Friday, March 5, 2010


What is a Livelihood? Any activity and resources that provide a means to fulfil basic needs of a person and act as a source of income.

So what is Sustainable Livelihood? A sustainable livelihood is one that provides a regular means of living, can withstand external shocks or changes in the environment and provides an opportunity to grow both in the short and long term, without depleting natural resources.

In developing countries planning activities may not be able to keep up with the pace of growth of cities. Reasons may differ from lack of capability, to inability of government or municipal agencies or lack of will and corruption. The most affected by the widening gap in the demand for and actual delivery of infrastructural services are the urban poor who are most vulnerable. Besides, they depend on cash income from informal, low-paying and irregular sources which reduces their ability to plan for the future and results in an insecure future!

Often authorities exclude slum dwellers in their planning process as these settlements lack a legal status. Even efforts to rehabilitate them may turn out to be a failure. Some of the slums maybe self-sustaining units and these units are shifted to ill-equipped buildings, previously existing sources of livelihoods are destroyed and the community feeling that the people shared is challenged. Instead of pulling the poor out of their local economies, the government should try to provide the entrepreneurial forces within them the resources needed to grow, it should acknowledge and protect small – scale units within such slums and street vendors through proper regulation.

Creation of affordable homes should encompass at least notional security of tenure; give them a place they can call their own, without the fear of being evicted. Slums should not be seen as a problem but as a solution to a problem developed by the people using ingenious methods! Their inhabitants must be seen as capable actors and not victims! The importance and role of existing organisations and social links needs to be appreciated. Only then can we get these communities to invest in improvement of their living conditions!

Access to resources is important aspect of creating sustainable livelihoods. In a project supported by the World Bank certain areas of Karnataka like Belgaum and Hubli have been equipped with 24 hour water supply. Women here now get relief from the time-consuming and strenuous activity of filling water from public taps and are taking up jobs to supplement their family income. Lack of access to basic services affects capability to earn a decent income. It may also result in people resorting to unhealthy alternatives. This coupled with poor sanitation results in serious health problems and managing a sustainable livelihood then becomes difficult.

Access to education is also essential for a sustainable livelihood. An interesting phenomenon here as observed by James Tooley expressed in his book The Beautiful Tree is the role of private schools with teachers from the community who understand the background of the students. Such schools should be given access to loans and infrastructural assistance.

Employment opportunities would increase by giving the urban poor a respectable living address (often applications are rejected at the screening process simply because applicants stay at a particular locality), by developing entrepreneurial skills through vocational training, providing fair working conditions and community day care services for women among other social welfare schemes.

In all the above areas, there is need for improved co-ordination between government and non-governmental agencies like that of the successful initiative by the NGO Pratham in its efforts to provide education.

To conclude I would say that we need to give the urban poor an equal right to the city!


‘Sustainable Livelihoods Approaches - Tools for Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction’ - ProVention Consortium Secretariat – John Twigg

‘Urban Livelihoods in Afghanistan’ – Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit – Synthesis Paper Series - Jo Beall and Stefan Schütte

‘Methods for understanding urban poverty and livelihoods’ - Arjan de Haan, Michael Drinkwater, Carole Rakodi and Karen Westley

‘The Role of Tenure, Work and Co-operativism in Sustainable Urban Livelihoods’ - Urban Research Centre, University of Western Sydney - Louise Crabtree

Sustainable Development in India: Perspectives – Report by Ministry of Environment and Forests – GOI

‘Sustainable urban livelihoods: Concepts and implications for policy’ - Sheilah Meikle, Tamsin Ramasut & Julian Walker