A nationwide project has been launched to upgrade slum areas in three Iranian cities, with work scheduled to begin in a further five cities over the next eight years.
Following a three month pilot project in the south-eastern city of Zahedan, the Urban Upgrading and Housing Policy Reform project will now be implemented in the western city of Kermanshah and the southern port town of Bandar Abbas. The project is funded by a US $85 million loan from the World Bank which will cover the first four years of operations.
The scheme was launched in Zahedan, a town near the Pakistan and Afghan borders in Iran's poorest province, Sistan-Baluchestan. An 18 month feasibility study was carried out in Zahedan which was then approved by the World Bank. Of the loan approved, $17 million will be allocated to the city.
"Our main objective is to reduce poverty in the slums," Farzin Khazraei, head of Archaotect Consultants, the architecture and consultancy firm which carried out the feasibility study, told IRIN. Khazraei says that slums are a growing problem in Iran and their growth was rapidly accelerated by the eight year war with Iraq, when communities near the border fled to safer cities. The slums also swelled in size as a result of the high rate of rural-urban migration in Iran.
"From an optimistic point of view, 15 percent of Iran's population lives in slums. From a pessimistic point of view the number is 25 per cent - that's 17 million people living in slums," says Khazraei. He is closely involved with the Zahedan pilot project.
Conditions here are harsh with drought, sandstorms and smugglers carrying drugs over its rugged mountain passes into the city. There are eleven slums in Zahedan with some 235,000 inhabitants, a third of the city’s population. The slum residents survive in sub-standard living conditions, lacking access to education, health facilities, sanitation or safe drinking water. There is a high crime rate and drug abuse is rife.
The project will build 20 schools, five medical centres, community, cultural and child care centres. It will also repair roads, street-lighting systems and establish drinking water and sewage networks.
"One of the biggest problems arises when the slums are outside the city borders, then the city municipality has no legal obligation to provide services to the slums," explains Khazraei. He says that even though more than 50 percent of the slums are inside the city border, lack of management and financing means that municipalities do not deliver services.
"There is rubbish everywhere and the children have no place to play," complains a female resident in one of the slums of Zahedan.
"The school is far away and it's difficult to get there. I have six children and my husband has 12. Six of them are deaf and dumb," says another. There is a high illiteracy rate, as high as 70 percent in some areas and children are forced to work from as young as five or six years old. Selling bananas in the bazaar earns them only 50 cents a day.
Khazraei says that participation of the communities in the slums, especially in the policy making process, is the key to the success of the project.
"The communities in these slums have no hope and no identity. They feel no connection to where they live and they don't do anything for their neighbourhoods," says Khazraei. "When there is rehabilitation without participation what happens is that the community just moves to another slum. The community should be involved in every step. We must ask them, what do you want? What do you want to do with your life? This is what creates hope and identity."