People's Stories Equality

By 2050, 3 billion people are projected to be slum dwellers
by UN Habitat, Save the Children, IIED, IDS, agencies
The UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) – the only source of internationally comparable data on slum dwellers – estimates that 881 million people or 30% of developing countries’ urban populations live in slums (UN-Habitat, 2014). This could rise to 3 billion or 60% by 2050 (UN DESA, 2013, 2014).
The particularity of slums among informal settlements, that should be urgently addressed, is the level of perpetual poverty, deprivation and socio-spatial exclusion to which the people residing in them are subjected to live in, a condition that also affects the overall prosperity of the cities and towns in which they exist.
The impact of living in these areas is life threatening. Slums are marginalised, often large collections of dilapidated housing regularly located in the most hazardous urban land – e.g. riverbanks; sandy and degraded soils, near industries and dump sites, in swamps, flood-prone zones and steep slopes – disengaged from broader urban systems and from the formal supply of basic infrastructure and services, including public space and green areas.
Slum dwellers can experience constant discrimination and disadvantage, lack of recognition by governance frameworks, limited access to land and property, tenure insecurity and the threat of eviction, precarious livelihoods, high exposure to disease and violence and, due to slums’ location, high vulnerability to the adverse impacts of climate change and natural disasters.
Different vulnerable groups living in slums are particularly affected: women are more likely to have lower education levels and face high rates of teen pregnancies, children are constantly exposed to a whole range of impacts, unskilled youth are excluded from economic and employment opportunities, people with disabilities suffer due to the slums’ dilapidated infrastructure and migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons affected by conflict and economic crisis also face additional levels of vulnerability and marginalisation through their uncertain status and lack of resources.
The living conditions of the people living in slums must be improved and slum proliferation halted. National and local authorities should see these as priority urban tasks for them to address and dedicate efforts not only in pursuit of enforcing the poor citizens’ rights but also to facilitate their economic and social progress and, as a result, to boost the overall prosperity of cities and towns. Reducing inequalities in the urban context by integrating the people living in slums into the broader urban fabric makes more prosperous and sustainable cities.
* UN Habitat Slum Almanac 2015-2016:
The changing face of poverty. (World Vision)
Our world is rapidly urbanising – now more than half of the world’s population live in urban centres. These patterns are accelerating – more than 60% of the world will be urban citizens by the year 2050.
World Vision, like many aid and development organisations, once worked mostly in rural areas. But the state of global poverty has changed. Our commitment is to work with the most vulnerable children and communities – and these days, many of them are in cities.
As of 2012, more than one billion children - almost half of the world’s children - live in cities, millions of them in slum conditions.
It is estimated that an additional one billion people will live in informal slum communities in 2030. This is the urbanisation of poverty.
Urban inequality remains an endemic and worsening phenomenon. Across the globe we see high levels of urban poverty, unemployment and slum dwelling, contrasting with wealthy shopping districts in the city centre and gated communities in the suburbs.
Often we think that proximity to services like schools, medical care, shops and public transport automatically translates to access to these essential services. Unfortunately, for the urban poor proximity doesn’t automatically equal access. People living in poverty in urban areas all around the world can be unable to enrol in schools, access medical care or find stable and safe employment.
Unlike in rural areas, the main challenge is not the physical distance between families and these facilities but social, political and financial barriers that prevent them from using them.
People living in urban areas may live with: Overcrowded living conditions. Lack of access to clean water – or having to pay very expensive rates to buy it from a private water seller. A lack of proper sanitation and hygiene facilities. High rates and spread of disease – slums are often inundated during monsoons leading to urban flooding and the very high risk of epidemic diseases.
Pollution, garbage and waste in the streets – a lack of government services means that waste piles up in slums, encouraging the breeding of disease carrying pests like rats and feral cats.
Child labour and trafficking – children as young as six or eight can be forced to work long hours in dangerous jobs to support the living expenses in urban centres. Other hazards can include road traffic injuries; sexual abuse; higher levels of violence, high crime rates and gang violence.
The Plight of Slums - Global Food Policy Report 2017 (IFPRI - Extract)
Slums are settlements characterized by inadequate access to safe water, sanitation, and infrastructure; nondurable and over-crowded housing; and insecure residential status.
Slums are often set up on dangerous and unclaimed land, and residents do not pay property taxes that would cover public services such as electricity, water and sanitation, and waste disposal.
Given the threat of eviction, slum dwellers often lack incentive to invest personally in housing quality improvements or sanitation and waste and sewage disposal infrastructure, which in turn may have devastating consequences for their health.
In 2014, 881 million people lived in slums in the developing world, an increase from 689 million in 1990.In India, 17 percent of urban dwellers, or 65 million people, live in slums. In Peru, 34 percent of the urban population lives in slums. In Uganda, the proportion skyrockets to 54 percent.
By 2030, the number of slum residents in low and middle-income countries is projected to reach 2 billion, with most living in Africa and Asia and in smaller cities.
This extraordinary growth prompted the United Nations to devote a target of Sustainable Development Goal 11, which focuses on improving cities, to upgrading slums.
Life in slums is characterized by overcrowding, indoor and outdoor air pollution, dusty roads, and lack of water, sanitation, and sewage infrastructure, all of which expose residents to a plethora of environmental health risks.
Water and food contamination and related infections are particularly common, and affect children disproportionately. Young children living in slums have a greater incidence of diarrheal illnesses and a higher risk of mortality than their non-slum urban peers.
Systematic reviews of cholera outbreaks in Africa have sourced them to slum neighborhoods.
Exclusive breastfeeding, which offers protection from infections in young infants, was found to be low in slums in India, due to myths and low utilization of health services.
Childhood undernutrition is also higher in slums compared with other urban areas, fueling the vicious cycle of poverty and infection and increasing the risks of long-term consequences for cognitive development, economic productivity, overweight and obesity, and related noncommunicable diseases.
Respiratory health—affected by overcrowding, indoor and outdoor air pollution, and secondhand smoke is also greatly compromised among slum dwellers. Pneumonia and asthma are prevalent among children, as are tuberculosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary and lung diseases in adulthood.
Other health hazards affecting slum dwellers include injury due to violence and traffic accidents; flooding and landslides due to lack of infrastructure; industrial pollution and hazardous waste; fire; and stress associated with overcrowding and sharing a physical and social environment.
Despite the growing awareness of slums, there is a dearth of government policies and interventions directed at regularizing tenure and improving slum dwellers’ health. Slum health should be accorded policy and research attention in its own right, distinct from the areas of urban health and poverty and health.
* Source: A. Ezeh, O. Oyebode, D. Satterthwaite, Y-F. Chen, R. Ndugwa, J. Sartori, B. Mberu, et al., “The History, Geography, and Sociology of Slums and the Health Problems of People Who Live in Slums,” Lancet online (October 16, 2016) From Chapter 3: Food Security and Nutrition:
June 2017
Who can we trust to measure urban poverty?, by Sarah Colenbrander. (IIED)
International definitions of the poverty line don''t take into the account the additional costs of living in cities. Sarah Colenbrander says the urban poor can help institutions such as the United Nations and the World Bank develop accurate, local, definitions of urban poverty.
The World Bank held its Annual Bank Conference on Africa on June 1-2. Africa remains the most rural continent, but it is experiencing extraordinary rates of urbanisation: the United Nations expects Africa''s urban population to triple by mid-century. Only Asia is experiencing faster rates of urban growth.
By mid-century, towns and cities on these two continents will need to absorb an additional 2.25 billion people. Governments across Asia and Africa will require international support to meet the needs of this growing urban population.
The United Nations and World Bank will be among those at the forefront of these efforts, in line with their own mandates to end extreme poverty.
The only problem is the way that their definition of poverty excludes many of the world''s poorest people.
What does it mean to be poor? Most can answer easily: not being able to afford enough food, a safe home, clean drinking water, health care and other basic needs.
The amount of money a person needs also depends on where they live. The World Bank has set the international poverty line at US$1.90 per person per day. This poverty line is based on the cost of food across a number of low-income countries. It might be an appropriate indicator for people living in rural areas in these countries.
But it doesn''t recognise the need to pay for non-food needs, such as accommodation or drinking water. In other words, the international poverty line does not recognise that anyone might live in a city.
Cities are booming. India is projected to add 404 million urban residents by 2050; Nigeria is projected to add 212 million. This makes it more important than ever that the World Bank recognises the additional costs of living in cities.
The best way to do this would be developing local poverty lines, based on the real cost of getting decent housing, basic services and secure tenure in an area. Local poverty lines would allow governments and development agencies to identify where poor people live and channel aid to them.
It isn''t that difficult to measure local costs. The United Nations recognises that in Kenya, hotels in Nairobi cost more than those in Katui or Mwingi, and recommends higher per diems and stipends for its staff in this part of the country. Development practitioners must demand as much economic rigour in our poverty assessments as we do in our per diem calculations.
Because of the different costs of different places, measuring income is a weak way to evaluate poverty. A better metric is whether or not households have access to safe, reliable and affordable services.
In my view, the United Nations has a poor track record in urban areas. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF are the main agencies responsible for measuring access to drinking water and sanitation. They collect data on the number of people with access to an:
"Improved water source": piped water into a dwelling/yard/plot, public tap or standpipe, tube well, borehole, protected dug well, protected spring or rainwater, and "Improved sanitation": flush toilet, piped sewer system, septic tank, flush/pour to pit latrine, ventilated improved pit latrine, pit latrine with slab or composting toilet.
These water sources and sanitation systems will usually be sufficient in rural areas. However, it is difficult to empty pit latrines in a hygienic way when people live in high numbers on small house plots – as they typically do in cities. The latrines may even overflow during heavy rainfall, meaning that boreholes, tube wells and dug wells may be contaminated with faecal matter.
Many urban households may therefore have access to an "improved" water source – but that doesn''t mean that the water is safe to drink.
The United Nations routinely underestimates how many people lack access to clean drinking water or hygienic sanitation. This means that many UN agencies overlook the urban poor when advocating to governments or planning development programmes.
From Accra to Ahmedabad and Mumbai to Manila, organised groups of the urban poor are collecting extraordinarily detailed data on life in informal settlements. These community-led enumerations record how many people live in each household, what amenities they have, where they came from, where they work, how much they earn, how much they can save, how much the land costs and more. This vital evidence could be used to develop local poverty lines.
The Homeless People''s Federation Philippines, for example, has used community-generated data to map households living in hazardous areas such as roadsides, steep hills or floodplains.
The National Community Savings Network in Cambodia has documented the low-quality food available in informal settlements, meaning that many of the residents struggle with serious malnutrition.
The members of these grassroots organisations might earn more than $1.90 a day – but many are still chronically poor and vulnerable to a wide range of risks.
If the World Bank and the United Nations are serious about reducing poverty, they need to know where the poor can be found. Their current measurements can’t tell us that – but the urban poor can.
The Urban Disadvantage: Save the Children is publishing its 16th annual State of the World’s Mothers report with a special focus on our rapidly urbanizing world and the poorest mothers and children who must struggle to survive despite overall urban progress.
Every day, 17,000 children die before reaching their fifth birthday. Increasingly, these preventable deaths are occurring in city slums, where overcrowding and poor sanitation exist alongside skyscrapers and shopping malls. Lifesaving health care may be only a stone’s throw away, but the poorest mothers and children often cannot get the care they need.
This report presents the latest and most extensive analysis to date of health disparities between rich and poor in cities. It finds that in most developing countries, the poorest urban children are at least twice as likely to die as the richest urban children. In some countries, they are 3 to 5 or even more times as likely to die.
* Link to report:
Putting Children First in an Urban World, by Anthony Lake Executive Director, UNICEF.
When many of us think of the world’s poorest children, the image that comes readily to mind is that of a child going hungry in a remote rural community in sub-Saharan Africa – as so many are today.
But as The State of the World’s Children 2012 shows with clarity and urgency, millions of children in cities and towns all over the world are also at risk of being left behind. In fact, hundreds of millions of children today live in urban slums, many without access to basic services.
They are vulnerable to dangers ranging from violence and exploitation to the injuries, illnesses and death that result from living in crowded settlements atop hazardous rubbish dumps or alongside railroad tracks. And their situations – and needs – are often represented by aggregate figures that show urban children to be better off than their rural counterparts, obscuring the disparities that exist among the children of the cities.
This report adds to the growing body of evidence and analysis, from UNICEF and our partners, that scarcity and dispossession afflict the poorest and most marginalized children and families disproportionately. It shows that this is so in urban centres just as in the remote rural places we commonly associate with deprivation and vulnerability.
The data are startling. By 2050, 70 per cent of all people will live in urban areas. Already, 1 in 3 urban dwellers lives in slum conditions; in Africa, the proportion is a staggering 6 in 10. The impact on children living in such conditions is significant. From Ghana and Kenya to Bangladesh and India, children living in slums are among the least likely to attend school. And disparities in nutrition separating rich and poor children within the cities and towns of sub-Saharan Africa are often greater than those between urban and rural children.
Every disadvantaged child bears witness to a moral offense: the failure to secure her or his rights to survive, thrive and participate in society. And every excluded child represents a missed opportunity – because when society fails to extend to urban children the services and protection that would enable them to develop as productive and creative individuals, it loses the social, cultural and economic contributions they could have made.
We must do more to reach all children in need, wherever they live, wherever they are excluded and left behind. If we help overcome the barriers that have kept these children from the services that they need and that are theirs by right, then millions more will grow up healthy, attend school and live more productive lives.
* Access the report: See also State of the World’s Children 2016: A fair chance for every child:
June 2017
Globally, the fires of inequality rage on, by Jaideep Gupte (IDS)
The global economy is not only complex, it is brutal. With just 600 cities accounting for the majority of global GDP, people are arguing that it is not nation states, but ‘global cities’ driving the world economy. However, to enable this city-centric view, the world economy has become remarkably exclusionary, with devastating consequences even for those who think they are not vulnerable. The fire at Grenfell Tower in London brings home the deep inequalities and class struggle that underwrite the global housing crisis.
The UN’s special rapporteur on the right to housing, Leilani Farha, recently pointed out that ‘the world’s money markets have priced people out of cities, with speculators treating housing as a place to park capital’. What''s worse, is that the structure of land and property markets are such that they reward and reinforce this behaviour. There is constant pressure on local, municipal and building regulations to ease up to make way for investor friendly cities.
At the same time, popular opinion is swayed by a coarse weighing-up between social housing on the one hand, and wealth generation on the other. Lest we forget, the former is a basic human right, while the latter is something we should all have a stake in.
In the case of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, it is suspected (but as yet unconfirmed) that cheaper cladding material used, and a disregard of fire safety regulations may have been responsible for the rapid spread of the fire. The tower stands in Kensington and Chelsea, one of the most affluent boroughs in London (and the country), and the victims who were from refugee, working class and ethnic minority backgrounds, lived right next to millionaires and billionaires.
Renowned economist, Thomas Piketty has shown us that inequality makes us all worse off. And yet, as Saskia Sassen points out in her new book titled ‘Expulsion’, the new global market for land, and the triumph of finance capital, continues to displace a dramatically increased number of people.
This has lead to a rise in homelessness due to foreclosures and underemployment, and causing the criminalisation or incarceration of people as a form of social control.
One in four people are worried about losing their home against their will in the next five years revealed a survey of nine countries. Simply put: people are being expelled at historically remarkable levels, not only from their habitats, but also from the benefits of the global economic system.
The poorest and most marginalised urban residents in the cities of the global South, who live in squatter settlements and in constant fear of their home and their bodies being subjected to the violence of eviction (like the recent fires and brutal eviction in the Otodo Gbame informal settlement in Lagos, Nigeria), find themselves both in the crosshairs of the legal instruments used to formalise urban space, as well as at the mercy of local gangs and non-state security providers who are often deployed to carry out evictions on the state''s behalf.
The actors may be different in the cities of the global North, but the process by which global capital trumps local regulation while the under classes are persecuted, is the same.
Reportedly, the Kensington and Chelsea council has built just ten new social homes in the last 28 years.
We must ask why some of us have safety nets, while others fall through. Why do a very small number of us benefit from the markets for land and property, while the vast majority are at a constant risk of being decimated by the vicissitudes of global financial flows that we have no control over.
One way to start answering these questions is to train our sights on local and municipal regulations. We need to ensure these do not perpetuate global inequality locally. We need to ensure that our attempts at generating wealth also champion our basic human rights at the local level.
In Lagos, the community has had to vocalise their demands for equal rights through public protests. In London, the residents of Grenfell Tower tried to repeatedly raise their concerns about dangerous living conditions. Their complaints appear to have fallen on deaf ears and many are calling the tragic fire on 14 June a man-made disaster. The fire-fighters, rescue workers and community volunteers were the heroes on the night; but who will douse the fire of inequality that rages on?
* Are we underestimating urban poverty? Report from the Overseas Development Institute:


Investments in poor children save more lives
by United Nations Children''s Fund (UNICEF)
June 2017
Unless the world makes faster progress on reducing child mortality, by 2030 almost 70 million children will die before reaching their fifth birthday.
Investing in the health and survival of the most deprived children and communities provides more value for money, saving almost twice as many lives for every US$1 million spent as equivalent investments in less deprived groups, according to a new UNICEF analysis.
Narrowing the Gaps: The power of investing in the poorest children presents compelling new evidence that backs up an unconventional prediction UNICEF made in 2010: the higher cost of reaching the poorest children with life-saving, high-impact health interventions would be outweighed by greater results.
“The evidence is compelling: Investing in the poorest children is not only right in principle, it is also right in practice – saving more lives for every dollar spent,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.
“This is critical news for governments working to end all preventable child deaths at a time when every dollar counts. Investing equitably in children’s health also saves futures and helps break intergenerational cycles of poverty. A healthy child has a better chance of learning more in school and earning more as an adult.”
Unless progress on reducing child mortality accelerates, by 2030 almost 70 million children will die before reaching their fifth birthday.
Drawing on new data from the 51 countries where around 80 per cent of all newborn and under-five deaths occur, the study shows that improvements in coverage of life-saving interventions among poor groups helped decrease child mortality in these countries nearly three times faster than among non-poor groups.
Crucially, the study uses new data and modeling tools to demonstrate that interventions reaching children in poor groups proved 1.8 times more cost-effective in terms of lives saved.
The study selected six key health interventions as indicators to assess access to high-impact maternal, newborn and child health interventions: the use of insecticide-treated bed nets, early initiation of breastfeeding, antenatal care, full vaccination, the presence of a skilled birth attendant during delivery, and seeking care for children with diarrhea, fever or pneumonia.
Specifically, the study found that:
• Access to high-impact health and nutrition interventions has improved most rapidly among poor groups in recent years, leading to substantial improvements in equity.
• During the period studied, absolute reductions in under-five mortality rates associated with these changes in coverage were nearly three times faster among poor groups than non-poor groups.
• Since birth rates were higher among the poor than the non-poor, the reduction in the under-five mortality rate in poor communities translated into 4.2 times more lives saved for every million people.
• Of the 1.1 million lives saved across the 51 countries during the final year studied for each country, nearly 85 per cent were among the poor.
• While the per capita investment needed to improve coverage among the poor is greater than that required to reach the non-poor, these investments save almost twice as many lives per US$1 million invested as equivalent investments in the non-poor.
The study lists Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Malawi as some of the countries with high rates of under-five mortality where focus on the most deprived has made a difference for children. Between 1990 and 2015, under-five mortality decreased by half in Afghanistan and by 74 per cent in both Bangladesh and Malawi.
The findings come at a critical time, as governments continue their work towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, which set a target of ending all preventable deaths among newborns and children under the age of five by 2030. Investing in children’s health and survival can also support the achievement of other global development goals, such as ending poverty (SDG 1).
Narrowing the Gaps calls on countries to take practical steps to reduce inequities, including: disaggregating data to identify the children being left behind; investing more in proven interventions to prevent and treat the biggest killers of children; strengthening health systems to make quality care more widely available; innovating to find new ways of reaching the unreached; and monitoring equity gaps using household surveys and national information systems.

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