We're currently experiencing some of the worst monsoon rains, about 3 days of nonstop crappy weather complete with floods, flashfloods, power interruptions, evacuations, dam releases, terrible visibility, river-like streets and just all-around 'no-this-is-not-more-fun-in-the-Philippines weather.' Thankfully, Filipinos have gotten much better at getting information out and alerting themselves and other people (social media, this is why I love you) and there's a lot of information out there in cyberspace. So much so, that it can be quite hard to figure out what information is important to look at.
It's World Humanitarian Day!
I recently read a diary of an aid worker by an Filipino Oxfam staffer working in South Sudan that started out with "don't tell my mother but..." and that is exactly what runs through my head every time I'm deployed to the field following an emergency.
So this is my confession as a humanitarian aid worker (this is incredibly ill-advised. Sorry, Mom! The only thing I can say is... I'm 26! I'm legal age! I pay taxes! I like my work!). By the way, if you're expecting mine to be as dangerous as a diary of an aid worker living in South Sudan... you are sorely mistaken. It's not that bad.
Don't tell my mother but in the course of my short humanitarian career...
Like every giant issue, there are always 2 sides to every story and there is a similar story for informal settlers. Sure there are times I do agree that it's parasitic to have informal settlers living in slums but for the most part, I think it's a much more complicated story behind that. Here's what I know and what I've experienced for myself (validating a lot of this article):
1. Informal settlers do pay rent. It's odd to think about it considering the space and kind of homes they live in but when your daily wage is only thismuch, what can you do? You find a place that will cut down as much on cost as you can so you have a little more money for really important things like food or medicine. I've met families who take great pride that they do pay rent because it may not be a mansion but it validates the fact that they don't just squat but they are tenants in their own right.
2. Informal settlers have a claim to land that goes generations past. A lot of families I have met may not have the title with them but their great-grandparents have lived there. It's hard to feel like you don't own the land that your ancestors have lived on for more than half a century.
3. Informal settlers do have jobs. Yes, there may be deadbeats but there are more productive workers in a slum that you'd think. What's unfair about life is that a deadbeat in a suburb gets a little more respect because his well-to-do family can float him by while a 9 to fiver informal settler gets called a parasite because the minimum wage being offered him can hardly get him by. It's on them to have a steady job but it's on the government (and to be honest, the more fortunate ones... meaning us) to figure out how to balance inequality and improve labor and wages in the Philippines.
4. Informal settlers are attracted by the lure of the city having more opportunities. But with more opportunities means living near those opportunities costs more than it should. You can't say the jobs are in the city but the relocation sites are in the country. Maybe you're giving people free land that you feel they should be grateful for but you're not factoring in that the cost of transportation from their land to their work is probably more than the minimum wage the government mandates.
5. Slums can be productive. Take Dharavi in Mumbai. Don't know it? Maybe we should. Go Google it. Some slums operate like tiny little productive cities with their own economies fit to scale. Some may even be completely self-sufficient; the only problem is the land they're built on. But if the city around them is too expensive for our people, Filipinos, to even live on, before we call them parasites, consider that some of the slums we're quick to dismiss ARE productive, they just aren't productive enough to afford the city surrounding it. And with the informal settlers working as hard as they do to provide for their families with the less opportunities afforded to them, is it their fault that the rest of the Philippines isn't giving them the same equal shot the more fortunate ones have? Maybe it's the well-off side of the Philippines that's driving the inequality. Wouldn't that be unsettling to know that we're causing informal settlers?
Abbi is a petite human, blogger, amateur photographer, permanent humanitarian, avid traveller, culture addict, giant bookworm and impossible foodie.