In the preamble to the Habitat Agenda ( UNCHS 1996), access to safe and healthy shelter was recognised as essential to a person's physical, psychological, social and economic well-being. And yet no investment in land or property is safe unless the rights to ownership of that land are stable and secure. Whilst this proposition is generally valid, this argument tends to oversimplify the dynamic relationships between tenure, housing and environmental management among families in the post-colonial African city.
<br>This essay argues that tenure alone, by itself, may be inadequate as an explanatory variable and may be subsumed under the degree of planning in the community and zoning regulations, the provision of in-house environmental services, and the relative wealth and power of its residents that enhance access to scarce resources. The urban poor live beyond the pale of the law while the urban elite make the laws and determine penalties for breaking them. In many countries of Africa, the dividing line between legal and illegal is one which has been inherited, largely unaltered from their colonial past.
<br>The paper provides a historical review of state policies and the housing and environmental crisis, examines the patterns of land and house tenure, and investigates the relationship between house tenure and housing and environmental services. It also examines the relationship betweeen tenure and house maintenance and environmental management with special emphasis on the low income informal housing market with shared facilities and explores the relationship betwen crowding at these shared facilities and health.
<br>The results from this case study tend to suggest that the wealth and power of households together with location are more important in determining environmental outcomes rather than tenure. The study shows that centrally directed and controlled housing programmes and state subsidies have tended to benefit those who could best compete in the free market to the exclusion of the urban poor, who are consigned to a deprived life in the informal housing sector with few environmental services. All tenure groups in the upper end of the housing market are united by their privileged acess to housing and environmental services, whilst those at the lower end are bound together by their poverty and the state policies of social exclusion.
This paper examines four aspects of poverty: (1) the essence of being poor, (2) the physical, social and psychological consequences of poverty, (3) the causes or origins of poverty, and (4) poverty alleviation.
<br>Basic to programmes of poverty alleviation or elimination is understanding what keeps some people or families in a condition of perpetual poverty. Is it due to defects in the life ways of the poor (the individual blame or "culture of poverty" hypothesis), or is it due to the dysfunction and inequities in the social, political and economic institutions in the society (systemic-blame hypothesis)? It is argued here that although poverty may have both individual and systemic origins, the latter (both internal and external) is preponderantly responsible for the continuing poverty of the poor, in many developing countries. Unless there is good internal governance and a serious international effort at changing the world economic order and sharing the potential equitably, poor countries and their impoverished people will continue to wallow in poverty. National and global governance must have at their core, human development and equity.