Spain´s and by some estimates, Southern Europe´s, largest shanty town, the Cañada Real on the outskirts of Madrid, is set for a major initiative of public works to dismantle it and improve the area.
The area which is tucked away to the south-west of the capital and hidden from view by the M50 motorway is believed to be home to an estimated 8,000 inhabitants ( including around 2,500 children).
Many of the inhabitants are Roma gypsies.
Who is responsible for the area has long been a political football between local, regional and central governmments but the new initiative brings together all governing bodies including the city councils of Madrid, Rivas Vaciamadrid and Coslada, the Madrid regional government as well as the central government.
The first stage will see the dismantling of sectors 3 and 6 of the area and the rehousing of some 2,000 families to neighbouring Rivas and Coslada.
The urban renewal project is estimated to cost around 400 million Euros including the construction of new housing and educational centres.
The neighbourhood is the last of the many shanty towns that sprung up in and around the capital as Madrid grew during the 1950s and 60s, drawing migrant workers from the countryside and poorer regions of Spain such as Andalucia and Extremadura.
The inhabitants, have long been living in sub-standard illegal housing built on public land and without basic utility supplies including electricity and fresh water.
For years La Cañada has had a reputation for crime, especially for hard drugs – the sales of which many consider to be the main source of income for many inhabitants.
Their plight became international news earlier this year when Storm Filomena hit the Madrid region in January of this year and highlighted the extreme effects of the lack of power on their health and wellbeing.
In reply to a plea written by sixty five children to the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child for help, the UN reprimanded the Spanish government.
The United Nations Human Rights Council stated that children’s lives were being put at risk due to the lack of heating and light.
The UN report said the children in Cañada Real “are truly suffering, and their health is at risk and now that winter is closing in – and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic – electricity must be restored.”
The report continued that the health of many children has already suffered: those who use electric wheelchairs cannot charge their batteries; children with diabetes are struggling to keep insulin at the proper temperature; children with autism are having trouble adapting to the lack of light, and a girl who normally uses oxygen therapy equipment for 15 or 16 hours a day has been deprived of it.
“The lack of electricity not only violates these children’s right to adequate housing, it is having a very serious effect on their rights to health, food, water, sanitation and education.”
The first 50 families are due to be rehoused in the New Year and the project will begin in earnest midway through 2022.