Interface between the biophysical environment in informal settlements and poverty in developing countries : the case for Sierra Leone
The socio-economic problems of developing countries, especially Sub-Saharan African cities are the result of rapid growth, increasing poverty, unequal distribution of resources, civil conflicts and poor governance. These problems have been exacerbated by perennial incidence of civil wars. In Sierra Leone, eleven years of protracted civil war has exacerbated the problems of rural-urban migration, increased poverty, dislocation of urban governance, severe unemployment and lost income opportunities, which all combined have worsened the unequal distribution of resources and poverty. This has led to the collapse of urban infrastructure and of the formal economy, which have combined to accentuate urban poverty and the deterioration of the biophysical environment. These problems have further been compounded by heavy debts burden and structural adjustment programmes imposed on developing countries to facilitate economic diversification, while multilateral aid policies have failed to address the problems of the poor, especially the urban poor. However, the postulation of this study is that for a pragmatic policy formulation and implementation in aid of poverty alleviation, there must be an adequate understanding of the informal settlement problem. To this effect, two combined survey methods of investigation were employed to access both primary and secondary data on the state of informal settlements in urban areas of Sierra Leone. This consisted of socio-economic and attitudinal survey of residents of three randomly chosen informal settlements two of which have benefited from partial upgrading and one has yet to benefit from any upgrading initiative. The findings from the study clearly presents an understanding of the informal settlement problems, including knowledge poverty, the basic social and economic needs of the residents. Recent efforts by especially international and local aid agencies to improve living conditions in informal settlements have not had significant impact on the quality of life of residents and the biophysical environment. This has been due to bad implementation of programmes and lack of proper co-ordination system among stakeholders rather than choice of strategy. Thus, the central thesis in the present study is that Settlement Upgrading is the appropriate approach to improving the living conditions of residents in informal settlements in Sierra Leone, which can be achieved under the auspices of the Urban Informal Settlement Development Authority as the central coordinating body. Poverty alleviation policies have also been proposed, which are realistic and implementable for better quality of life within the built environment in Sierra Leone.