Global experiences show that urban poor have to be recognized as valuable citizens and their knowledge and experience used for good governance that ultimately leads to sustainable development of any modern city.
In Nepal, agricultural activities in urban peripheries, especially in the fertile valleys in hills and mountains, provide scope for employment generation of the urban poor. Furthermore, fuller exploitation of the Tarai’s rich and fertile alluvial soils for large-scale agricultural operations deserves emphasis.
River banks seem to be the areas that highly attract the squatter communities and are therefore highly crowded with poor families. For decades, this problem has been overlooked. The settlements were allowed to grow without any attention to improving their living conditions. Here are two options to the government/municipalities: Either improve the housing in slums/squatter settlements or resettle them in alternative locations. NGOs can facilitate the relocation of these slums/squatter settlements because it is a long process that requires humanitarian support from many organizations. NGOs’ support is also essential in addressing the problems of unemployed, high-school dropout youths, and dependent family members of the slums and squatter communities. Instead of dealing with such communities arbitrarily, slums and squatters should be viewed, mapped, studied and prioritized for their betterment and upgrade of the city as a whole.
In Nepal, squatter settlements, slums, street dwellers, vendors, marginal farm families, and scavenging groups are categorized as poor urban communities. Such communities are concentrated either on the bank of rivers or in the open space near the historical and religious monuments. Hawkers and vendors are concentrated in the city center, religious places and tourist destination sites. Hawkers and vendors are another form of urban poverty in the city, and they are engaged in selling either agricultural products or cloth items or preparing fast food. In a city like Kathmandu, where the price of land is skyrocketing purchasing a parcel of land is beyond the capacity of low income group.
According to Census Survey taken by Central Bureau of Statistics in 2011, the population of urban areas in Nepal is 4523820 out of this 15.46 percent people are living under poverty line. The poverty of the nation has been reduced gradually but the poverty of the urban areas has further increased by 6 percent within the period 2004 and 2011.
The History of squatter settlements on the bank of Bagmati River shows that these were established more than 50 years ago but they were few in comparison to the present. Growth rate is 37.94 percent in 2008, 39.16 percent in 2009, 24.79 percent in 2010 and 15.83 percent in 2011. This indicates rapid growth in the years 2008 and 2009 and slower growth in 2010 and slow in 2011. Settlements are relatively small; some comprise fewer than 20 households are located on public land on the bank of rivers, these are heterogeneous not only in terms of the ethnicity or caste of their residents but also in terms of their places of origin, present occupation and income, family structure and reason of squatting. Riverbank seems to be the area that highly attracts the squatter communities. People residing in squatter settlements face many problems like improper sanitation, unhygienic environmental conditions, social, economic, health, educational and cultural problems and many more. The basic problems inherent in slums are health hazards, lack of basic amenities like safe drinking water, proper housing, drainage and excreta disposal services, make slum population vulnerable to infections. These further compromise the nutrition requirements of those living in slums. The squatter environment is the perfect breeding ground for a wide range of social and environmental problems. High unemployment often causes men to stay around the home growing increasingly frustrated with their pathetic situations and the worsening poverty. Cramped conditions mean that there is nowhere to go when tensions rise, a factor that regularly leads to domestic violence. Sometimes the situation goes to the other extreme, where people abandon their homes, lured by the prospect of stupor through alcohol or drug abuse.
In Nepal, poverty is a crucial problem. More than 25 percent people are still living under the poverty line. Urban poverty is increasing at high pace 9.55 percent in 2004 and 15.46 percent in 2011. During a decade long political turmoil in the country, many poor communities have chosen Kathmandu as a best destination for securing their lives and properties. The lack of opportunities and increasing psycho-political threat in the rural areas are responsible for such a situation. Urban poor are the source of cheap labor force as well as service provider in the informal sector through the activities like, vending, shoe making, driving and construction work. Unfortunately, they are largely ignored in the development process and labeled as illegal and unauthorized settlers. The poor are marginal communities who migrate to city and live in squatter settlements on the periphery of cities; they include high proportion of illiterates and unskilled laborers. They are socially, economically and politically marginal and are spatially separated from the nearby neighborhood.
Actual data of poor families in Kathmandu and other urban areas has not been published yet but informal surveys revealed that about 64 percent households of urban poor in Kathmandu and other urban areas are migrants, mostly from outside the rural areas or districts. Three scenarios of migration have been identified in this study; first, migration from the central hills and mountain region consists of more than 60 percent of total migration; second, migration from eastern Terai is about 14 percent; and third, eastern hills and mountain represents almost 15 percent of the total migrants in the poverty pockets of Kathmandu Valley.
The migrants from several parts of the country are indeed responsible for the degradation of urban environment. The migrants specially live on the banks of rivers and other marginal lands of any urban areas. They work as cheap labors in the city. Most of the urban poor people work as the labors in hotels, factories, enterprises, and sweepers on the road. The contribution of them on national economy could be found positive but for the surrounding environment that they live is highly detrimental. Most of the urban river banks and open marginal spaces are covered by them and the areas are converted as the haphazard settlement areas. This study focuses on this side of urban poverty, environment and economy.
- Problems-Rural to Urban
Unplanned urban development in the Kathmandu Valley has led to rapid and uncontrolled sprawl; irregular, substandard, and inaccessible housing development; loss of open space, and decreased livability. It has also increased vulnerability to disasters, making Kathmandu one of the most earthquake-vulnerable cities in the world. Limited connectivity and access to markets, exacerbated by the country’s difficult topography, and intermittent electricity supply are major impediments to the expansion of nonfarm economic activities. Managing rapid urbanization poses challenges that require urgent policy attention. One critical challenge is haphazard and uncontrolled growth of built-up areas. Because they are classified as rural areas in spite of their urban characteristics, several market and border towns are growing “under the radar” without government planning and control.
- Necessity of urban planning for sustainable development of Nepal
Nepal is a unique tradition, rich history and a moderate state of sustainability in the past. However, the rapidly growing and modernizing city of Kathmandu is facing serious problems of sustainability in all fronts: economic, environmental and ecological. Whereas environmental and economic sustainability was tacitly imbedded in the traditional planning practices in Nepal, the rapid expansion and modernization of all the major cities in the Kathmandu valley is making them increasingly unsustainable.
Therefore for sustainable development of Nepal it is necessary to develop urban planning and have to follow strictly.
 The Terai (Nepali: Tarāī) is a belt of marshy grasslands, savannas, and forests located south of the outer foothills of the Himalaya, the Siwalik Hills, and north of the Indo-Gangetic Plain of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and their tributaries.