The Social Cohesion Laboratory Mexico – European Union begins in 2011, with the objectives of strengthening social cohesion in Mexico through better access to improved basic services and public programs in the social sector, and the development and implementation of public policies and institutional practices which enhance access and quality of basic services and public programs in the social sector.
This Social Cohesion Laboratory responds to the review and methodological innovation for public policies and institutional practices, it promotes the exchange of experiences and pilot actions, and it is based in a cross-sectoral approach, at urban and rural levels. Its main purpose is to promote social cohesion through the development of public policies that facilitate access to public programs and services while improving quality of public policies and public management and which involves different levels of government and civil society organizations.
The Mexican Federal Government, through its Secretariat of Social Development SEDESOL, manages a public program referred to as “Habitat Program”, which is targeting an urban poverty situation called “Habitat Polygons”. The investment is entirely public, with State and Local Governments funds. The main work of the Laboratory is performed within the Habitat Program.
Mexico has experienced these past years an increasing rate of urbanization that has led it to be a predominantly urban society. In the eighties, more than half of the population was already living in urban areas and in the year 2010 the urban population reached 76.8% of the total population. Such figures are equivalent in other countries. Although 45.5% percent of the population was located in urban areas, around 32.1 million people were in poverty, which are segregated spatially, socially and economically in areas with precarious facilities and of little value in the urban market. These conditions – to limit access of the poor to the opportunities offered by cities -, create barriers to the mobility of people, lead to its isolation and promote intergenerational reproduction of poverty.
Moreover Mexico has suffered continuous violence linked to organized crime. This endemic problem is especially present in urban areas, directly impacting the daily lives and quality of life of its inhabitants. During 2008, 20% of households in metropolitan areas had at least one person who has suffered a violent crime.
Existing diagnostics show that the poverty situation groups are the most affected by violence and insecurity, both as victims as aggressors. They also have fewer means to protect than the rest of the population. The clearest impacts of insecurity and violence are social fragmentation in communities, inter-generational transmission of the vulnerability status, reduced participation in democratic processes and therefore weakening the generation and reproduction of social capital. This situation has improved thanks to programs such as the Habitat Agenda and “We are all Juarez” and others engaged in the fight against gender violence.
The Habitat Program operates in cities and metropolitan areas with over 15,000 inhabitants that comprise the National Urban System (SUN). In this areas, we have identified 296 043 city blocks with 6.7 million homes with high levels of poverty and deficiencies in infrastructure and basic services. . Of these homes, according to the data of the Second Census of Population and Housing 2005, 28% do not have water in the house, 3.5% lack of sanitation (drainage) and 0.7% of electricity. In most of the cities where these situations are found there are no wastewater treatment, and household wastes are discharged directly into aquifers, rivers etc..
Actions funded by the Habitat Program are organized in three modalities:
- a) Social and Community Development, which supports activities that contribute to the formation and strengthening of social capital through the development of individual and community capacities, promoting gender equality and the prevention of family and community violence, among other.
- b) Improvement of the Urban Environment, which promotes the physical improvement of Habitat Polygons and urban integration of its inhabitants, by introducing or improving urban infrastructure and basic social, ecological environment improvement and implementation of projects for the prevention and risk mitigation for the polygons Habitat and environmental sanitation, among others.
- c) Promotion of Urban Development, which supports activities to strengthen the planning and management capacities of municipal governments in the area of social and urban development and territorial planning, among others.
It is in this context in which the Social Cohesion Laboratory Mexico-EU will work. I worked in 2012 on a short term mission in SEDESOL headquarters located in Mexico DF with the managers and technicians of the Habitat Program Improvement in Urban modality.
Intense and unbelievable days where I had the opportunity to meet their methodology, systems, actions, tools, administrative organisation, and also visit several Habitat Polygons and collaborate in the Dialogues between Mexico and the EU, an international conference where I met interesting local and other Latin American experiences. In the next post I will uncover the most essential parts of the work and also explain the achievements of the Habitat Program.