Monday, August 15, 2011

filthy secret of the modern megacity

NewStatesman | Across the world, slums are home to a billion people. The rich elite want the shanty towns cleared, but residents are surprisingly determined not to leave. There is a long curve of water and, as far as the eye can see, there are shacks, garbage, washing, tin, bits of wood, scraps of cloth, rats and children. The water is grey, but at the edges there's a flotsam of multicoloured plastic rubbish. This is the Estero de San Miguel, the front line in an undeclared war between the rich and poor of Manila. Figures emerge from creaky doors to move along bits of walkway. In the deep distance is the dome of a mosque; beyond that are skyscrapers.

Mena Cinco, a community leader here, volunteers to take me in - but only about 50 yards. After that, she cannot guarantee my safety. At the bottom of a ladder, the central mystery of the Estero de San Miguel is revealed: a long tunnel, four feet wide, dark except for the occasional bare bulb. It's just like an old coal mine, with rickety joists, shafts of light and pools of what I'm hoping is water on the floor. All along the tunnel are doors into the homes of as many as 6,000 people.

We knock on the first one that's ajar. Oliver Baldera comes blinking to it, pulling on his shirt. On the floor behind him are his four kids, eating ice cream. His wife joins him.

The room is eight feet by eight and forms their entire dwelling space. It contains everything they own: a television, four bowls of ice cream, a light bulb, a mattress and the clothes they are wearing. "We've been here more than ten years," he says. "There's no choice. I'm a carpenter in the construction industry. We came from Mindanao."

Why did he move? "Because of poverty. It's easier to get a job here and I can earn 400 pesos a day. I can send the kids to school and they eat three times a day - but it's not enough. I need more space."

“But they're happy," Mena chips in.

Further along, there's a shaft of light and some kids are splashing about in a blow-up pool. Mena makes them sing. One of them comes up to me. "What's it like living here?" I ask. Mena mutters something to him in Filipino. "Happy," he says, and smiles.

This is a place where you cannot stride along without hitting your head or bruising your elbow, so people creep and shuffle. Here, you cannot go to the toilet without standing in a queue. Here, sex between a man and a woman has tohappen within breathing distance of their kids and earshot of 20 other families. This is the classic 21st-century slum. A billion people live in them, one in seven of the world's population. By 2050, according to the United Nations, there could be three billion. The slum is the filthy secret of the modern mega-city, the hidden achievement of 20 years ofuntrammelled market forces, greed, neglect and graft.

Yet Mena, at my elbow, is feeding me an incessant mantra: "We are happy; there is social cohesion here; we are organised; it is clean." The reason is this - the Estero de San Miguel has been condemned. The president of the Philippines, Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino, has decided to clear Manila's slums and send half a million people back to the countryside. That suits the business elite and the political clans that run the country fine. "Many of our people are no longer interested in agriculture, so we need to give them incentives to go back," says Cecilia Alba, head of the national Housing and Urban Development Co-ordinating Council. "If we had to rehouse the slum-dwellers inside Manila in medium-rise housing, it would cost a third of the national budget."

At the top of the list for relocation are the residents of the Estero de San Miguel. They will not go without a fight. "We will barricade and we will revolt if we have to," Mena says. "We will resist slum clearance and we will fight to defend our community. We are happy here."


CNu said...

the slums, the foundouks, the gecekondus, the favelas, the chawls, are, in comparison a blast furnace of opportunity.

hmm..., I'd be more inclined to agree if computational genomic technology was on a sourceforge vector of combinatorial explosion in these rodential human monads, BUT, that ain't happening John. Having seen my share of these in India and Mexico, I'm forced to conclude that these mega-warrens are simply where some ruthless technical point source will drop a viral anthopicide and inexpensively accomplish a vast part of the cull. When I peeped this joint the other day, I did not find it cause for celebration, rather, cause for restarting the doomsday clock.

Uglyblackjohn said...

Doomsday Clock?
Why - because it was funded by Departments of Defense?

CNu said...

There's that, but an unobtainium-like, 100% effective anti-viral means you can lay down the viral killers like they were insecticide, confident in the knowledge that you and yours are fully protected.

Uglyblackjohn said...

The odd thing is that in a recent Forbes (or Fortune) article some guy says that he ASPIRES to live in the slums of Mumbai (He just cannot afford the $25 entry fee).

Uglyblackjohn said...

But BD would say that using it thusly would be a good form of self defense.

CNu said...

BD and his'n are not likely to get a crack at the antidote either...,

Uglyblackjohn said...

And that's what they don't understand.
He is in the same sinking shit as us but he doesn't even understand that he will also need a lifeboat.

Tom said...

Yeah if BD is counting on White Solidarity from the elite he is going to be severely disappointed.  They do not care any more about BD than about poor/uneducated people of any other color. 

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