegal encroachments’ and demolished without any consideration that people have been living there for decades, sometimes 40–50 years, and possess documents that validate their legality and proof of residence.

While several evictions are justified for the ‘public purpose,’ the term is ill-defined, even in law, and is widely misused. In 2017, ironically, at least 6,900 homes were demolished to implement ‘housing for all’ schemes. Though the Supreme Court of India and state High Courts have upheld the right to housing as an inalienable component of the right to life, in 2017, court orders were responsible for 17 per cent of the documented evictions.

In almost all eviction cases, authorities did not adhere to due process. Affected communities, in many instances, were not even provided notice or time to remove belongings from their homes. Central government authorities carried out evictions in Delhi during the winter, rendering families homeless and vulnerable to the bitter cold. In Chennai, authorities evicted families before and during school examinations, and also during the rainy season. In numerous cases, the displaced are not resettled on the false grounds that they are not ‘legal’ residents. The persistent discrimination against the country’s poor is further perpetuated in state policy. Several state governments use the exclusionary tool of ‘eligibility criteria’ to determine rehabilitation. Even when families have lived for many years at a site, if they fail to meet the state’s documentation requirements, they are denied relief and resettlement, despite losing their homes, which are generally built incrementally and with hard-earned savings.

The processes followed before, during, and after evictions have resulted in the violation of multiple human rights as well as of national and international laws, policies, and human rights standards. According to the Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement, housing priority should be given to women and the most vulnerable, especially older persons, children, and persons with disabilities. Despite this directive, these groups are the worst affected by the government’s actions.

Given the severity of the crisis, HLRN has proposed 12 recommendations to the government, which can be found in our report. These include the need for a national moratorium on evictions; the adoption of a human rights approach to housing; a focus on in situ (on site) upgrading of housing and settlements; priority to evicted, displaced, and homeless/landless families under the ‘Housing for All–2022’ scheme; and, the implementation of recommendations made to India by UN treaty bodies, Special Procedures, and the Universal Periodic Review.

It is only through the respect, protection, and fulfillment of the human rights of the urban and rural poor to their lands and homes, that India’s housing problems will be resolved.

For more information, write to: ed@hlrn.org.in

[1] The total number of persons affected has been calculated by multiplying the number of homes demolished by the Census of India average household size of 4.8. However, many demolished houses had more than one family and most of the affected families have more than five persons. The number of people affected is thus more likely to be in the range of 260,000–300,000.

[2]  While HLRN does not support the use of the word ‘slum,’ it is used by the Government of India to refer to settlements/homes of low-income groups.

In struggle for Sovereignty, Democracy and Rights of the People Affected by Dams

Water is a right, not a commodity!
Statement by the National Coordination of the Movement of People Affected by Dams

Foto: Lidyane Ponciano

Foto: Lidyane Ponciano

In honor of the International Day against Dams and for Rivers, Waters and Life MIT DRAN is honored to re-publish this statement by Brazil’s Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (MAB) or Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB). Large infrastructure projects like hydropower dams continue to be a leading driver of dispossession and displacement for communities across the globe, disproportionately impacting rural and indigenous communities in the Global South. MAB is one of the world’s largest social movements struggling for the rights of people affected by dams and an international reference for people driven energy sovereignty. 

March is a special month for people affected by dams. Since the first National Meeting (of MAB) in 1991, March 14th became the mark of this agenda in Brazil. In 1997 the date broke borders when, during the first International Meeting of MAB, the International Day against Dams and for Rivers, Waters and Life was established.

Since this point, March 14th serves to unify mobilizations around the world in defense of the rights of millions of people affected by projects involving hydroelectric dams, mining waste or accumulation and channeling of water.

Since 2016, this unity has gained strength in Latin America with the launch of the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAR), which acts as a regional platform for a diverse set of national organizations that daily are building a vision of popular energy sovereignty on the continent.

Now, in 2018, an event of great importance for the militants of the fight against dams will be the epicenter of struggles in the month of March. In parallel to the World Water Forum, the World Alternative Water Forum (FAMA) will be held in Brasilia from March 17th to the 22nd.

A few kilometers from the Brazilian federal capital will separate completely opposite projects. The "forum of the transnationals"- the World Water Forum- will bring together hundreds of representatives of governments and transnational corporations that support the privatization of water to generate profits and accumulation of capital wealth. These are large corporations such as Nestlé and Coca-Cola, which intend to appropriate this natural asset to fatten the sums of profits sent annually to their shareholders.

At the other (ideological) end- at FAMA- will be present thousands of workers from grassroots movements, environmentalists and NGOs that struggle to make water a public good, so that water is controlled and used at the service of the communities. FAMA rejects any form of privatization: from rivers, springs, underground reserves and sanitation.

It is no coincidence that the "forum of the transnationals" is held in Brazil. Of all the freshwater available in the world, 12% is in Brazilian territory, which represents the largest reserve in the world - including Alter do Chão and Guarani aquifers. What is at stake is a huge strategic reservoir of water that could be commodified to serve the interests of a handful of business owners.

In addition to the water reservoirs, the control of their distribution is also at stake. In Brazil, despite the wave of privatization in the 1990s and the coup of 2016, more than 90% of  sanitation services are public. In almost all cases where privatization did take hold, service worsened and costs increased. The most symptomatic example is that of ‘Itu’ in Sao Paulo where during an eight-year period of private management (2007-2015),  the worst rationing of services ever recorded in the city's history was experienced and, later, led to the re-municipalizing of the service.

We have already experienced the results of the privatization of hydroelectric plants and the loss of energy sovereignty: worsening violations of the rights of affected populations, rising tariffs/costs and worsening services. Therefore, we must fight against this institutionalized and legalized assault process called privatization.

With the coup established in Brazil in 2016, the commodification of all aspects of life has been placed as a priority of the State. With water, it will be no different. But, with 27 years of existence to be celebrated this March 14, the Movement of Dam Affected (MAB) understand that no trend in history is irreversible. We need to defend democracy and defeat the coup completely.

In our last National Meeting we decided to fight with all our strength for a popular energy project that guarantees sovereignty, distribution of wealth and popular control over energy resources.

In addition to today’s day of honoring the struggle, on March 8th women from around the world united for International Women's Day. With the question of water, we know that it is women who suffer most from the consequences of scarcity or difficult access to this natural good. Therefore, women affected will be the protagonists and leaders of all the struggles of this month.

In view of this, MAB has called on the population affected by dams in Brazil to join ranks in the mobilizations that will take place in March, with a special focus on FAMA, in Brasília. It is our commitment to defend the waters, rivers and life against any form of privatization. Therefore, we affirm that "water is a right, not a commodity".



Popular Movements Against Displacement in Mexico City

By Max Budovitch

This blog post is a result of a DRAN-sponsored summer internship with Habitat International Coalition (HIC) in Mexico City, Mexico.

Displacement is not new to residents in Mexico city. The 1985 earthquake displaced thousands of the capital’s most vulnerable residents. One of the most important outcomes of reconstruction following the earthquake was the formation of multiple housing rights movements that helped lay the groundwork for some of Mexico’s strongest anti-displacement and housing rights advocates.

A typical semi-formal settlement on the urban periphery

A typical semi-formal settlement on the urban periphery

The most recent wave of development-induced displacement in the capital dates to the liberalization of Mexico’s economy in the 1990s. This climate created a boom in the higher segments of the urban real estate market that has made it increasingly difficult for lower income households to live in the central areas of the capital. This general trend is punctuated and exemplified by specific initiatives such as the ‘revitalization’ of Mexico City’s Historic Center, the construction of high-rise office towers along the Paseo de la Reforma, and the commercial development of Santa Fe. Just as developer friendly public policy is contributing to this dynamic, so is the lack of regulation. As in most global urban cores, rampant real estate speculation is unfettered in Meico City. Public policy such as the initiative to formalize street vendors in the Historic Center and develop the area into an international tourist destination, as well as a public initiative to densify centrally located neighborhoods through developer incentives, have led to a consolidation of property interests in the hands of a number of wealthy developers and investors who target middle and high market segments while capturing public rents. This dynamic is one of the reasons why many middle and lower income tenants are evicted from their well-located dwellings and have no choice but to move to cheaper zones in the State of Mexico or the South Eastern outskirts of Mexico City where there is often a lack of basic services and where one might spend up to six hours commuting to and from work every day.

Windows are bricked over as tenants are evicted

Windows are bricked over as tenants are evicted

During July and August 2017, I participated in a DRAN supported and organized internship at Habitat International Coalition’s Latin America offices based in Mexico City on the issue of displacement in the capital. Among several housing rights groups active in Mexico City including the Movimiento Urbano Popular (MUP) and the Unión Popular Revolucionaria Emiliano Zapata (UPREZ), I coordinated with a loosely organized coalition of residents in the city’s centrally located Colonia Juárez neighborhood, which has come under development pressures that has forced many residents to find more affordable housing elsewhere (pressures that the local community understands to be part and parcel of a wave of gentrification). I gathered testimony and experiences of eviction and displacement from residents during community meetings and created a work plan with the residents to write an anti-displacement manual. When completed, the manual will be a condensed source of useful popular and legal terminology, symptoms of displacement pressures, and a matrix of possible responses and counter-measures that residents can use to mobilize in defense of their communities. The reality of home invasions and occupations by strongmen, new property owners changing the locks while tenants are at work, and the legal and practical challenges of holding owners and developers accountable in court inspired the community to envision a manual that would offer advice to residents on how to unite and combat threats of eviction before it becomes too late.

A community meeting

A community meeting

I also worked with the community in Colonia Juárez to draft a locally-tailored version of the Housing and Land Rights Network’s Displacement Impact Assessment Survey. The Survey, previously known as the Eviction Impact Assessment tool (EvIA), is a methodology based in the UN Basic Principles + Guidelines on Development Based Evictions and Displacement, which was initially developed by the Housing and Land Rights Network and is currently being adapted and applied by DRAN to different displacement scenarios. Adjusting the Survey for an urban context of development-induced displacement presented challenges such as how to measure the impacts of both the threat of eviction and eviction itself on heterogenous urban households that, while residing in the same neighborhood or even within the same building, might face very different types of eviction threats and possible outcomes.

The manual is envisioned as a living document which can adapt to the constantly changing threats faced by housing rights and advocacy groups in Mexico City. One potential adaptation is to include feedback from Displacement Impact Assessment surveying as different communities use this methodology to measure the impacts of displacement. Moreover, the response to the September 19 earthquake this year has ushered in a wave of building demolitions and relocations under the pretense of seismic risk. Some of these demolitions are reportedly conducted without proper investigation and without informing residents.[1] A rights-based approach to housing for those displaced by the earthquake as well as stronger protections against development-related evictions can help ensure greater access to housing for those affected.  The evolving crisis, and human rights violations as a result of multiple causes of displacement is a critical issue that the manual might be able to engage.

[1] Author’s telephone interview with freelance journalist living in Colonia Roma, D.F. October 1, 2017.; National Public Radio. “Quick Building Demolitions Rasie Questions in Mexico”. September 28, 2017. <http://www.npr.org/2017/09/28/554331332/quick-building-demolitions-raise-questions-in-mexico>

Two steps forward, one step back: Internal displacement and the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development' 

A Briefing Paper by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC)

Authored by Nadine Walicki

This July, progress against the targets of the UN 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development was reviewed at a High Level Political Forum in New York. The six Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in focus this year were on reducing poverty (SDG 1), hunger (SDG 2), improving health (SDG 3), gender equality (SDG 5), building resilient industry and infrastructure (SDG 9), and protecting the marine environment (SDG 14).

All of the goals are relevant to internal displacement as progress can help prevent displacement and reduce its negative impacts. However, investments into these six areas can also generate new vulnerabilities and risks as well as violate peoples’ rights. This can undermine the overall achievement of the 2030 agenda, which explicitly states the 17 sustainable development goals in the agenda seek to realize the human rights of all.

One risk is forced displacement of people from their homes and livelihoods. This often leads to impoverishment and marginalisation, but these adverse impacts of development are rarely accounted for in reviewing progress against development targets. The result is a positively skewed assessment of development progress that is not in line with the reality on the ground.

This briefing paper explores the relationship between the six goals reviewed this year and internal displacement across the globe. SDG 9, and the associated investments in infrastructure and industrial development, is of particular interest: while building resilient infrastructure is critical to broader economic and social development, it also regularly displaces people from their homes and livelihoods, and can result in new poverty and marginalisation.

The trade-offs inherent in development investment must therefore be made visible and accounted for in review exercises. The connections between the different SDGs must be considered, to make sure progress in area does not set back advances in others. In this briefing paper, IDMC highlights these connections and the need to identify, measure and expose both progress and setbacks within the 2030 Agenda.

Source: http://www.internal-displacement.org/libra...

New Directions in Displacement Research

On behalf of the MIT Displacement Research Action Network we are honored to share with you our feature virtual symposium “New Directions in Displacement Research” an examination of recent scholarship on displacement and evictions from the Global North and South.  

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DRAN Conference on Hydroproject Displacement Mentioned in Resettlement News Publication

It is an honor for DRAN's spring 2016 conference, "The State of Hydropower Projects Today" to be featured in the January/July 2016 edition of Resettlement News, a specialized publication that has appeared in India bi-annually for nearly 16 years. 

An excerpt: 

"The building of many large-scale hydropower projects has not registered over the
last decades a record of comprehensive successes, and thus has triggered strong
challenges and public criticism. Among various social and environmental disfunctionalities,
such constructions have also been accompanied by preventable social
disasters and impoverishment consequences resulting from several typical causes: the
misplanning and underfinancing of the projects’ forced displacement and resettlement
components; massive cost overruns; extensive construction delays; and cumulative
short- and long term negative environmental impacts.. The workshop was convened to
enable a group of known scholars in the development field to take stock of important
lessons, discuss them, and identify ways in which past errors might be avoided in the

Read the full text here

Update: Boston Chinatown Eviction Mapping

DRAN is continuing its work documenting displacement in Boston's Chinatown district.

Check out the live tool at: http://chinatowndisplacementproject.nil249.webfactional.com/

Chinatown Displacement Project is a data collecting and mapping platform documenting the gentrification and displacement in Chinatown, Boston. The platform is developed by MIT's Displacement Research and Action Network in collaboration with the Chinese Progressive Association.

Boston’s Chinatown is the third-largest Chinatown in the nation and serves as the social, cultural, political, and economic center of the broader Chinese community of New England. Today, the neighborhood is one of the most rapidly gentrifying part of the city, where new luxury residential developments drive up property values. As a result, hundreds of families were displaced and many are at risk of being evicted. Through creating exploratory and interactive visual representation of displacement and market-led gentrification, we aim to support advocacy work of organizations preventing and responding to evictions and displacement.

Learn more by visiting the full project website here.


OCTOBER 7, 2016


The DRAN Team is excited to announce the start a new project funded by the Samuel Tak Lee Research Fund. The project will compare compensation frameworks for displaced individuals and communities across five different countries—USA, India, South Africa, Colombia and Brazil—along with international standards from the World Bank and various UN bodies. Each national compensation framework will be analyzed in practice through 5 detailed case studies using qualitative and quantitative methods. Key issues to be addressed in the project will include: the different ways in which landed property is assigned value; the rights afforded to communities in negotiating for compensation; and some possible alternative compensation frameworks that could be pursued by governments or international agencies. DRAN is extremely appreciative of the STL Fund for making this exciting new project possible. You can read the abstract for the proposal on the STL website by clicking here



This proposal relates to ‘land and property rights’ and ‘sustainable urbanization’ in the RFP. Each year, millions of urban, peri-urban and rural residents lose access to land through ‘takings’. Governments have always asserted their power to expropriate or ‘take’ land owned or occupied by their citizens, provided that they don’t render them worse off. Typically, this is sought to be done through a “fair” process of land acquisition, as well as a “fair” compensation for the losses resulting from the ‘taking’. Other actors such as land lords or developers are also often enabled through laws and policies to displace residents, which constitute a form of land and housing dispossession although not ‘taking’ in strict legal sense. At the heart of these land dispossessions is the question of what constitutes fair compensation or assistance. Most land takings lead to disputes, with a serious impact on public order, and resistance from those whose lands and houses are taken. In this project, we propose to analyze the legal and policy frameworks that govern property in land in a select number of countries, from both global North and South, and specifically examine the compensation and assistance frameworks that are used. The main purpose of this project is to understand the legal and policy frameworks used by different actors – private developers, governments, and land users, owners/occupiers – to estimate what constitutes fair compensation and assistance in a context of hyper urbanization and commodification of land. To do this, we will analyze 5 selected countries (US, India, Brazil, Colombia, South Africa), which have been dentified by our research group, the Displacement Research and Action Network (DRAN). The purpose is to examine how far the laws, policies and practices of these countries measure up against global standards and tools that are available, such as the Eviction Impact Assessment Tool1, and the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-Induced Displacement, for estimating losses from land takings and displacement. A comparison of the different countries may yield useful lessons for other countries such as China, by showing how different models of land governance may lead to different outcomes.