Slum Reform in ColombiaIn Colombia, guerrilla wars that started in 1964 displaced thousands of people. The result was that many settled into slums. One of these slums, Comuna 13, lies in the city of Medellín, Colombia. During the next 40 years, the population in Medellín grew from 350,000 to 3 million, vastly decreasing the available living space. Poverty emerged in the cramped quarters of the Comuna 13 slum. Unfortunately, the cycle only continued due to a lack of transportation, public services and education. Poverty paved the way for drug cartels to emerge, but Medellín had committed to change. Below are three ways in which Medellín has reformed its slums, becoming an example of slum reform in Colombia and Latin America:

3 Ways Medellín Reformed Its Slums

  1. Transportation. Medellín created transportation in the slums to make life easier. Comuna 13 sits on the side of a hill and therefore, previously, many residents had to climb the equivalent of 28 stories to reach their homes. As a solution, Medellín invested $7 million in an escalator which provides a five-minute ride. This makes transportation to the main city much easier. In 2004, the installation of cable cars reduced a two-hour commute from the slums to the city, to a 45-minute commute. Today, 20,000 people use the cable cars (which end next to the subway station) per day.
  2. Promoting Education and Discouraging Drug Activity. Medellín installed community resources as part of its slum reform to promote education and discourage drug cartels. With education, people can get higher-paying jobs and break the cycle of poverty. But when people live in poverty, drug cartels try to recruit them with the promise of money and security. To address this, Medellín constructed art galleries, libraries (with free computer use), auditoriums and community centers, in 2007. These are easily accessible thanks to the installation of cable cars. Education, a key factor of slum reform in Colombia, can break the cycle of poverty by helping those in the slums obtain higher-paying jobs.
  3. Hiring. Medellín also hired residents for projects to create slum reform. One key example was the installation of paved paths, vegetable gardens and drainage canals. These projects beautified Comuna 13 and also gave back to the community in other ways. For instance, 2,500 previously unemployed people worked on the projects, earned money and created a better space to live in.

A Model for Success

Medellín is an example of successful slum reform in Colombia. The property prices of homes in the slums have risen and tourism has surged as a result of the new transportation and beautification measures. Also, as the former murder capital of the world, Medellín’s key goal was to reduce homicide. By 2012, in just eight short years, the murder rate reduced 50% to 0.05%. For comparison, this figure is less than New Orleans’s at 0.075% murder rate. Medellín is an example for many other communities around the world. In Latin America, for example, more than 80% of the population lives in cities and as the population grows, space per person reduces. This translates into growing slums. With the help of innovative ideas such as those from Medellín — communities can reform their slums and help improve the lives of those living in poverty.

Seona Maskara
Photo: Wikimedia

Sub-Saharan African SlumsSub-Saharan Africa is experiencing a housing crisis. While around one billion people live in slums around the globe, 200 million of those live in sub-Saharan African slums. This number represents “61.7% of the region’s urban population,” making sub-Saharan Africa the highest in the world for urban poverty.

Sub-Saharan African Slums and Urban Poverty

Singumbe Muyeba, assistant professor of African Studies at the University of Denver, spoke with The Borgen Project about development intervention and sub-Saharan African slums. Muyeba’s expertise in these areas stems from his academic work but also from his work for the United Nations’ High Commission for Refugees and Development Program.

According to Muyeba, sub-Saharan African slums began when African countries gained independence from colonialist rule from the 1960s through the ‘80s. Since colonialists always reserved major cities for themselves, Africans everywhere migrated from rural to urban areas after independence. However, that meant infant governments had to keep up with increasing urban populations. They were unable to do so due to the skyrocketing rates of urbanization.

With housing rapidly diminishing as Africans moved into cities, they began settling onto common land, eventually creating the sprawling slums that still exist today. Even now, the sub-Saharan African urban population is annually growing at 4%. A projection from the U.N. reveals that “the world’s 10 fastest growing cities, between 2018 and 2035, will all be in Africa.” In addition, there is a backlog of 51 million housing units in Africa. The region’s supply of housing is “about nine years behind current demand,” according to Muyeba.

Slum Upgrading Programs

The World Bank has funded slum upgrading programs to combat rising urban poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. These programs assigned property rights and provided access to services in hopes to empower slum residents with their own land. However, as Muyeba explained, these programs were largely “self-help” models. The World Bank simply gave impoverished individuals property rights and no means to build their own housing.

Since “about 97% to 99% of people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to formal financing” that allows them to build or buy a home, people haphazardly build their own informal housing or remain in slums. Formal and sustainable housing only accounts for 10% of all urban African housing. While handing out free titles and property rights looks good on paper, this “slum upgrading” has not improved slums.

Ongoing Problems in Slums

While sub-Saharan Africa housing conditions improved by 11% from 2000-2015,  this improvement was “twice as likely in the wealthiest households” and “80% more likely among more educated households.” The reality is that 80-90% of Africans work in the informal sector, and the majority of people living in sub-Saharan African cities live in slums. Therefore, this housing improvement did not occur in the slums, which many people cannot escape.

George Compound, a slum in Lusaka, Zambia, serves as a perfect example of a poorly executed upgrade program. It is a major slum with 400,000 inhabitants, but it does not have adequate running water. The water it does have from makeshift wells is contaminated with nearby ground toilets.

In Muyeba’s opinion, government involvement is necessary to fix the African housing crisis. While he is not against privatization, he believes the neoliberal model is not working to improve sub-Saharan African slums.

Can Governments Fix the Housing Crisis?

However, even if African governments want to get involved in building housing, they cannot. This is because of the World Bank’s international economic rulings on aid and upgrade programs. “The system is set up in such a way that the World Bank advocates for less involvement of the government following the Structural Adjustment Programs implemented in the 80s and 90s,” stated Muyeba.

In order to receive aid through the World Bank’s structural adjustment programs, governments often have to delegate building to the private sector. However, the private sector cannot make a real profit from low-income housing because so many Africans and slum-dwellers are part of the informal sector. People in poverty cannot get mortgages because they lack access to credit or insurance. This prevents the private sector from serving poor Africans.

Muyeba firmly believes “there are wins everywhere” if governments (with the help of communities and the private sector) build housing. The construction sector can benefit from large-scale projects, while infrastructure creates jobs. Individuals in slums can focus their attention on making income rather than worrying about basic housing needs.

Muyeba offered Kenya as an example of combined state, private and community partnerships to combat urban poverty. Currently, the country has implemented its own kind of slum upgrading program in which the government builds housing and guarantees mortgages.

Organizations Helping People in Sub-Saharan African Slums

Outside organizations and NGOs are actively working to help housing poverty in sub-Saharan African slums. Habitat for Humanity completed a six-year program in 2018 called “Building Assets, Unlocking Access.” This program worked in Uganda and Kenya to offer technical help and “develop housing microfinance products and services.” Habitat for Humanity’s approach allowed Africans to progressively build their own housing, access small-scale loans and set up small payments.

More than 42,000 individuals accessed microfinance loans through the program, which impacted more than 210,000 people in total. In addition, 32.9% of loan recipients built entire houses for themselves and their families.

A report from the project found that recipients also upgraded their housing with improved roofing, walls, sanitation and electricity. Additionally, the program caused trickle-down effects in health. Fewer people reported common ailments like “sore throats, shortness of breath, itchy eyes, blocked noses, vomiting and rashes” due to healthier housing. The most improved group was children under six.

Hopefully, all African cities struggling with urban poverty can create domestic housing projects or find new, inventive ways to help the housing crisis. All in all, the solution to sub-Saharan African slums is housing. According to Muyeba, “It’s a no brainer.”

Grace Ganz
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in India
The most devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in India may not be those caused by the virus itself. For the first time since India’s independence from the British crown, the already inordinate poverty rate is rising. The 69% of the nation that is on or below the poverty line are those who are at the greatest risk for infection. However, they are likely to face even more substantial damage from falling deeper into economic trouble.

The Problem

India has reported 1.24 million cases of COVID-19, but this data does not tell the full story of the country’s experience with the virus. With a population of over 1.35 billion, India actually has a lower rate of infection than the US. Many simply credit the nation’s sweltering climate to their proportionately low infection rate. While there may be some truth to this assumption, it is not a sufficient explanation. Another important factor is India’s astonishingly large poverty rate. Many of the country’s poor have little to no ability to practice social distancing, lack homes to shelter in place and do not have access to testing. The poverty-ridden sector of the population is therefore not only at great risk for infection but is also rarely accounted for in nationwide data.

The Causes

Throughout the pandemic, India has taken relatively strict action in terms of enforcing lockdown. This method has effectively impeded the spread of the virus among the wealthy, significantly contributing to the lower infection and mortality rates. With policies such as this in place, the most affluent citizens avoid crowded streets. Not only does this reality render many of the poorest members of the pre-virus workforce jobless as businesses close, but it even inhibits begging, something a great portion of the four million homeless people in India rely on for survival.

The Effects

In lieu of proper homes, virus protection and economic stability, the poorest members of society are finding new ways to try to combat their unfavorable circumstances. Slums are even more crowded than before and government-created hospitals have become the new shelter for many. Dr. Zarir Udawadia, an infectious disease specialist treating coronavirus patients in Mumbai, recognizes this problem: “How does one quarantine someone who has no home, or someone who lives cheek to jowl with ten others in a small room?”

Those especially discontented with their circumstances resort to migration, seeking to travel sometime hundreds of miles on foot in hopes of refuge. Migrants move through India in thousands, further risking infection from COVID-19 among other lethal diseases.

Who’s Helping

Although it is difficult to collect COVID-19  data in impoverished communities, there are organizations trying to combat this issue directly and provide aid to those suffering from the disease and its aftermath. For instance, Give2Asia provides funding for medical supplies for frontline workers, meals for those whose means of obtaining them are slashed by the effects of the pandemic and financial support to marginalized families.

India’s large number of people in poverty renders their numbers of infected with coronavirus inaccurate. However, the poorest sector of the nation has larger issues than the virus itself, as the nationwide lockdown takes away street vendors’ customers and, in extreme cases, the revenue of beggars. Many people resort to migration or are utilizing slums and government-created hospitals to find shelter. Though this situation is far from optimal, there are numerous organizations and frontliners that are continually combating the pandemic.

Ava Roberts
Photo: Flickr

Slums in Ghana

As the urban population of Ghana grew, so did the number of people who live in slums in Ghana. In 2014, according to the World Bank approximately 37.4% of people who live in Ghana’s urban regions lived in slums. After Ghana’s independence in 1957, its urban population grew because many people moved from rural communities to urban regions. The country’s urban community has grown from approximately 36.4% in 1990 to approximately 56.7% in 2019, making it one of the most urbanized countries in Africa. A slum is defined by the UN as a contiguous settlement where the inhabitants are characterized as having inadequate housing and basic service.” With approximately 5.5 million people living in slums in Ghana, non-government organizations are working in the community to help address some of the problems that the people face such as sanitation and evictions from the government.


Ghana’s Housing Crisis

As young people move into the city to look for jobs and other opportunities, they end up moving to informal settlements because living in formal settlements may be too expensive. Housing in Ghana can be unaffordable to the “urban poor” because the cost of both land and building materials can be too expensive for people to invest in affordable housing. In addition, the government has been slow to respond to the growing need for housing in Ghana. However, in 2015 the government created a new National Housing Policy to address Ghana’s housing needs.


How does the government view the slums?

Old Fadama, one of the largest slums in Accra, is nicknamed by the Ghanaian government and some members of the public, as “Sodom and Gomorrah.” These two biblical cities were destroyed due to their sinful actions. To the people of Old Fadama, the nickname is hurtful because they see it as the government painting a doomed picture of the city to justify evictions. The image also ignores the fact that many people have made a living there. Some residents have recycled electronic waste to make a living. Local organizations, like the Slum Union of Ghana and its international partners such as the Slum Dwellers International, continuously advocate against evictions.


People Living in Slums Face Evictions

Slums, like Akwatia line and Old Fadama in Ghana, are prone to evictions because of the location they are built-in. During evictions, the government often does not provide people living in the slums with alternative housing. In April of 2020, the government ordered the demolition of houses in Old Fadama, one of the oldest slums in Ghana. Approximately 1,000 people were evicted. The reason for the demolition, according to local news sources, was to remove sediment from the lagoon to reduce the risk of flooding.

This is not the first time demolitions have happened. Demolitions between 2003 and 2006 left more than 7,000 people without homes. The demolition that took place this year received criticism because it occurred during COVID-19 when people were asked to stay at home and practice social distancing. Amnesty International has condemned the government for its actions. The treat of demolition makes it difficult for people who live in slums to invest in the places that they live because they may be evicted.


Lack of Sanitation

Another major problem that slums in Ghana face is the lack of adequate sanitation.  Many people who live in slums do not have a bathroom in their place of residence, so they often depend on using public bathrooms. The lack of private or individual restrooms in Ghana does not end with slums. Places of residence and schools can be built without restrooms.

To solve this problem, groups such as the Media Coalition on Open Defecation in Ghana are advocating that the government work toward limiting the number of public defecations. The lack of adequate sanitation increases the risk of getting diarrhea and diseases like cholera. Although the lack of private bathrooms impacts a community negatively, the need for restrooms has provided entrepreneurs with new business ventures because they can charge money for the use of public bathrooms. According to Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) the use of public toilets has become part of the culture in Ghana. Currently, 60% of households in slums use public toilets.

To solve the problem of limited bathrooms in the slum community, WSUP works with Ghana’s Ministry of education to provide schools with “toilet blocks.” Furthermore, one of the innovative ways that the organization has helped is by building toilets that are not connected to sewer systems. These toilets store human waste in cartridges that are taken to a waste treatment facility by a clean team whose job is to then send the waste to a plant and replace the cartridge. The clean team is paid a monthly fee to remove the waste.  The toilets can be placed in residential areas where some people may find it difficult to access a public restroom.

Although the housing crisis in Ghana may look bleak, the government, citizens and non-government organizations are passionate about solving the problem. In 2019, the government of Ghana entered into an agreement with the UN to build 100,000 houses by 2022, a project that would also provide jobs to people in the community.
-Joshua Meribole
Photo: Flickr

Argentia's slums, Buenos Aires slums
Argentina is the fifth-highest country with the most COVID-19 cases in South America, with 111,000 recorded cases by mid-July. Moreover, Argentina’s COVID-19 related death toll has nearly doubled since June, surpassing 5,000 cases. Confirmed illnesses continue to be on the rise, with more than half concentrated in the urban hotspot of Buenos Aires City. Approximately 88% of all cases in Argentina are reported from within Buenos Aires, its impoverished slums or its surrounding regions.

COVID-19 in Argentina

While the federal government acted early to contain the virus, including imposing a strict nightly curfew since March, Argentina’s most impoverished remain extremely susceptible to COVID-19 and its dire economic consequences. For example, within Buenos Aires’ slums, families often have to sell their homes to afford meals for their families.

Nearly half of all Buenos Aires cases were estimated to be in its slums in late May. In some instances, outbreaks became so alarming that the government would enforce security and fences around these neighborhoods to ensure residents do not spread the virus—at the expense of residents’ increased impoverishment.

Regional non-governmental organizations (NGOs) within Argentina recognized these hardships faced by low-income Argentinians and are currently working to mitigate the health and economic consequences. Here are five NGOs battling COVID-19 in Argentina’s slums.

5 NGOs Fighting COVID-19 in Argentina’s Slums

  1. Chequeado, Spanish for “Checked,” is an online journalism platform that fact-checks public information on Argentinian politics and society. The organization’s website has recently launched a new COVID-19 section to keep citizens informed about the fact-based science behind the virus. The section also covers COVID-19 cases and newly implanted preventative measures. Headlines range from the effectiveness of spraying items with alcohol to the evidence surrounding the transmission of COVID-19 by air. Given the growing number of slum residents having access to the internet due to Argentina’s globalization efforts, this news outlet is accessible to slum residents who would not have access to the information otherwise.
  2. International Organization for Migration, or IOM, works with state and non-state actors to assist migrants through various means, ranging from counter-trafficking to resettlement support. During the COVID-19 pandemic, IOM is working with the Argentine Red Cross to provide food and cleaning supplies to vulnerable migrants. The organization is also ensuring all migrants understand COVID-19 precautions, translating public information to French for migrants from Haiti and Senegal, as well as English for migrants from Jamaica.
  3. Pequeños Pasos, translating to “small steps,” aims to bring sustainable development to the lives of Argentina’s impoverished. While the NGO focuses on missions ranging from education to employment, health and nutrition have been at the forefront of its efforts. Given the looming issue of extreme food insecurity due to COVID-19, Pequeños Pasos has launched an emergency food project to feed more than 12,500 people at risk of hunger in Buenos Aires slums. For a year, the NGO will provide monthly emergency food bags to vulnerable families.
  4. Asociación Civil Ingeniería sin Fronteras Argentina is a civil engineering organization that has taken on the project to quadruple the capacity of ventilators in Argentine hospitals. This solution aims to alleviate the possibility of ICU units reaching over-capacity and providing a sufficient number of ventilators for COVID-19 patients. The project aims to raise $7,015 to expand Argentina’s existing ventilator capacity, potentially saving thousands of Argentine lives. As a disproportionate number of slum-dwellers are contracting the virus, this aid will help them overcome the effects of COVID-19.
  5. Las Tunas is an education-based NGO that offers children and adolescents various educational resources, including scholarships and arts empowerment classes. In light of the socio-economic effects of COVID-19, the organization has expanded its efforts to help families remain economically stable. New website resources include a “Monitoring, Accompaniment and Early Detections” program that helps set up productive quarantine routines for families. The NGO also has a unique “Economic Development” program, which provides families with business strategies and training materials to increase household incomes. Original educational programs for youth are now also delivered online.

Looking Ahead

While COVID-19 cases in Argentina have overwhelmingly affected the country’s impoverished populations, diverse civil society organizations are working to combat the effects of COVID-19 in Argentina’s slums. Whether through economic empowerment or preventing misinformation on COVID-19, these five NGOs aim to stabilize Argentina’s most marginalized’s living conditions during the pandemic.

—Breana Stanski
Photo: Flickr

The World’s Largest SlumLocated in the northwest periphery of Karachi, Pakistan lies the world’s largest slum, Orangi Town. This slum is home to over 2.4 million people. Established almost 18 years ago, it stands as the largest town in Karachi. While it does not have a notorious reputation for poverty like many other slums across the world, the people in Orangi Town do have to deal with a lack of basic amenities and services. These are five important facts about Orangi Town, the world’s largest slum.

5 Facts About Orangi Town: The World’s Largest Slum

  1. The 12th Largest Megacity: In 2016, the U.N. named Karachi the 12th largest megacity with a projected population of 18.7 million people by 2025. Orangi Town also is home to a very diverse group of ethnicities including the Seraikis, Sindhis, Bohras, Ismailis, Punjabis, Mahajirs, Pakhtuns and Kashmiris. Despite the variety in ethnicity, Orangi Town is 99 percent Muslim, which implicates a lack of religious diversity.
  2. Water Scarcity: Water scarcity is one of the most potent problems in Orangi Town. The town relies heavily on the Hub Dam, which is unreliable at providing sufficient water. As a consequence, Karachi officials must look at alternate ways of obtaining safe drinking water. Experts found that the other channels have many pathogens in them. Water quality is the culprit of 40 percent of deaths in Pakistan and a prominent cause of child mortality, with 60 percent dying from diarrheal diseases.
  3. The Orangi Pilot Project: In 1980, Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan founded the Orangi Pilot Project with the goal of alleviating the effects of poverty across the region. Dr. Khan emphasized the need to create affordable sanitation, health, housing and finance facilities. Currently, there are three institutions operating under the Orangi Pilot Project; the OPP Research and Training Institute, which manages sanitation and housing; the Orangi Charitable Trust, which specializes in finances; and the Karachi Health and Social Development Association, which manages health programs. Through research and promotion of education for citizens on pertinent topics, the Orangi Pilot Project became one of the most successful nongovernmental organization projects to date.
  4. Housing and Overcrowding: Similar to many slums in the world, Orangi Town has a housing crisis with the demand for homes three times higher than the supply. Roughly eight to 10 people share a two-bedroom household in many parts of Orangi Town. The suboptimal living conditions that overcrowding causes, combined with the lack of services such as clean water, led to the spread of harmful diseases such as cholera and dengue fever.
  5. Gang Violence: Orangi Town suffers from the effects of crime and violence all too common in poverty-ridden areas. Many instances of gang violence are a product of the various ethnicities that reside in Orangi Town. This led to turf conflict where groups mark their land, usually based trade and markets, and employ violent tactics toward those that encroach on their land. Furthermore, studies show that women are more susceptible to petty crimes and sexual harassment due to the socioeconomic standards in Orangi Town. From 2011 to 2014, 77 percent of women in Orangi Town were victims of rape.

While the situation may seem hopeless due to the plethora of issues including an inefficient government and ethnic tension, Orangi Town is taking steps in the right direction to help eradicate the effects of poverty. Sanitation continues to be a core problem in the region, but the efforts of the OPP and individual citizenry are significant. In 2016, Saleem Khan, a resident of Orangi Town, developed a plan to create a new sewer system and pipeline to eliminate wastewater and halt the spread of detrimental diseases on his street. The growth of microfinance and work centers for women helped strengthen the economy and facilitate cooperation, as opposed to conflict, across the people in Orangi Town. It is imperative that the government reforms the anarchical nature of Orangi Town and takes initiative to abate the widespread crises. Funding infrastructure projects, creating schools and building homes will go a long way to improve the lives of millions in Orangi Town, the world’s largest slum.

– Jai Shah
Photo: Flickr

V Unbeatable
V Unbeatable appeared on the debut episode of the 14th season of “America’s Got Talent.” The episode kicked off a summer full of heated potential, as acts competed for a $1 million prize.

The premiere episode of the season aired on May 28, 2019. It featured one of the most talented dance groups in the show’s history with an incredible backstory. V Unbeatable is an acrobatic dance group from Mumbai, India. The group consists of 28 dancers between the ages of 12 and 27. Although the group collectively shares unique talent, its members also all fight for their lives every day in the slums in India.

A slum is a squalid and overcrowded urban street or district that very poor people inhabit. The members of V Unbeatable, like many others who live in these conditions, occupy a very crowded space, very dirty and lacks proper electricity. The lead dancer of the group said that seven to 10 people often live in one room. He explained how challenging it is to live in the slums as they lack proper sanitation and clean water.

V Unbeatable Performing on America’s Got Talent

The group stumbled across “America’s Got Talent” via YouTube. Since then, the group members dreamed about making it to America in order to audition in front of the judges in the hopes of changing their lives.

“When we dance, we forget all of the tensions in our mind and we feel free,” the lead dancer informed the crowd. He continued saying, “This opportunity can change our lives, and everyone wants to succeed to give back to their families.”

The acrobatic dance group performed a routine in which the members performed flips, tossed other members into the air and performed acrobatic feats using bamboo sticks. Their performance captivated a roaring audience and ended with a standing ovation from all four of the judges.

Upon completing their dance, Gabrielle Union, an American actress, told the group, “You blew us all away.” Julianne Hough, a dancer herself, told the team she was impressed with the trust the team had in one another — a true characteristic of a family. Simon Cowell, a top tier music producer, claimed the group was one of the best dance groups in the history of the show.

Advancing to the Judge Cuts with four yeses, V Unbeatable advanced in the competition. The group said that if it was fortunate enough to win, it would use the $1 million prize toward improving the conditions in the slums back at home.

Condition of India’s Slums

While V Unbeatable succeeded in “America’s Got Talent,” many back at home would continue to struggle for survival. About 6.5 million people or 55 percent of the population of Mumbai, India live in slums. Half of the slums are non-government notified. This means the people have no security of land tenure and cannot access city services such as clean water and sanitation.

Most slums do not have toilets despite housing seven to 10 people. Residents have to use the little money they have in order to pay to use community toilets. Seventy-eight percent of the toilets lack water supply, and 58 percent do not have electricity. Seven people have died from attempting to use the toilets and contracting a disease from the insanitation or becoming injured from the ground collapsing around the area.

The population of Mumbai, India also has 50,000 people living without any form of permanent shelter and would prefer the conditions of living in slums despite the horrendous conditions.

The Keep India Beautiful (KIB) nonprofit team spent a day exploring the conditions of the slums. The organization found garbage and filth everywhere. Toilets and showers had little if any water supply with zero privacy and schools had no water or electricity. People were using the public park as a dump yard while many people caused cramped conditions in the houses.

The people of Mumbai, India will be praying as V Unbeatable continues on “America’s Got Talent.” Despite living difficult lives, the dance group has provided hope and a potential support system for people struggling for survival.

– Aaron Templin
Photo: Flickr

Slums in Latin AmericaCurrently, one in seven people worldwide lives in a slum. By some estimates, this number will rise to one in four people by the year 2030. A slum can be defined as housing with no land permits, inadequate access to basic services (water, toilets and electricity), unsafe components (broken windows, dirt floors and leaks) and an overcrowded population. These 10 facts about slums in Latin America explain how people are affected by these poor living conditions.

10 Facts About Slums in Latin America

  1. Rapid Urbanization: South America has historically been dominated by rural living. However, in more recent years, the cities of South America have seen a rapid rate of urbanization. Urban living now supports 82 percent of the population. When people move from the countryside to the city in large numbers, there are often not enough resources to support everyone. As a result, people resort to constructing illegal housing to survive.
  2. Millions Affected: In Latin America, approximately 117 million people survive in poverty. Most of these people survive in slums just outside major metropolitan areas. These cities include Mexico City, São Paulo, Bogota, Rio de Janeiro and Lima.
  3. Neza-Chalco-Itiza: On the cusp of Mexico City rests Neza-Chalco-Itiza, one of the largest slums in South America and the fourth largest in the world. With a population of 1.1 million people, the slum is filled to the brim. People flooded to the city after World War II in hopes of work, but they found poverty instead. Today, the slum has developed a systematic way of living that mimics life inside the major city.
  4. Favelas: Some of the most infamous slums can be found in Brazil. In Portuguese, slums are called favelas. Most favelas in Brazil can be found in the areas surrounding Rio de Janeiro. More than 11 million people live in this type of housing.
  5. Entrepreneurship: While slums can be a source of hardship and poverty, they can also be the birthplace for many entrepreneurs. With so many people struggling to survive, some take it upon themselves to create businesses out of the little resources that they have. For example, Bistrô Estação R&R is a bar inside a garage in Rio de Janeiro. These small businesses bring people together in their communities and can help boost the economy.
  6. Widespread disease: Slums are often a breeding ground for disease. With a lack of proper sanitation and people living in such close proximity, illness develops fast and spreads even quicker. Tuberculosis is just one example of a disease that has spread in slums. In Peru, 60 percent of tuberculosis cases in 2011 were reported from the slums surrounding Lima. Luckily, organizations such as the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) have hosted several government interventions to advocate for development plans.
  7. Drugs, gangs and violence: With a lack of central authority, slums are more susceptible to drugs, gangs and violence. Many of the world’s most infamous drug lords originate from these areas and threaten the local community. While police intervention sometimes occurs, often these communities are ignored. In 2015, 47 of the 50 most murderous cities were found in Latin America.
  8. Upgrading housing: With the aim of improving housing for communities living in slums, several nonprofits, such as TECHO, have advocated for the improvement of infrastructure. TECHO’s policy is that slums of 10 or more families who lack one or more necessities, such as water or sewage, qualify for aid. In several of TECHOs projects, houses have been reconstructed using pinewood and tin. Families who received this assistance have stated that their quality of life has effectively improved after the refurbishments.
  9. Pride: While slums can be riddled with poverty and crime, they are also filled with pride. In a 2013 study, 85 percent of favela residents said that they like where they are from. This could largely be attributed to the communities formed within these tight housing situations and the entrepreneurship that binds people together.
  10. Slum tourism: Slum tourism is when travelers visit impoverished populations in order to see the areas. The practice began in the 1800s when wealthy Londoners would pay to see a lifestyle that was so drastically different from their own. Slum tourism can have negative effects on a community for multiple reasons. For one, it promotes the wealth gap by separating the wealthy from the poor. In addition, poverty tourism does not necessarily benefit local areas. If tourists pay larger organizations to conduct the visit rather than community members, the money will not reach the slums. On the other hand, poverty tourism that challenges negative stereotypes and is led by slum residents can aid in the growth of the local economy.

By looking at these 10 facts about slums in Latin America, it easy to see how these living conditions can damage a person’s health and wellbeing as well as how the residents of these slums are struggling to survive. However, by upgrading communities and being conscious tourists, these areas can be uplifted and improved, helping the one-seventh of the world that lives in slums.

Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Slums in Manila
Since as early as the mid-1900s, impoverished citizens of Manila, Philippines have resided in informal settlements known as slums. The metro Manila area has several of these slums which houses much of the poor population of the city. Below are 10 facts about slums in Manila.

10 Facts about slums in Manila

  1. An estimated 35 percent of the metro Manila population live in unstable, poorly constructed shelters in slums. Eleven percent of slum residents live near unsafe areas like railroads and garbage dumps. According to the World Bank, living conditions in slums are worse than in the poorest rural areas. The Mega-Cities Project’s research found that tuberculosis rates were nine times higher than in non-slum areas and that rates of diarrheal disease were two times higher.

  2. It is extremely difficult to collect adequate demographic data on slum populations, as most constituents lack a proper address. Even if surveyors reach slum occupants, most are timid to answer questions due to the fear that surveyors will use the information to demolish their shelters or resettle them. Most slum residents have very little or no tenant security. However, in 2000 the Asian Development Bank estimated a total slum population of around 3.4 million in Manila.

  3. The rate of childhood malnutrition is three times higher in the slums than in non-slum areas. According to USAID, children sometimes have to sort through garbage for scraps of food. A study of the Smoky Mountain slum found that 80 percent of children aged eight months to 15 years who scavenged for food had at least two species of intestinal parasites. An Asian Development Bank study found that 50 percent of children were anemic. This is despite the fact that many of these children have access to medical facilities.

  4. Residents in Manila slums lack access to proper sanitation and a clean environment. USAID states that 66 percent of slum residents lack an adequate way to dispose of human waste and often resort to open pits or rivers. A UNICEF study found that only 16 percent of children in the slums have access to clean drinking water. As a result, residents often turn to vendors or contaminated groundwater. The child mortality rate in slums is three times higher than in non-slum areas according to the Philippines Health Department.

  5. Project PEARLS is providing children in Manila slums with food and health care. The organization has three different food programs for the children of Manila slums. PEARLS launched The Soup Kitchen program in July 2015, which feeds at least 300  children per day on a budget of $160. The organization also provides free medicine to children for illnesses like dehydration, flu, pneumonia and infections, as well as various wounds.

  6. Slum settlements in Manila are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters. The Philippines ranks fourth in the global climate risk index and is often prone to typhoons, flooding, earthquakes and other natural disasters. The instability of the often homemade shelters provides little to no protection from these calamities. The Asian Development Bank states that this and the fact that most slums are in dangerous locations make slum settlements vulnerable to natural hazards. Heavy rains in July 2000 caused a landslide of garbage that killed 218 people in a slum settled on top of a garbage dump.

  7. Habitat for Humanity is building stable shelters for slum residents in Manila. With the help of volunteers, the organization builds around 5,000 homes every year. The team works with the local government to rebuild homes and also construct new homes that can withstand the natural elements. From digging the foundation to pouring the concrete and laying the roof, the organization and volunteers create sustainable homes from the ground up for thousands of impoverished slum residents.

  8. The moderate economic growth in recent years did not help to mitigate poverty or slums. The Asian Development Bank reported an average 5.3 percent increase in GDP from 2003 to 2006. Poverty rates increased from 24 percent to 27 percent during that time and continued to increase in 2007 when the GDP growth was 7.1 percent. Chronic poverty, driven by factors like severe inequality and corruption, hinders the reduction of slum residents and settlements. The Philippines ranked 141 out of 180 countries in the 2008 Transparency International corruption perceptions index. According to the Asian Development Bank, local political dynasties manipulate markets to deter the poor from accessing private goods and capital. In 2006, the richest 20 percent owned 53 percent of the wealth in the country.

  9. Poverty is fuelling online child sex abuse in the slums. The live streaming of child pornography in these locations has led UNICEF to name the Philippines the global epicenter of the online child sex abuse trade. Despite the new cybercrime unit at the Philippines National Police Headquarters and the passage of an Anti-Child Pornography Law, convictions remain low and case reports high. This is partially due to the fact that the age of consent in the Philippines is only 12 years old. UNICEF reports that parents have even brought their children to these shows to earn money.

  10. Police and government corruption have engendered the unlawful killings of thousands of slum citizens at the hands of officers since the start of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. These corrupt and violent raids target slum residents the most. A Human Rights Watch report found that these raids have unlawfully killed over 7,000 people. The report states that police often falsify evidence and falsely claim self-defense to get away with these extra-judicial killings. Although Duterte has not called for extra-judicial killings, his repeated calls for the killing of drug offenders and an absence of any investigations into the killings prompted the Human Rights Watch to label this campaign as a possible progenitor of crimes against humanity.

The Manila government has struggled to find ways to reduce poverty and the population of slum residents, but poverty is a drain on Manila’s economy. According to the Asian Development Bank, for every one percent increase in poverty, there is a 0.7 percent decrease in overall per capita income. Along with this economic algorithm, a lack of investment, access to capital and financial markets throughout slum communities hinders economic growth. Different non-governmental organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Project PEARLS are providing basic essentials and helpful assistance for the different struggles of slum life. However, the Philippines requires more research and both domestic and international assistance to mitigate and eventually solve the aforementioned 10 facts about slums in Manila.

– Zach Brown
Photo: Flickr

Informal Schools in African Slums
The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) estimates that, as of 2010, more than 200 million people in Africa reside in slums. This means more than 200 million people are living their lives in inhumane conditions and circumstances. The children living in these slums have a compromised opportunity at education. According to UNICEF, the youth residing in slums are some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable youth in the world. Due to the burgeoning need for educational institutions in Africa, informal schools in African slums are gaining popularity.

What are Informal Schools?

Informal schools are unregistered educational institutions that are not recognized by the government. Traditional schooling comes in the form of either private or public schools, and informal schools are a sort of middle ground. They typically operate in impoverished areas and are mostly geared around offering the same education as a primary school. These institutions are funded by private parties and non-profit organizations.

Increasing Need

The main reason that the number of informal schools in African slums has been on the rise has to do with a surge of enrollment in public schools. This is, in part, due to the initiative of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which pushed toward target goals that would reduce poverty, such as improved access to education. This enrollment surge is a positive factor in Africa’s education sector, but comes with a downside: there are not enough public schools to meet the rising need of educating African children, and the usual alternative, private schools, are not financially accessible to most African families. Overcrowding in African schools has been an increasing problem; the pupil to instructor ratio in African primary schools is 42:1.

In response to the need for more educational institutes, informal schools have been sprouting up all over Africa, especially in slums. Characterized by the same steel and dirt architecture in the surrounding slums, these schools offer an alternative option for education. There is a lack of government schools in slums, so private sectors and organizations provide funds for the informal schools.

The Benefits of Informal Schooling

Informal schools in African slums not only facilitate access to education but also offer a safe space for the youth. Many of these schools, such as the Destiny Junior Education Center, offer meals and restrooms, which are not commodities in slum-living. Informal schools keep African children off the streets and in the classrooms, which potentially helps them stay away from the vices that are rampant in slum environments like drugs and alcohol.

The Future of Informal Schools

The next step regarding informal schools is to put policies in place to protect them. There are members in the education committee of the National Assembly that are working toward informal schools being recognized by the government so as to strengthen the quality of education in them.

Overall, informal schools in African slums are an attempt to meet the increasing need for education in slums. By offering an alternative to the congested public schools, these informal education centers provide hope for African youth.

– Paula Bouza
Photo: Flickr