The need for participatory organization
Nepal is prone to earthquakes and the location of the settlements on the banks of a major water body makes them vulnerable to seasonal flooding as well. Some residents, such as the shopkeeper, can manage to shift the infrastructure of their homes to higher ground and simply rebuild. This is not a feasible option for many others in Paurakhi Basti whose homes fill up with the polluted Bagmati water. They simply scoop out the water that enters their house since there isn’t much they do to reinforce their house against the flooding. The settlements are mainly built through found and affordable materials, making-do, and improvising in the construction process. This helps in their ability to recover from natural disasters, like the 2015 Nepal Earthquake. The parts of their home that did suffer damage were quickly rebuilt or residents took shelter in the open spaces around their settlement.
Residents of similar bastis and homegrown settlements are wary of outsiders due to the constant threat of eviction and are apprehensive about being photographed. When homes get demolished, the residents simply rebuild in the same location or a new one. Plans to relocate residents to housing complexes or apartments don’t bode well since residents are rarely consulted about their needs. This is despite the fact that non-profit organizations and student volunteers approach the settlements regularly to study their social, political, and community-health conditions. Apart from the Paurakhi basti on the banks of the Bagmati, there are many similar settlements in Kathmandu Valley along the Bishnumati, Dhobikhola, and Manohara rivers.
There are also many older settlements that have been around for about 25 to 30 years in the Valley, such as the ones in Shankhamul, Bouddha, and Balaju. According to Moti Lal Lama of the Nepal Basobas Basti Samrakhshan Samaj (Society for Preservation of Shelter and Habitation in Nepal), even though these settlements may not have legal rights over the land they reside in, they have been socially and developmentally integrated into the city. The residents have constructed their homes while the government has pitched roads and provided electricity in the areas.
Residents of homegrown settlements in Kathmandu Valley are no strangers to the hardships and challenges that accompany displacement, migration, self-governance, and natural disasters. Like many homegrown settlements across the world, sukumbasi residents have a strong sense of community bonds along with the self-made nature of their communities that allows them to thrive. Efforts for inclusive collaboration between the residents of homegrown neighborhoods and government authorities is a necessity to build neighborhoods that can withstand the effects of external mishaps and caters to the needs of the residents.
Acknowledgments: We would like to give special thanks to the residents of Paurakhi Basti for welcoming us to their settlement and sharing with us their experiences and stories. We would also like to thank Mr. Moti Lal Lama of the Nepal Basobas Basti Samrakhshan Samaj (Society for Preservation of Shelter and Habitation in Nepal) for his insight into homegrown settlements of Nepal.