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Two Billion Slum Dwellers

Elisabeth Eaves,, 06.11.07.

Panorama of old Cairo

This year [2007], the world will pass a milestone. For the first time, more people will be living in cities than in the country. The individual who tips the scales might be a baby born to a city dweller or an adult migrating from the countryside, but in either case, it's likely that his or her new surroundings will include flimsy walls, disease and an enveloping stench of sewage and trash.

By 2030, an estimated 5 billion of the world's 8.1 billion people will live in cities. About 2 billion of them will live in slums, primarily in Africa and Asia, lacking access to clean drinking water and working toilets, surrounded by desperation and crime.

Not all slums are equal. By the United Nation's definition, their residents are missing at least some of the following: durable walls, a secure lease or title, adequate living space, and access to safe drinking water and toilets. A fifth of slum households are missing at least three of these basic needs.

To the outsider, many developing-world slums look unbearably awful, but to their residents they do function, complete with social hierarchies, commerce and a degree of home-grown government. Still, when one sees a family living in a flyblown concrete cell in Karachi or in a cardboard shack in Lagos, one might be inclined to ask, Are they really better off than in the villages they fled?

Dismal though the slums may be, the answer is often yes. After all, nearly all of the residents are there by choice, so they themselves think they are better off. The vast majority moved to the city seeking better economic prospects, and many find them. A 2005 study on migration and poverty in Asia by the International Organization for Migration notes that "even if migrant jobs are in the risky informal sector, the gains to be made can be several times higher than wages in rain-fed agriculture."

Indeed, for many decades the slums offered a degree of upward mobility. Over the decades many of the residents built permanent housing and succeeded - often after a long wait - in getting services like water, sanitation and electricity routed to their neighborhoods. The favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the oldest of which date back to 1897, are famously vibrant, replete with lively bars and low crime rates--even if they happen to be "governed" by local drug gangs.

Since the 1980s new migrants to the slums have had to pay for the privilege of living there. In many Latin American slums, the newest, poorest arrivals rent space from more-established squatters. A byproduct of this diminishing supply of free land is that new arrivals move onto more marginal land: steep gullies in Tijuana, vertical hillsides in Caracas, flood-prone flats in Dhaka.

According to the United Nations, slum children in sub-Saharan Africa are more likely to die from water-borne and respiratory illnesses than rural children, while women living in slums are more likely to contract HIV than their country cousins. In countries including Egypt, Bangladesh and Guatemala, slum children are less likely to be enrolled in primary school than their urban counterparts.

Adapted from Source


What are the Squatter Like? Exercise

Use the following three sources to provide a detailed description of the Brazilian Squatter Settlements or Favelas. Your description could be presented as some images annotated in a programme such as PowerPoint.
New York Times

Improving a Squatter Settlement Exercise

"Improving a Shanty Town" in MORE THINKING THROUGH GEOGRAPHY, published by Chris Kington Publishing, 2001, ISBN 1 899857 43 5. The Geographical Association gave the book a Silver Award for "making a significant contribution to Geography in 2002.
Geography Review

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