Cañada Real: Madrid’s shantytown where residents are living without electricity

Cañada Real: Madrid's shantytown where residents are living without electricity
Temporary, self-built shelters in the Cañada. Photo: Madrid No Frills
On October 2nd, a power outage left around 1,000 houses in a Madrid neighbourhood without electricity, writes Leah Pattem of Madrid No Frills.

Almost 60 days later, the lines have still not been repaired – a situation that seems hard to believe, except for the fact that this neighbourhood is Sector 6 of the Cañada Real in Madrid.


The Cañada Real © @vallecasva

The Cañada Real is an unofficial, 16km-long linear settlement whose origins date back more than half a century. Residents have been arriving to this ancient cattle trail for generations, building makeshift homes and raising families. This winding settlement, which bends southbound around the outskirts of the city (parallel to the M-50 motorway) is a place almost every madrileño knows exists, but few know the reality.

Also known as ‘the Unpaved Cañada’, it remains Madrid’s forgotten neighbourhood and is a blind spot in the council’s responsibilities to its almost 3,000 residents. Their life expectancy is years lower than their paved neighbours in the city, where, two weeks ago, the residents marched for their rights. Signs read: “Electricity is not a luxury, it’s a right”, “I’m sick of surviving, I just want to live”, and “Who told you that there was marihuana in my house?”


Protest at Cibeles on Nov 17 © #404 Comunicación Popular

The last sign is the discriminative narrative that haunts Sector 6 residents, because their neighbourhood is where the biggest drug dealing area in Western Europe is located. Over 12,000 doses are sold a day here, yet only 180 residents are registered drugs users, most of whom receive no help and sleep in tents on the side of the unpaved road.

The narrative run by many newspapers – national and international – is that a growing number of cannabis farms caused a surge in the electricity supply to Sector 6, causing the outage. Yet the electricity supply to the city of Madrid runs without a glitch when thousands of Christmas lights around the city are switch on every night. The stigma associated with the Cañada is unrelenting thanks to media bias, but it’s wrong.

Of the 3,000 people who live in Sector 6 of the Cañada Real, 1,211 of them a children. For almost two months, they have been doing their homework in candlelight, and those who are quarantined can’t access computers or internet.

Parents can’t cook for their families let alone store fresh food, and their only way of keeping warm is by burning rubbish outside. Clothes are washed by hand over a laundry grill – something the modern world long left behind – and people bath in cold water whenever they can bear it.


A view from the Cañada towards Rivas. Photo: Madrid No Frills

Aside from the ongoing and worsening physical traumas Sector 6 residents are experiencing, their mental health is deteriorating, for the children especially. Two weeks ago, the Oficina del Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas asked some Sector 6 children to draw or write how they felt about the loss of electricity to their neighbourhood.


Drawing of a star-lit sky and the sad family of Taisgir, a five-year-old boy living in Sector 6 of the Cañada. Because there is no light in the
Cañada at night, the stars in the sky are more visible.

 

 

 


“Electricity is a right, not a privilege.“


I need electricity to study, to listen, to heat. We are so cold.



Nizar is five years old.

 


“We want light”


“Hello, I’m called Malak El Harrak El Assouad, I’m 7 years old and I live in the Cañada Real Galiana at 65F. Please let us have light. It’s so cold, breakfast is sad and cold.“

 

Sector 6 of the Cañada Real is a shanty town and therefore an unofficial neighbourhood in Madrid, yet three years ago, the local government promised the relocation of its long-term residents – a promise that appears to have no deadline.

In all of the Cañada’s history, this is its most brutal moment. The Covid-19 pandemic combined with the economic plummet for those surviving below the poverty line was enough to deal with, but now there is also no electricity for the foreseeable future, nor the fulfilment of the promise to be moved into social housing.

Fatima, 33, grew up in the Cañada Real. Her husband and father built the family home by hand, which her three young children have begun to question more than ever before, asking, “Why can’t we just move?”

The answer that Fatima gives her children when they ask why they can’t just move is simply, “I’m sorry. We can’t”, withholding the explanation that she knows they’ll soon enough learn: discrimination.

Fatima created the Instagram account @unidos.por.la.luz.sector6 saying, “All I ask is that you help us raise awareness of the power cut to the Cañada.” Also sign this petition on Change.org demanding the return of electricity to Cañada Sector 6 residents.

Please follow Fatima, share this story and sign the petition until the electricity lines are rightfully repaired because in a country that calls itself a modern democracy, electricity is not a privilege, it’s a right.

This article is by Leah Pattem, the founder of Madrid No Frills, an independent Madrid-based platform for under-reported stories from underrepresented communities.

To discover stories that reveal the grittier, real side of Spain's capital, follow her on Facebook and Instagram and support  the Patreon page

 


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