The increase in informal settlements have often been a challenge for the governments of most developing countries, including Papua New Guinea (PNG). Various government-supported initiatives such as opposition to the existence of informal settlements, eviction of residents and upgrade of the settlements have been implemented to address the challenges associated with informal settlements. However, the emergence of informal settlements has continued to be a long-standing issue in PNG. The profileration of informal settlements in a city is a sign of governance failures that must be addressed in an effective and efficient manner.

What is informal settlement?

An informal settlement is a residential area that has the following characteristics:

  • Residents do not often have security of tenure for land and houses they live in.
  • Residents may be squatters or renting houses informally.
  • Basic infrastructure such as potable piped-borne water, good road network and electricity are either lacking or connected illegally.
  • Basic services such as health care, security services (police stations), education services (schools) and modern market facilities are lacking.
  • Make-shift houses are often available in large number.
  • Houses constructed in the area do not often comply with building regulations and plan.

How does government often treat informal settlements?

Informal settlements are often treated by governments in the following ways:

  • Opposition by not acknowledging their existence. Some governments tend to suppress and restrict the emergence of informal settlements. However, this does not often result in addressing the problems that push some people to informal settlement.
  • Eviction. In some cases, informal settlement residents are forcefully removed from the settlement and their properties confiscated. Eviction does not provide solution to the informal settlement problems. In fact, it may worsen the already fragile situation because it often renders some people homeless, jobless and threatens the existence of vulnerable people.
  • Relocation of informal settlement residents. This entails the movement of residents to areas where the government has approved to resettle them. The government may assist in providing housing to informal settlement residents in an area that has all basic utilities. However, some people may lose their social and economic networks, which are important for their welfare.
  • Upgrade of informal settlements. This involves providing basic infrastructure and services in the informal settlements and land tenure regularised. This arrangement is widely accepted as the most preferable compared to other arrangements. This is because it can assist informal settlement residents to sustain their social and economic networks, which are necessary for their livelihoods. Upgrading a settlement involves the transformation of various dimensions of the settlement such as economic, social, organisation and environment. Its goal is often to achieve settlement security. It is important to note that upgrading informal settlements has the potential to increase prices of land and housing, which might have adverse impact on the availability of affordable housing for low-income households and vulnerable persons.

Currently, government have been considering upgrading some informal settlements by providing infrastructures and services as a way to improve the conditions of the settlement and welfare of residents.

Conclusion

For the upgrade project to be effective, the beneficiary communities should be involved in the planning and implementing of the project. As informal settlements often provide affordable housing for low-income households and vulnerable people, the upgrade of a settlement may result in an increase in housing price, which they may not be able to afford. Thus, the anomaly should be considered in an upgrade project by providing housing programs that can cater for housing needs of low-income households. The issuance of land titles is often part of the informal settlement upgrade processes. This suggests the need to provide guidelines and requirements that residents should meet before they can be qualified for land titles. In order to avoid land grabbing of customary land, only genuine owners should be given land titles. Genuine customary landowners must be identified through an effective mechanism such as incorporated land groups registration.

 

This article was first published in the Post-Courier’s 27 May 2021 edition and on its website’s commentaries and features page.