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