Sustainable Architecture(s) - Humane Cities
Discovering best practices in planning for and improving informal settlements in low and middle-income countries
J. Dickson-Gomez et al
7:30 pm - 9:00 pm


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The acute urban housing crisis in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMIC) is one of the leading causes of health disparities within developing countries and between the global north and south.  In the developing world, 881 million people are estimated to be living in “informal settlements” or slums, constituting over 50% of the urban population in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA).  Informal settlements often lack basic infrastructure such as sewage, potable water, garbage collection, and electricity. Very few studies have explored differences in LMIC informal settlements within different countries or cities, which may cause wide and undiscovered disparities in health among them.  Informal settlements form as migrants “squat” on unoccupied land or rent or buy housing in land that has been illegally sold or developed for residential use.  The ways that governments have responded to informal settlements also has varied widely.  This paper will compare the development and efforts to improve informal settlements in four countries in East Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya.  We conducted key informant interviews with government and non-governmental officials and leaders and focus group interviews with informal settlement residents.  Rwanda’s informal settlements formed mainly through “pirate development”.  In contrast, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya are mostly made up of squatters.  Rwanda has a national plan for urban settlements with a flexibility of approaches including planned future settlements, low-income loans to develop housing, and cooperatives of residents living in informal settlements. Uganda and Tanzania have focused on displacing residents and building new affordable housing units.  Kenya has relied on a process of legalization through organizing residents into cooperatives after which residents can receive legal title to their land and housing and infrastructure improvements.  The degree to which national strategies have been implemented and the extent to which each strategy has improved infrastructure and health of residents varied.


Dr. Dickson-Gomez studies HIV prevention among drug users in the United States and El Salvador and is also interested in the influence of structural factors on HIV risk. Her research explores the effects of housing policy on drug users’ access to housing, variations in housing status and housing options of drug users, and levels of HIV risk related to these factors. Dr. Dickson-Gomez’s work also explores macro- and micro-social contexts of crack use and HIV risk in communities in El Salvador. Her work develops and evaluates the impact of structural and multi-level interventions in the U.S., Latin America and East Africa. Dr. Julius Ssentongo is a Public Health Physician and serves as the Director Resilience at Makerere University School of Public Health, Resilient Africa Network (RAN). Dr. Sssentongo oversees an extensive and multidisciplinary research portfolio of resilience research that focuses on understanding the drivers of different shocks and stresses that constantly threaten the development of communities, as well as their mitigation by leveraging innovation. Dr. Ssentongo has over 10 years working experience in the fields of Public Health, Governance and Education. Agnes Nyabigambo is health services research specialist trained at Makerere university. She is working as a Projects Manager at Makerere University, School of Public Health, Resilient Africa Network (RAN).  She is currently undertaking a PhD studies in Public Health Medicine.