Sprawling slums are now so commonly associated with cities like Nairobi that they have become unremarkable. Similarly, footage on television of children playing in open sewers, or of women picking their way through huge rubbish dumps is no longer shocking. Instead these images signify a phenomenon that is rapidly becoming one of developing countries' most complex challenges - Urban Poverty.
World population is increasing rapidly with three-quarters of the increase occurring in developing countries. Population growth within cities, and families moving from rural homes in search of a life offering opportunity and hope, means cities in the developing world grew by 2.67% per year in 2000-2005, compared to 1.21% for the world as a whole.
Unfortunately, infrastructure and basic service development have not increased at the same rate and in countries where sanitation, roads, water, and other services were already under-developed, towns and cities are struggling to accommodate the unprecedented upsurge in urban populations. The result is hundreds of millions of people living in overcrowded, neglected urban slums that pose serious risks to their lives.
Cause and effect
Slums symbolise urban poverty. For the families living in them, they create hazardous and unsafe conditions that compound the poverty which forced them to set up home there in the first place.
- With lack of freely available safe clean water in the cities, families living in slums have often no choice but to buy it at high cost from vendors.
- With inadequate sanitation, waste disposal or drainage facilities, open sewers are created by rubbish and human defecation
- alongside walkways between the densely packed shelters - disease thrives and people, especially children become ill.
- In these conditions simply being ill can have severe implications. It can mean loss of livelihood, leaving families struggling to buy food or water let alone medicines.
- With weak ownership rights to the land, residents are vulnerable and cannot build safe, sturdy homes, so they become easy victims of weather conditions fire and crime.
- With no voice to change policy decisions or demand essential services, slum dwellers face an enormous challenge in such uncertain and unfair circumstances.
- In this environment, with no land, traditional coping mechanisms like relying on extended family or small-holder farming falter. The result is that people's homes and neighbourhoods become both a cause and an effect of poverty and something that can be extremely difficult to break out of.
Recognition of this growing problem culminated in 2000 when the world's richest governments pledged through the Millennium Development Goals to improve the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.
Urban poverty facts
- Cities in the developing world will absorb 95% of the world's expected population growth between 2000 and 2030.
- According to recent estimates there are now over 900 million who people can be classified as slum dwellers.
- Based on 2001 estimates, 43% of the urban population in the developing world lives in slums. In the least developed countries, this percentage rises to more than 78%.
- If present trends continue, 1.5 billion people out of 3.3 billion urban residents will live in sums by the year 2020.