Life in the settlements – from the inside

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One of the interesting developments in the city of Port Moresby is the growing number in settlements.  These settlements are in fact squatter settlements traditionally inhibited by those who have been attracted by the bright lights of Port Moresby for a promising future.  But for many in the settlements, that bright future has never been realized.

As numbers in the settlements grow, new breed of settlers have joined the traditional settlers making settlements more crowded than ever.  And the more crowded these settlements become, the harder it is for city authorities and even property owners to take the land back.

Unlike the traditional view of settlers being unemployed, conducting illegal activities and the like, the new breed settlers are working class people who have been forced to “rent” a room or a makeshift “hut” at an affordable rate.

One of the main reasons why this working class has been forced out to settlements is the obvious skyrocketing rental rates in the city.  Even some of the most run down properties you will find in the city are on rental for ludicrous amounts but that is just a clear evidence of the disparity in rental accommodation.

But the type of housing erected on settlements id starting to improve.  This is despite the fact that the construction of these houses are without building or physical planning permit and on properties that are not even owned by the person building the house.  But with little action from the city authorities and traditional landowners, the settlers have made the land their own.

The “buildings”, if you can call it that, are simple. Most of the materials used to build the houses are made from bits and pieces one can find near their surroundings. Corrugated iron for walls and roofing, hardwood, plywood and basically anything that can cover the gaps of the structure is attached to make it a “house”.

Inside the “house”, there is nothing in the way of privacy.  This is “open living” in the literal sense with no partitions or walls for bedrooms, kitchen and bathroom.  In fact, there is no bedroom, kitchen or bathroom.  Most of the cooking is done outside and the settlers basically wash from a large container filled with water from the rain or in some cases water fetched from an illegal connection from the city’s main water pipe system.

The numbers inside the house vary but in no way is the number small.  Papua New Guineans live a communal way of life and that lifestyle is shown too in the numbers in each “household” in these settlements.  You can have two, three or even four families in a household and that is normal.

There is certainly an issue of overcrowding but people have very little to no choice unless they reside with family elsewhere or pay the high rentals offered for housing.  Even the lowest rental offered in the city is beyond the lower category of workers which is why most of this class are forced to the settlements.

Rental in these settlements can range from K50 a week or K50 a fortnight depending on the type of housing in the settlements.  Even rooms in settlements can be rented.

Traditional settlers have found a niche market in this rental accommodation problem in the city and have built further housing to cater for this class of workers.

The city authorities are faced with a difficult situation given their aim to develop Port Moresby into a modern city. But before any steps can be taken for this development, the issue of settlements needs to be addressed.

In one case at Paga Hill, a private developer has proceeded to resettle the Paga Hill settlers at Gerehu so that it can develop this prime area into a string of hotels and high end luxury apartments.

City authorities have hinted that settlements may be developed into proper suburban areas.  There are positives and negatives with this initiative.  The positive is that the inhabitants living conditions may improve with proper electricity and water.  The negative is that traditional landowners might have to miss out on their land unless compensated. And that compensation could possibly become a hindrance to proceed with this suburban initiative which obviously takes us back to stage one.

Most of people in settlements aren’t as bad as they’re painted out to be. Some are forced there by the current rental problems. In the end, you can only pay what you can afford and that is the current situation with this class.

What is your solution to this problem?

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