Kabul has been undergoing rapid urbanisation for the last three decades. Population growth in the city is outpacing the city’s capacity to provide necessary infrastructure, services and jobs to citizens, resulting in the emergence of widespread informal settlements that house an estimated 70% of the city’s population. Formal housing provision in the city is currently too expensive to meet the needs of the majority of citizens.
In a context of state fragility and limited government capacity, policies to address and improve informal settlements need to be cheap, simple and have quick results. Visible improvements will generate support from citizens delivered in the short run. This can then help build support for longer term reforms.
Conventional large-scale public housing programmes are unlikely to solve the problem of formal housing shortages in Kabul in the short to medium term. Often, these programmes fail to adequately tackle high costs of production in housing, resulting in public housing that is unaffordable to low-income residents, poorly suited to the needs of these communities, and located in inaccessible areas disconnected from the economic and social fabric of the city.
More feasible options, both for addressing existing informal settlements and preventing the emergence of further informal development in Kabul, are:
1) Providing core infrastructure before settlements emerge;
2) Establishing sites and services for these future settlements;
3) Instituting the right regulatory environment for low-income housing;
4) Registering land rights in new settlements and to transform existing ones;
5) Land readjustment schemes that pool together, re-plan, and service privately held plots.
This paper explores the costs and benefits of each of these options, highlighting the key trade-offs in designing realistic policies for transforming Kabul’s informal settlements.