Favelas in Rio
In Brazil, especially in the city of Rio de Janeiro, the wealthy tend to live closest to the sea. Favelas, or shantytowns, are slums in Brazil that are located farther away from the water on hills. They started out as an inexpensive housing option for returning Brazilian soldiers and freed African slaves in the 19th century. In Rio de Janeiro, a city of about six million people, approximately 20 percent live in favelas.

The urban phenomenon of favelas grew during the dictatorship of Gétulio Vargas, who pushed for greater industrialization within Brazil, which brought in more immigrants to Rio de Janeiro and therefore more occupants into the cheaper form of housing.

The 600 favelas in Rio de Janeiro today are mostly known for their high levels of poverty and crime, with numerous drug trafficking groups and street gangs operating within the various favelas that dot the hills of Rio de Janeiro. Favelas are also known for their relative lack of public services and government attention. Brazil is known to be one of the most unequal countries economically, with the top 10 percent of the population earning 50 percent of the national income and 8.5 percent of people living below the poverty line.

The location of favelas makes it difficult for the Brazilian government to provide proper public services, and as such makes it harder for the government to establish a positive presence in the favelas, which only furthers the cycle of violence as gangs are given more or less free reign.

This security issue within the favelas has been addressed by the introduction of a government program in 2008 that aimed to crack down on violence in the slums. Such programs are proving especially important ahead of the upcoming World Cup. The program installs permanent “police pacification units” (PPUs) throughout the favelas to deter crime and rid the favelas of the most serious gangs.

These PPUs are becoming a more widely accepted form of security control on behalf of the government. In Rio de Janeiro alone there are currently around 37 PPUs covering an area of about 1.5 million people, yet these PPUs have been criticized in Brazil for their severe tactics in dealing with local residents. Right now more than 24 policemen are facing charges for allegedly torturing a local resident of a favela.

More positive government policies have been successful in bringing 40 million Brazilians into the middle class over the last decade. Moreover, nationwide statistics indicate that 15.9 percent of Brazilians were impoverished in 2012, down from 18 percent in 2011. But Brazil is a land of contradictions, and despite this impressive decrease in poverty the South American nation remains the 12th most unequal nation in terms of income. Although Brazil should certainly be commended for its substantial decrease in poverty, policies should be implemented to ensure further social inclusion for those living on the margins.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: IRIN News, G1, BBC News, NPR, BBC News
Photo: Blog Spot


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A milestone was reached in 2007 – for the first year ever, more people were living in cities than in the country. Forbes magazine estimated that by 2030, around 5 billion of the world’s 8.1 billion people would live in cities. Of those 5 billion, an estimated 2 billion will live in slums in Africa and Asia.

The UN reports that slum children in Sub-Saharan Africa are more likely to suffer from respiratory and water-born illnesses than their rural peers. Additionally, women living in slums are more likely to contract HIV than women in more rural areas. Most lack at least one of the following five basic needs, with some households lacking three or more: durable walls, a secure lease or title, adequate living space, clean water, and working toilets.

Many of the people living in slums are squatters – those lacking legal title to their land and without legal and political rights. Without such rights, there is little incentive for people to invest in their homes or communities. One way to grapple with urban poverty is to promote policies that help squatters attain rights, but in order to do so, the government under which the slum exists must function well enough to enforce such policies.

The infrastructure of these ever-growing cities – roads, public transport, water systems, sanitation, and electricity – cannot keep up with the growing population. Similarly, natural or man-made disasters cannot be managed well because of a lack of emergency resources for all inhabitants.

The education of children is also a problem, as children living in slums are less likely to be enrolled in school than their rural peers. With little economic opportunity and educational opportunity, slums like these are ripe for developing criminal organizations and even militant movements.

Organizations like UN Habitat are working to combat the dangers of growing urban poverty.

City planning, infrastructure development, and participatory slum upgrading are top priority while also focusing on urban legislation, risk management, gender, and youth. Also important is building capacity for organizations and governments that are trying to make a difference.

If unaddressed, there is a danger that our world could soon be dealing with “failed cities” in the same way that it deals with failed states. Mega cities, those with more than 10 million inhabitants, are on the rise across the developing world, and will likely reach 20 million by 2020. Challenges continue to increase and, if left unaddressed, could be detrimental to the global community as a whole.

– Madisson Barnett

Sources: Forbes, UN Habitat
Photo: Wikipedia

According to the Associated Press (AP), children who live in Villa 21-24, a dangerous slum in Buenos Aires, Argentina, are playing cricket in order to avoid a life of crime and poverty.

The Caacupe community center introduced the sport to the slum in 2009 to “integrate children to a game that traditionally was reserved for Argentina’s upscale private schools”.

Moreover, the AP said that Pope Francis, who is also known as the “slum pope”, was one of the founders of Caacupe and remains connected with its programs.

The community center is praised because children are given the opportunity to do something positive instead of giving into a lifestyle of drugs, crime and frustration.

Although the community center’s aim to help children out of poverty is benevolent, a closer examination is needed regarding Pope Francis and his role in Argentina while serving as a Bishop during the reign of a brutal military regime.

Vincent Navarro, who teaches Public Policy at Johns Hopkins University, is critical of Pope Francis despite some of his good intentions. This is primarily due to his silence during the Argentinean dictatorship in the 70’s and 80’s.

“The dictatorship, established in defense of the more privileged groups in Argentina, was especially brutal to any dissident and opponents of its reign,” Navarro said. “This silence reflected a lack of sensitivity to gross human rights violations carried out by dictatorships with close ties to the Catholic Church.”

Navarro said that the pope claimed that his silence should be excused since it was “a tactical and honest move”. Navarro also gives him credit for encouraging the Church to expand its involvement in fighting poverty and for indicating that poverty is the result of the exploitation under the capitalist system in return for profits.

However, a recent service that honored the fallen members of the Church who sided with the fascist military regime in Spain in the 30’s is another reason Navarro criticizes the Pope and the Catholic establishment.

“It is safe to assume that Pope Francis knows very well that the Catholic Church supported this military coup and dictatorship of General Franco, as evidence of this abounds,” Navarro asserted. “The Catholic Church was one of the major landowners in Spain and opposed the land reform initiated by the democratically elected Republican government.”

Although Pope Francis was one of the founders of the community center that is helping Argentinean children escape poverty today, the Counterpunch article written by Navarro uses historical examples to criticize his refusal to confront the repression of the military regime in the past.

– Juan Campos

Sources: Counterpunch
Photo: Yahoo

Kathputli Colony
The Kathputli Colony is home to artists, musicians, performers, magicians and poets. It is, however, not home to adequate sanitation facilities, a sufficient water supply or a healthy environment for children.

The Delhi Development Authority (DDA), in partnership with Raheja Developers, a private firm, wants to develop the colony in West Delhi. The DDA sees the colony as a future home for apartment blocks, some of which will be sold to the residents at a reduced rate and others which will be offered at the market price to those who can afford it.

During the construction period, the DDA plans to move Kathputli residents to a transit camp and later rehabilitate them back into the multi-story apartment buildings that will replace their modest homes.

Due to population increases, building vertically will be the most efficient way to accommodate everyone. However, some Kathputli members are fearful that after moving away from their village, they will not be able to come back.

From Kathputli’s population of about 20,000, the government will move 2,800. The DDA chose candidates based on a survey done by a private firm in 2011 which indicated that 2,754 families deserved a place in the redeveloped Kathputli Colony. Those families will be moved to the transit camps and relocated back to the redeveloped colony.

Residents conducted their own survey and put the number of families at 3,200 because they were unhappy at the way the initial survey was conducted. Nonetheless, none of the residents, even those on the DDA’s original list, are prepared to move. Furthermore, representatives from the colony have demanded that a 15-square-yard plot be given to each resident to use how he or she pleases.
The representatives have insisted that if residents are able to develop their own plots from scratch, the true essence of Kathputli Colony will not only remain intact, but the infrastructure will become more developed. Though the Kathputli Colony is seen as a slum by many outsiders, the residents keep the colony alive with their art as well as music and, further, plan to continue their self-sustaining colony without government intervention.

– Haley Sklut

Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo spent years in Annawadi, a slum outside the bustling metropolis of Mumbai, India. With most people living without electricity or stable income in makeshift shelters, the slum stands in stark contrast to the bustling airport and luxury hotels a few miles away.  Over the course of her stay, Boo followed the lives of the people that call Annawadi home. She describes the stories she heard and the events she saw in her book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers.

Boo introduces us to many residents such as Asha, who uses the corrupt political climate to gain influence and prestige. Her daughter, Maniu, studies education and rejects many of the gender norms of her society.

Young children in the village compete for short-term jobs at the Mumbai hotels. These children are easily exploited and often work for next-to-nothing in stressful conditions before collecting garbage to sell as scraps and recyclables.

Corrupt police and vague laws govern the people of Annawadi. Mysterious deaths are not investigated, false accusations fly around without evidence and gangs run the streets. Religious tension is obvious as Muslim families are singled out in the predominately-Hindu village.

Though Boo paints a dark picture of poverty in India, there is still hope. International organizations are moving in to help the people in India, especially since the slums of the region are in dire need of schools, permanent housing and job opportunities. The children of the region believe that one day they will have permanent jobs in Mumbai, own a house and send their own children to school.  The young girls in the village also believe that the time has come to stand up for their rights and make a living for themselves.  Furthermore, children are becoming motivated to stay in school while families plan to move on to permanent housing projects.

Stephanie Lamm

Sources: Behind the Beautiful Forevers, New York Times
Photo: Vintage 3D

While Mexico’s national rate of poverty dropped between 2010 and 2012, as reported by Reuters, the country’s real numbers of poor people increased. A large portion of this increase came in the capital district where the amount of people living in extreme poverty rose by nearly 27,000. The world’s largest slum, Neza-Chalco-Itza, has nearly four million people and is adjacent to the national capital.

Traveling outside of the central zones of Mexico’s capital, one will encounter many signs of a growing city, as well as the poverty incumbent in burgeoning urban areas. From 2010 to 2012, the percent of people facing conditions of poverty in the city increased from 28.5% to 28.9%, according to a report from the government agency CONEVAL (Consejo Nacional de Evaluacion de la Politica de Desarrollo Social). Nearly all of that increase consisted of more people entering extreme poverty, many in slum areas.

When looking at government reporting, it is important to consider what the report actually measures. CONEVAL takes a multidimensional approach to measuring poverty, accounting for lack of access to one of six “social rights”: education, health services, social security, adequate and quality housing, basic utilities, and adequate food.

Under this schematic, lack of access to one of the social rights places that person (and all family members) under the category of “vulnerable.” What this tag means is that this particular family has increased their likelihood of entering a state of poverty, depending on the size of their family’s income. Correspondingly, lacking more of the social rights requires a larger income.

With this measurement of poverty, more people can accurately be included under the label “poor.” As opposed to labeling only those that have a low income as poor, taking the listed rights as factors in poverty allows government assistance programs to cover more people.

Unfortunately, for Mexico, it also means that a large portion of the population faces the vulnerability of entering poverty. Due to widespread lack of housing and quality health services, many Mexicans are at risk of losing the small footholds they currently have.

Returning to the numbers for the capital district in Mexico, while 28.9% of people were in poverty, nearly 40% were labeled “vulnerable” by the CONEVAL report. Interestingly, the percentage of people in Mexico City who were vulnerable because of a lack of social rights decreased, while the percentage of those that were vulnerable because of a lack of income increased.

In actual numbers of people, this data as a whole becomes more real. In one of the world’s most populous and apparently affluent cities, literally millions of people live in poverty or are at risk of entering a state of poverty. According to the report, nearly 5.5 million people are either poor or vulnerable in this city alone.

That number accounts for 10% of the country’s poor. For this number to lessen, it will be necessary to partner with the Mexican government in its poverty alleviation programs.

– Jacob Huju

Sources: CONEVAL, Reuters, International Business Times, Wilson Center
Photo: El Futuro Llego Hace Rato

As the migration of people from rural areas to cities intensifies, the number of people living in slums are growing exponentially. According to the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, there are currently more than 200,000 slums, shanty towns and informal settlements around the world. Prior even to the global economic crisis of 2008, nearly a third of all city dwellers lived in slums. This number continues to grow dramatically; there will be one billion more people living in slums within the next twenty years.

One of the primary concerns facing the astonishing proportion of the global population living in impoverished slum communities is food security. Given this, farming within slum communities offers huge benefits. Being able to produce food not only makes slum populations less dependent on government and NGO subsidies and aid but makes them less vulnerable to the fluctuating prices of the global food market. Further, small-scale urban farming provides occupational and entrepreneurial opportunities, often to women who would otherwise have none.

Urban farming can also improve health by supplying healthier food options which would otherwise be too expensive to eat. Finally, urban farming enhances climate change resilience by reducing the environmental costs of mass agricultural production and distribution.

The benefits of small-scale farming in slums are potentially massive. But urban agriculture also faces a number of challenges. Contaminated soil from the rampant pollution omnipresent in slums is often an issue. There can also be a total lack of available land. Cramped conditions contribute to a lack of sunlight. Water availability and quality can also be limited.

Given these limitations, how does one farm in a slum? Here are four real-world slum farming operations:

1. “Farm-in-a-sack” projects, Nairobi: One project, begun by the Italian organizations Cooperazione Internazionale (COOPI,) doles out seedlings to families in Nairobi’s Mathare slum. COOPI brought in rural agricultural experts to educate community groups on how to farm vegetables in slums and handed out one sack and 43 seedlings to each family participating in the project. The vegetables are ready within a few weeks and the plants can be harvested multiple times over the course of a year. Not only do the newly minted urban farmers gain additional nutrients, any surplus can be sold for a profit. Similar projects in Nairobi’s Kibera slum also see great success. According to Map Kibera Trust, sack farming increases weekly household income by at least $5 per week and adds two to three meals a week-massive gains in a slum notorious for its crushing impoverishment.

2. Harnessing technology to farm in Neza-Chalco-Itza, Mexico City: The Neza-Chalco-Itza slum in Mexico City is the largest in the world with an estimated four million people. Thus, creative food solutions are crucial to the livelihood of the people living there. To that end, ANADEGES, a group of 20 autonomous NGOs in Mexico, developed and orchestrated a project that aims to help people develop their own capacity to produce organic food from their backyards, patios, and rooftops. Utilizing discarded containers and readily available waste matter, the project has been successful in designing innovative ways for people to grow their own food.

3. Urban agriculture in Bamenda, Cameroon: With a population of more than 900,000 and high food prices, life is not easy for slum dwellers in Bamenda. However, an estimated 5,000 residents have turned to farming in order to supplement their diets and incomes. They utilize backyards, empty lots, roadsides, abandoned corridors and any other available land space to grow tomatoes, cabbages, onions, okra, hot pepper, ginger, and maize. In the words of Richard, a driver by profession who uses farming for food an additional income, “it’s a good experience because it is from the slums that we manage and feed ourselves. And then we feed the other town dwellers.” Finding water for the crops is the major challenge in Bamenda, requiring traveling great distances to retrieve it from swamp areas. The challenge to collect water, however, is well worth it, as Richard says, because farming “is where we earn our own living.”

4. Kibera Youth Reform Organic Farm, Nairobi, Kenya: At an estimated one million residents, Nairobi’s Kibera is considered the largest slum in Africa. In 2008, it had erupted in clashes in the wake of Kenya’s flawed presidential elections which intensified the slum’s already dire food insecurity. Concerned, Su Kahumbu, the managing director of one of Kenya’s pioneer organic produce companies, revolutionized a solution. Working with a group of young, unemployed reformed criminals interested in farming the slum, Kahumbu cleared a half-acre rectangle patch of land that had been piled three feet high with garbage and human waste. Her brother laid down irrigation pipes linked to a water tank and the group added vegetable scrap compost to the plot. Within months, Kenya’s first organic slum farm was producing multiple crops and soon turning a profit, demonstrating its sustainability.

– Kelley Calkins

Sources: Agfax, CNN, International Business Times, IPS, Journey to Forever, World Watch Institute, The Guardian
Photo: World Watch

For the past several years, the Republic of Kenya has been stricken with one food crisis after another. This vulnerable country has experienced poverty specific injury on a variety of security concerns. The citizens have been subject to extreme violence and conflict, much of which has stemmed from government corruption and unethical elections.

In Nairobi, the impact of this corruption on the urban poor has been devastating. Poverty in Nairobi means extreme food shortages and a lack of basic resources. The burden of this has disproportionately been inflicted upon those who dwell in Nairobi’s sprawling and overpopulated slums. Nearly 4 million people live in the grueling poverty of these slums and struggle to survive in conditions so horrible, the extremity providing its own cover of anonymity from the outside world.

There is a concern that this could be the next crisis Kenya faces. With a population projected to increase more than tenfold by 2050, and with more than 60 percent of the population expected to reside in urban areas by 2030, the implications of the situation only stand to worsen.

The government has declared yet another food crisis, and does not have effective agencies or policy to contend with this extreme manifestation of poverty. The poverty in Nairobi’s slums would constitute a humanitarian crisis anywhere else. Normally, for a given geographic location to have a malnutrition rate of over 15 percent, there would be an emergency declared and a response expected from the global community. Poverty in Nairobi is so extreme that NGO’s and the government are not equipped to administer aid to the millions of starving children and families. There is also no long term plan to try and lessen human suffering or contain the damage from this food crisis.

Without effective governance there is no one to implement a solution. Without effective policy a solution does not exist. Poverty in Nairobi and throughout Kenya is government created and government maintained through corruption and ineptitude.

From the soaring price of maize at more than 133 percent, to an overall declining income of more than 20 percent, to the increasing numbers of Kenyans relocating to urban centers, there has been enough indication of this crisis only worsening to implore international response. The burden on families has only increased with significant numbers of children being removed from school to help provide income as well as an alarming spike in the number of children being forced into sex work.

Unless the government can contend with this crisis and implement a policy that would implement long term goals to guarantee food security and stability, there can be no reprieve.

– Nina Verfaillie
Feature Writer

Sources: International Business Times, Concern Worldwide
Photo: Red Rose Children

“I am 17 years old. In the relief camp, when I was sleeping in the night, I was raped. I did not know what had happened to me. I do not know the face of the man. I had heavy bleeding…now I see some disturbances in my body and when my mother took me to the hospital, I was told I am pregnant”.

This is what a young girl from Tamul Nadu in India experienced after a tsunami devastated her hometown. Like her, millions of other girls in developing countries are the hardest hit by disasters in comparison with other segments of the population. Not only do women receive non-preferential treatment during emergency rescues, but they are also at a greater risk of sexual exploitation, child marriage, and being deprived of an education.

According to a report released by Plan International, a child rights NGO, girls fare far worse during disasters than the rest of the population. Given their gender, age, and humanitarian status, girls and women experience a triple disadvantage during crises since pre-existing inequalities and vulnerabilities are exacerbated.

In this way, a 14-year-old girl in a slum will experience a flood or an earthquake differently from a 14-year-old boy in the same situation. Such is the case of a son and a daughter who were swept away by a tidal surge in a cyclone that hit Bangladesh in 1991. The father of these children is cited as saying that he could not hold on to both and had to release his daughter because “his son had to carry on the family line.”

In other cases, adolescent girls and women are driven to sell sex because they have no alternative to feed themselves and their children. “I don’t work. I don’t have parents to help. So, for around a dollar, you have sex just for that…it’s not good to do prostitution, but what can you do?” said Gheslaine, who lives in a camp in Croix-de-Bouquets in Haiti.

Disasters also lead to an increase in child marriages. Research in Somaliland, Bangladesh and Niger found that child marriage is often used as a community response to crises in which girls are sold for income and food. In Niger, girls are taken out of school, wed and impregnated at the age of 13. Many of them suffer from fistula (a rupture between the birth canal and bladder caused by prolonged obstructed labor) and die.

One of the least prioritized issues during disasters is facilitating education for girls. Although most families would rather continue education for boys rather than girls, girls who receive an education are more likely to be healthy, marry later in life, and survive into adulthood. In fact, it is one of the most important determinants of practically all desired outcomes related to the Millennium Development Goals, from poverty reduction, to reduced infant mortality rates, and to enhanced democratization.

Despite the evidence that confirms that the empowerment of women has a transformative power in all types of societies, this study reveals that the rights to protection, education, and participation are still not granted to most women and girls, especially during crises.

– Nayomi Chibani
Feature Writer

Sources: IRIN, Plan International
Photo: UNHCR

An investigative report by Al Jazeera America recently revealed that Syrians living and working in Lebanon are facing increasing criticism from locals and the government.

As the conflict intensifies in Syria, more refugees are flocking to border countries to escape the violence. Syrians now make up one-fifth of the Lebanese population, and since there are no official refugee camps, many are seeking refuge in already overcrowded and impoverished slums. As demand for rooms to rent is increasing, prices are rising too.

Animosity is beginning to grow between those who were already struggling in a weak labor market, and the newcomers. Native Lebanese are dealing with increasing competition from incoming Syrians, who, in their desperate situation, will often work for less pay. It is a classic scenario that happens when there is migration driven by conflict or poverty in the home country, and pre-existing unemployment in the receiving country.

According to the Lebanese government, the situation is volatile, and, could become dangerous as more Syrian refugees flood strained job markets. The need for jobs and housing is not the only problem; it seems that some Syrians have brought the civil war with them. There have been kidnappings and bombings reported in Lebanon, which were attributed to the Syrian conflict. And, the Lebanese are starting to choose sides.

As the war wages across the border, it is becoming harder to stay neutral.

Jennifer Bills

Sources: The New Statesman’s Politics Blog
Photo: Voice of America