mexican slums mexico city shanty towns
It’s no secret that President Trump has some choice words associated with Mexico, “wall” being one of the most frequently used. The President’s plans to complicate American ties with Mexico could have devastating effects on Mexico’s poor. Cutting back on economic ties with our southern neighbor could mean speeding up the economic degradation of Mexico’s poorest communities, exacerbating the issue of Mexican slums.

Top 5 Facts About Mexican Slums

  1. Mexican slums become breeding grounds for drug dealing and gang activity. Despite being among the richest nations in the world, Mexico’s poorest citizens live on less than $13 a day. The economic degradation leads many who live in Mexican slums to turn to drug dealing to support themselves and their families.
  2. One of the most commonly dealt drugs in Mexican slums is methamphetamine, a highly addictive stimulant drug that produces a high when inhaled or smoked. Desperate and impoverished, many residents of Mexican slums turn to dealing meth because it is a synthetic drug that can be made cheaply and sold for a high profit. The ease with which someone could make more money dealing drugs than working a real job is a telltale symptom of the depth of poverty present.
  3. The striking difference between affluent members of Mexican society and those who live in Mexican slums is most pronounced in photographs of Mexico City. Photographer Johnny Miller’s aerial photographs of Mexico City include brand new middle-class homes built right next to a rundown “barrio.”
  4. Approximately eight million people around the world live in slums, and in Mexico, most of those people are concentrated on the outskirts of the Mexican capital. Many rural residents travel to Mexico City in search of a better life only to wind up in shanty towns bordering the capital. However, many residents still believe that they and their families stand a better chance at finding a more dignified lifestyle in Mexico City than elsewhere. Al Jazeera reports on the Garduno family, who moved into Mexico City and lived with extended family in a small hut. Now, the Gardunos have their own home and are preparing to open a taco shop.
  5. Nezo-Chalco-Itza is the world’s largest slum, with about four million impoverished people living in it. The residents of this Mexican slum account for almost 10 percent of the population of Mexico City.

Mary Grace Costa

Photo: Flickr

largest and fastest growing slums
Though the apartheid that bore Khayelitsha ended over 20 years ago, the damage has yet to depart. Cape Town was conceived for the sole purpose to house blacks in the white dominant country of South Africa, with protectant buffer zones of scrubland and valleys to separate Cape Town from the rest of the country. This made Cape Town one of the most populated cities in South Africa and Khayelitsha one of the most populated slums.

Though Khayelitsha was originally an apartheid dumping ground, as part of the “Group Areas Act” it is now one of the largest and fastest growing slums in South Africa. Khayelitsha is home to around 2.4 million individuals, 50 percent of which are under the age of 19.

Over the past ten years, the population has increased from 400,000 to 2.4 million. The unemployment rate for individuals living in Khayelitsha is 73 percent with 70 percent of its individuals living in shacks.

The severe poverty combined with a lack of community infrastructure has led the community to vast crime rates, gangs, violence and drug use, thus placing Khayelitsha as the murder capital of South Africa. Local police say they deal with an average of four murders every weekend.

Living conditions in Khayelitsha are less than pleasant, with the unfortunate 70 percent of individuals living in shacks made of timber and sheet metal. The shacks are built very close to one another making fires a constant problem due to how fast they spread and how often they occur. There are no street names in Khayelitsha, instead, the large area is divided into 26 districts, which are numbered by letters, with each shack having a different number.

Sanitation is another struggle for the individuals of Khayelitsha, often times their toilets leak into the streets, fermenting there for weeks. This sanitation issue causes many diseases and sicknesses within the community.

Lack of clean water and food is yet another hardship. An estimated one in three people have to walk 200 meters or more to access clean water. A limited food supply is sold between shacks, being constantly exposed to the sun and flies. Food sold between shacks is the only food option in Khayelitsha being that there are no supermarkets or stores of any kind.

Overcrowding has been another common problem in this ever-growing slum. Khayelitsha has a high population density and a low amount of resources to support the growing population. This, along with a lack of security makes theft and crime very easy.

In an interview, one Khayelitsha resident, Nomfusi Panyaza, explained what it is truly like to live in Khayelitsha. She explained that when it rains, the surrounding public toilets overflow into her living room with water coming through the ceiling. Panyaza lives in her small shack with six other family members and two beds to share among the seven of them.

Though Khayelitsha’s hardships are very much prevalent, certain NGOs are doing what they can to alleviate various hardships. Some of the outreach that has been made is through the Zhakele Clinic, which was opened in Khayelitsha for the population’s health care. Unfortunately, the need surpasses what this small clinic can do, but it is a starting point that can be expanded.

Secondly, the nutritional support initiative (NSI) encourages patients to come into the clinic by giving the patients a two-week supply of nutritionally enhanced maize meals called e’Pap. E’Pap is a pre-cooked porridge with soy protein fortified with 28 nutrients. Providing patients with e’Pap decreases the amount and severity of side effects to the medications that the patients are taking and improves their overall health by lessening their chances of malnutrition.

Thirdly, the NGO, TB/HIV Care, which started in 1929, aims to decrease the incidence of tuberculosis and HIV across all of South Africa. Their plan is to improve the current TB and HIV prevention and care by researching and monitoring the area, helping not only the current situation but also looking to better South Africa’s future.

Khayelitsha is certainly a vastly troubled place though it should not be considered a lost cause. With the combined efforts of determined people and organizations, both mentioned above, as well as others, one of the world’s largest and fastest growing slums can finally improve its situation.

Bella Chaffey

Photo: Flickr

Lumkani: A New Device That Can Save Lives in South Africa’s Slums
Fires pose an extreme threat to slums, especially in South Africa. The City of Cape Town recently reported in a press release that between 2015 and 2016 there were 717 fires in slums, killing 32 people.

One of the most devastating fires to strike a slum occurred on Jan. 1, 2013 in the southwestern township of Khayelitsha. According to an article published by CNN, when the flames were finally extinguished, it was discovered that 800 homes were destroyed and as many as five people were killed.

Francois Petousis, an electrical engineering student at the University of Cape Town, along with five co-founders has invented a solution to this ever-growing issue. Lumkani, which translates to “be careful” in the South African language Xhosa, is the name of the team’s revolutionary heat-detecting mechanism.

In most slums or informal settlements, people cook and heat their homes using fire, which inevitably creates smoke. Due to this, Lumkani does not use standard smoke detection technology, it instead tracks how quickly heat rises in a room.

Fires are so destructive in slums because the homes are built close together, which allows the flames to spread quickly. According to Lumkani’s website, all devices that are within a 60-meter radius of a detected fire will ring in unison. This gives members of the community additional time to extinguish the fire or escape if it is spreading too quickly.

Recently, Lumkani developed new instruments that monitor the connectivity of devices and send text messages to nearby residents in the event of a fire. On their website, the start-up reported that they have distributed more than 7000 detectors since November 2014.

Lumkani has won numerous awards, including Global Innovation through Science and Technology’s competition for best start-up at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2014 and the overall prize for the Comfortable Home category at the Better Living Challenge 2014.

Since its launch, Lumkani devices have stopped the spread of numerous fires in South African slums. In the future, Lumkani plans to expand its market to the rest of Africa and Southeast Asia.

Liam Travers

Photo: Flickr

katchi abadisImagine Arthur Dent’s surprise when he woke up to the sound of bulldozers, reared back to demolish his home. That is the iconic opening to Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Now imagine that instead of Arthur Dent, an entire community faces such a predicament.

This was the case for the low-income community of Afghan Basti in Pakistan. On May 21, 2014, government-backed workers armed with bulldozers came to commence with roadworks. The Central Development Authority (CDA), which holds municipal responsibilities for Islamabad, had already demolished 25 stalls and five rooms nearby as part of the work.

According to Tribune journalist Maha Musaddiq, the bulldozing team was met with outcries as elders and children came out in protest of their forced eviction.

Enter July 2015. Despite protests, the CDA demolished sector I-11 in Islamabad. The sector was a low-income community similar to Afghan Basti. Both communities are known as ‘katchi abadis’.

What has motivated these evictions are claims on the part of the CDA that katchi abadis house criminals and terrorists. Umer Gilani, a lawyer for the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, challenges these allegations, seeing them as unfounded. He is not alone.

Tasneem Ahmed Siddiqui, an urban planner, has called for a paradigm shift in urban planning, taking Islamabad’s katchi abadis as an unfortunate example of what happens when a city is planned for the rich and fails to account for those laborers who might work for them.

According to the Tribune, Siddiqui has since proposed a solution to the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, in Karachi, a new city district called DHA City is being constructed. But to some, the plan has committed the mistake Siddiqui outlined: there are no residences marked for drivers, housemaids or other staff.

A proposal has been submitted to the prime minister for a low-cost housing scheme.

Where protests in Pakistan have occurred over urgent circumstances — forced eviction with bulldozers at-the-ready — Indian koliwadas, or fishing villages, have protested their classification as slums.

Specifically, it is Mumbai’s Worli Koliwada, a historical fishing village, home to the Koli people who make up the city’s oldest residents.

Times of India journalist Priyanka Kakodkar reports that the land in question has been seen as valuable by property surveyors — and classifying the koliwada as a slum would open up the historical area to development.

The plan, however, was abandoned after locals vehemently objected to it.

It has instead been suggested that the local community try to develop and rehabilitate the area.

– The Borgen Project

Sources: Times of India, Tribune 1, DNAIndia, Tribune 2, Pakistan Today, Tribune 3
Photo: Wikipedia

Biggest Largest Slums in the World
As the world continues to urbanize and globalize at the most rapid pace in modern history, the global population of slum dwellers also continues to grow tremendously. UNHABITAT estimates that there are currently around one billion people living in slums, largely in developing countries. In fact, nearly one-third of all city-dwellers in developing countries live in poor-quality housing settlements known as slums. Urban slums are the world’s fastest-growing human habitat. Since accurate statistics on the demographics of slum areas are nearly impossible to come by, below is a list of the largest slums in the world ordered by estimated populations.


5 Largest Slums in the World


1. Khayeltisha, Cape Town, South Africa
Khayeltisha’s population is projected to be around 400,000, with a striking 40 percent of its residents under 19 years old. This township was developed during the collapse of apartheid system in South Africa.

2. Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya
The largest urban slum in Africa, Kibera is estimated to be housing anywhere from 200,000 to one million people. It has faced attention from news outlets, NGOs, the UN and celebrities from all across the world, but still remains overwhelmingly underdeveloped despite many rehabilitation efforts.

3. Dharavi, Mumbai, India
Also famous among journalists and development organizations, Dharavi is home to somewhere between 600,000 and one million people. Unlike most slum areas, which are concentrated on the outskirts of large cities, Dharavi is located squarely in the heart of Mumbai. This has contributed to its surprising multi-religious, multi-ethnic diversity. Fun fact: Dharavi provided the backdrop to the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire in 2008.

4. Orangi Town, Karachi, Pakistan
In recent years, Orangi has crept up in notoriety as the largest slum in Asia, compared to its long-time predecessor, Dharavi. With a population of over one million, Orangi was once the center of ethnic conflict between the Pathan and Bihari gangs. Since then, the area has become known for its self-financed sewage system and its booming cottage industry.

5. Neza-Chalco-Itza, Mexico City, Mexico
With around four million residents, Neza-Chalco-Itza barrio has been considered the largest slum area in the world. Unique to this area is its diversity in housing arrangements. While most residents live illegally on authorized land, some live in former mansions-turned low-income apartments that were abandoned by wealthy families.

– Tara Young

Sources: International Business TimesNational Geographic, The Hindustan Times
Photo: Wikimedia

electricityAs we stumble into a dark room, it is only natural that our hands reach for the light switch a motion that takes only a moment before we are bathed in artificial golden rays illuminating the enclosed space in which we stand via electricity.

In our homes and about our daily lives, we do not place a schedule around the daylight hours; with a generous supply of electricity, we can be productive at any time.

We neglect to think about the children who cannot finish their homework each night, the markets which cannot operate in the evenings, the businesses which can’t get off the ground or the schools and clinics which fail to provide the most basic services in areas without electricity, laments a video by the World Bank which describes the harsh reality of living in such circumstances.

When we think of places that have no electricity, often images of remote villages come to mind, but surprisingly, many of those who are lacking access to power are those living in urban slums.

Two years ago in the slums of Nairobi, as many as two million people lived in “informal settlements” which were not equipped with power, or if they were, they were unsafe, unreliable and illegal connections prone to catching fire or causing electrocutions sold by local cartels. This unsafe environment was not desirable and for any change to occur, the Kenyan community would have to embrace the notion of safe and affordable electricity.

At first community members were skeptical of Kenya Power, Kenya’s national utility which focused on taking down illegal connections in the slums from 2011-2013. Community members associated Kenya Power with dismantling their source of electricity, despite how unsafe it may be they were unhappy, often putting up another illegal connection within days.

Kenya Power adapted a community approach and conversed with people, opting to leave the illegal connections alone and just focus on providing safe electricity. In just one year, the number of legal connections would grow from just 5,000 in May 2014 to 150,000 and counting in May 2015.

With the reliability and affordability of such a system in place, its usage has become contagious, “Most consumers use pay-as-you-go scheme, buying pre-paid chits, available at any corner store, and paying for electricity in small increments.

In fact, many of the former vendors of illegal electricity are now in the (legal) business of selling Kenya Power chits,” says the World Bank, which provides funding for Kenya Power and also offers a South-South Knowledge exchange including Kenyan workers and experts from utilities in Brazil, Colombia and South Africa.

Support from the Global Partnership on Output-Based Aid and World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program are also a part of the given support and part of a much larger $330 million World Bank project to help Kenya Power expand, modernize and light up its cities’ slums.

Nikki Schaffer

Sources: World Bank, Kenya Power
Photo: World Bank

Rocinha, a neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is one of the largest and densest slums in Latin America. The neighborhood that still struggles with drug cartels, lack of access to education and healthcare, and seemingly inescapable poverty is beginning to slowly change with the visionary architectural work of Ricardo de Olivera, as well as impactful government planning initiatives.

Featured in the series Rebel Architecture, architect Olivera has no formal training. This has given him the adaptable ability to work with the material of the local context of his favela, rather than imposing ineffective westernized techniques. “Ricardo is famous around here. Everyone wants his services,” says a local resident in the film entitled “The pedreiro and the master planner” directed by May Abdalla.

“A foreign architect would not get into this hole and dig. He would hire someone or would hire machines. But here in the favela, we are hands on… Most of the buildings here were built by pedreiros like me… I did all three things. I didn’t need an engineer or an architect or a decorator,” says Olivera in the film.

Olivera has built over 100 houses, as well as supermarkets and parking garages. He is visionary and passionate about improving the quality of life of his birthplace. Olivera’s simple designs meet the needs of his clients and neighbors both socially and financially. Favelas arise spontaneously with no help or design from the government, explains the film. Rocinha is considered Brazil’s most urbanized slum. The tiny 0.8 by 0.8 square mile, steep area is home to 100,000 to 200,000 people. Residents live in states of extreme poverty, in small shanties stacked on top of each other, up to 11 stories high.

Residents of Rocinha rarely have access to education. Citizens on average have had only 4.1 years of formal schooling, and less than one percent of adults have earned a degree above a high school diploma. Jobs in Brazil are reserved for citizens with formal degrees—so Rocinha residents do not have easy access to escaping the impoverished conditions they were born into.

“It has its problems—sanitation, access to quality housing. The other problem is because of the narrow streets where the police can’t go, drug traffickers settled in Rocinha. The government closed its eyes to the arrival of those forming the favelas because they didn’t have the resources to provide housing and they needed cheap manpower. This logic is present in each and every city in which there is a poverty belt,” says Luis Carlos Toledo, the architect behind the master plan for the government’s improvement plan for Rocinha in the film.

As Rio preps itself for the upcoming Olympic games, there are competing forces at play determining the future of Rocinha. The city has implemented pacification programs, which destroy slums in an attempt to make the city look cleaner and less impoverished to outsiders.

The city has also created an ambitious transportation plan— a cable car system that connects downtown Rio with Rocinha. Citizens are against this system, seeing it simply as an investment in the tourism industry rather than a viable transportation solution.

At the same time, various foreign urban planners, NGOs, and architects have come to Rocinha with good intentions, but without a working knowledge of the local community, threatening to bring gentrification to Rocinha.

Amidst these various forces, citizens of Rocinha are speaking up more than ever before. Community meetings in Rosinha have raised a collective voice against the cable car system. “Only the population of Rohica can preserve the spirit. And without that, there is no future for Rohinca,” declares the film.

“The residents have aspirations for the whole favela, not just their house,” explains the film.

Despite the Brazilian government’s mixed history with creating helpful change, localized urban planning by the government has brought improvements to parts of Rocinha. In 2011, an ambitious project to change the district called Rua 4 was successfully implemented. Residents were moved to public housing within their neighborhood, rather than being moved to the outskirts of the city which is often the case in attempts to improve housing.

Before the changes, the Rua 4 area was a 60 centimeter ally, known for having the highest tuberculosis rate in the world.

Dictated by the urban planning project, roads were widened in Rua 4 to about 12 meters. Buildings were improved structurally and painted brightly. Gardens and plazas shot up. Staircases were built to connect different levels. Residents have contributed to building playgrounds, a stage, mosaics and murals.

Here, people relax on their porches outside and no evidence of the drug trade is present. Head architect Luiz Carlos Toledo said “Rua 4 is… an example of how you can, without abandoning the traditional pathways of a favela, improve them, adapt them to the scale and the topography of the site.”

The successful government project and Olivera’s rebel architecture demonstrate that impactful change in favelas is possible. As the community begins to demand more change collectively, hope and greater improvements in Rocinha seem to be in the favela’s future.

Margaret Mary Anderson

Sources: Arch Daily, Al Jazeera, Mundoreal, Rio On Watch
Photo: Flickr

osaka slumJapan currently ranks fourth globally with the highest percentage of people living in relative poverty. ‘Relative poverty’ is a term that means the population does not have enough resources to live on, and individuals are unable to provide themselves with basic and essential needs. Japan has approximately 16.1 percent of its population existing in this status. This condition is exemplified in the Osaka slum discussed below.


Kamagasaki: The Osaka Slum


Within Japan, a slum exists that is a prime example of foreign global poverty. It is a small area, only .24 square miles. The city itself cannot be found on maps of Japan. It is where the poorest people in Osaka, Japan reside. It is the largest slum in Japan: Kamagasaki.

Almost 40 years ago, Kamagasaki was a thriving area in Osaka, due to its construction businesses, and many laborers came from throughout Japan to work there because of such high demand. Three historical events changed Kamagasaki. In 1995, the Hanshin earthquake killed over 6,000 people throughout Japan. Then, in 2010, the rate of economic growth began decreasing in Japan, and it no longer had the second largest growing economy in the world. The demand for labor in Kamagasaki further declined and created more poor. And finally in March 2011, the Great East Japan earthquake occurred. In Kamagasaki, of the 330,000 workers evacuated after the earthquake, 200,000 were estimated to be out of work.

There was a rapid decline into poverty in this specific area of Osaka after 1995 as people began to leave the area. As a result, currently, due to the lack of employment, it is now home to only 25,000 aspiring elderly workers. Of the aspiring workers, 1,300 of them are homeless. The employment options are few and far between—there are very few jobs available. The lack of technology and access to the Internet affects the ability for the unemployed to connect with employers and better paying jobs. Picking through garbage has become a common source of income for residents, allowing them to earn from $9 to $13 per day.

Unskilled laborers after the age of 50 rarely get work and do not qualify for government assistance until the age of 60, leaving a gap of 10 years without income or eligibility for government assistance—including healthcare. The prevalence of tuberculosis infection rate in Kamagasaki is three in every 100 residents.The rate of tuberculosis infection is estimated to be between 30 and 40 times the national average in Japan.

Kamagasaki is a poverty stricken area in Osaka, Japan, the country with the third highest growth of economy in the world. The area was given a new name decades ago: Airin-chiku.

Continued focus on Millennium Development Goal 1, eradication of extreme hunger or poverty, needs to reflect further progress in this area, regardless of what it is called.

Erika Wright

Sources: The Guardian, The Japan Times, Pulitzer Center
Photo: Epoch Times

Brazil Swamped in Garbage
Brazil’s metropolis, Recife, is often associated with mystical bridges, vibrant entertainment and picturesque beaches. The splendor of this tourist hub, however, has recently been blighted, when in November the Jornal do Commercio released a photo of a nine-year-old boy swimming in a garbage-filled canal beneath one of the most famous bridges. What’s more, he was picking cans out of the contaminated water so that he could sell them.

Although Brazil has the ninth largest economy in the world, it is fraught with extreme economic disparity. Half of the country’s income is enjoyed by a meager 10 percent of the population, while the poorest 10 percent receive less than one percent.

Half of the country’s 60 million children live in poverty.

The photo of nine-year-old Paulo Henrique exposes this grim reality. According to government accounts, in Recife alone nearly 65,000 children live in the slums in the Arruda and Campina Barreto neighborhoods on the city’s north side. And a good majority of them are making their fortunes by wading through waste.

In reaction to the photo, the Brazilian government promised to provide welfare for Paulo, his mother and his five siblings. As a more all-encompassing response to the issue of poverty, the country created the first global center for poverty reduction in March. Mundo Sem Pobreze (World Without Poverty), will become a market of ideas and experiences in applying programs to benefit the most disadvantaged citizens.

The inspiration behind Mundo Sem Pobreze came from Bolsa Familia, the most successful Brazilian program in history. In just one decade since its advent, the program has managed to reduce poverty by half in Brazil, 50 million people of which were low-income Brazilians.

Though the photo of Paulo is saddening and morose, it has opened up a national conversation in efforts to address the issue of poverty. Photos can often have a profound impact on society; historically, they have served as galvanizers of radical change. During the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, the iconic photo of a young African American man being attacked by a police dog in Birmingham, Alabama pushed the U.S Government to finally intervene after decades of discrimination and violence.

Photos have the capacity to reach an entire nation, even an entire world. The photo of Brazil swamped in garbage has created a dialogue that will hopefully set the pace for a united national movement to eradicate extreme poverty.

– Samantha Scheetz

Sources: Save The Children, Vice, World Bank
Photo: VICE

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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