Slums came into existence with the expansion of export trade associated
with the rubber boom after World War II, especially during the Korean
War in 1953. The character of Colombo changed in keeping with the
new economic demands for warehousing, workers’ housing and
road networks. Colombo became more congested and the city elite
moved out into more spacious residential areas in the suburbs. The
central part of Colombo became characterized by predominantly low-income
residential areas, mainly slums, and the northern and eastern parts
contained most of the shanties. Slums and shanties are the most
common types, with slums on the high lands of the old city that
consist of the oldest low-income housing – mostly from the
1930s and with a definite legal occupancy status. Shanties along
canal banks and road reserves have emerged since
independence in 1948 onwards, and consist of unauthorized and improvised
shelter without legal rights of occupancy of the land and structures.
Although there are no formal definitions as such, four
categories are recognized:
these are old deteriorating tenements or subdivided derelict houses.
The slum tenements, built mostly of permanent materials, are very
often single roomed and compactly arranged in back-to-back rows.
The occupants have a definite legal status of occupancy.
these consist of improvised and unauthorized shelter, constructed
by the urban squatters on state or privately owned land, without
any legal rights of occupancy. The areas are badly serviced and
very often unsanitary.
Unserviced semi-urban neighbourhoods:
these are badly serviced residential areas in the suburban areas
of Colombo and secondary towns. One difference from the squatter
areas is that residents of these settlements have definite legal
titles, and the sizes of the plots are relatively larger than the
Labour lines: these are derelict housing areas that
belong to the local authority or government agencies, and that are
occupied by temporary or casual labourers. These settlements are
in an unsanitary and derelict condition due to lack of maintenance
over a long period of time.
About half of the urban poor have no security of tenure
(unauthorized occupation or user permit only), 37 per cent have
freehold and 13 per cent have leasehold.
Under the impacts of strong political will and effective
housing improvement, regularization, community development and self-help
efforts, the growth of slums and shanties has been brought under
control, and clear impacts have been made in improving the general
of the urban poor.
Close to half of Colombo’s urban population
consists of communities that have been living in inadequate housing
conditions for many years, and 16 per cent of the urban poor depend
on poverty-relief assistance. Most economically active slum dwellers
are unskilled workers or petty traders or hawkers. Youth unemployment
rates are around 60 per cent, and some 20 per cent of households
receive public financial assistance. All slum dwellers are subject
to serious discrimination.
Prior to 1970, there was minimal government intervention
as the housing of the poor either concerned private owned or illegal
property. Between 1970 and 1977, the government recognized and took
action regarding the housing issues of the urban poor, including
interventions in ensuring housing rights, direct housing construction
and the provision of tenure rights. Between 1978 and 1994, a shift
from provision towards enabling, recognition of the role of local
authorities, promotion of community participation, and self-help
and establishment of nation-wide housing programmes occurred. In
this period, the One Hundred Thousand Houses, the One Million Houses
and the 1.5 Million Houses programmes were established with strong
political support from the central government. The post- 1994 period
saw interventions including the private sector in housing provision,
urban renewal programmes and urban settlements improvement programmes.
The principles of the One Million Houses Programme
clearly promoted an enabling environment (legal, institutional,
financial and technical support) for people to improve their own
houses. In particular, the institutional mechanism created by the
government to implement the national housing programmes was very
effective. The establishment of the National Housing Development
Authority under the Ministry of Housing and Construction, with district
offices of the authority for each administrative district of the
country, and the linking of programme activities at local level
through urban and rural local authorities, were notable initiatives
in this context. Bottom up information flow and decision-making
processes were encouraged. Numerous shanty settlements have been
regularized and improved, and very few shanties have been built
in Colombo over the past 20 years.
has been extracted from:
UN-Habitat (2003) Global Report on Human Settlements 2003, The Challenge
of Slums, Earthscan, London; Part IV: 'Summary of City Case Studies',