De-densification of informal settlements as a crisis response is bad short-term thinking

De-densification is complex and contested at the best of times and needs to be assessed and navigated on a case-by-case basis; it is definitely not an appropriate response during the Covid-19 disaster that creates further shocks to a part of society that is most vulnerable, nor is it appropriate at scale.

South Africa has close to 2,700 informal settlements that are home to more than 1.2 million vulnerable households. Despite several progressive policies and frameworks, poor, unserviced living environments with their associated risk and inequality persist. With the onset of the Covid-19 crisis, the lack of progress in addressing informal settlements and their magnified risks have come to the fore. A highly debated, yet controversial proposed response to Covid-19 is de-densification (at times rephrased in seemingly less contested terms, such as “resettlement” or “decanting”).

De-densification is complex and contested at the best of times and needs to be assessed and navigated on a case-by-case basis; it is definitely not an appropriate response during a disaster that creates further shocks to a part of society that is most vulnerable, nor is it appropriate at scale.

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