Rise of Urban Poverty in India

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NEW DELHI — In the last few decades, India has experienced an unprecedented rate of urbanization, which has led to chaotic growth, violence, pollution, disease and extreme destitution.

Successful urban planning has been especially difficult to achieve in fast-growing Indian cities. For a while, some Indian cities were growing by one million residents a year. In addition to dealing with housing and crowding issues, India has faced financial difficulty in developing and urbanizing new areas. To offset the costs of urbanization, India decreased its public services and investments in infrastructure.

Nevertheless, people continue to move away from rural areas. The urban population in India is expected to increase from 27.8 percent in 2011 to 38 percent by 2025. Along with the ongoing migration from rural to urban areas, the rise of the unskilled labor force is contributing to the widening gap in urban income levels.

With 32.7 percent of the population living on $1.25 per day and below the international extreme poverty line, India houses one third of the world’s poor. Past data compiled by the World Bank and McKinsey indicate that India has only lifted 38 million people out of extreme poverty since the 1980s. Poverty is still more prevalent in rural areas than urban areas, but the gap is gradually closing; many Indian states report a higher poverty figure in urban areas. In addition to negatively affecting health, education, sanitation and general livelihoods, urban poverty creates serious difficulties for groups like women, children and the elderly.

Slums have long been hotspots of urban poverty in India. A 2011 census indicated that the number of slums has decreased while the population of slum dwellers has increased. Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Punjab, Maharashtra and Karnataka account for over half of the slum population in India. At an annual growth rate of 5 percent, the slum population has become more concentrated, making slum dwellers increasingly vulnerable to eviction, confiscation of belongings and poor sanitation. Over 50 percent of urban slums lack access to toilets, proper healthcare, social security, hygienic public facilities and clean water.

The government and local organizations have yet to help lift India’s poorest out of poverty. Social discrimination has been cited as a reason for their hesitation; some organizations are only willing to serve those who belong in a specific community or caste. Additionally, people living far below the poverty line are often difficult to locate since they must move constantly in pursuit of temporary jobs.

The World Bank has urged reform through tactics like improving public services, strengthening labor regulations and reinforcing infrastructure. Other possible solutions include issuing governmental assistance to boost the economy of smaller towns, increasing access to electricity and energy services (including nonconventional energy sources like solar and biogas), improving sewage systems in slum areas, maintaining communal public toilets and giving special subsidies to vulnerable populations. The United Nations Development Program has also suggested that the nation promote greater equity in accessing basic services and organize larger slum communities. By embracing these proposals, India may have a better chance of alleviating urban poverty.

Sources: Centre for Research on Globalization, Cities Alliance, The Diplomat, Poverties, UNDP
Photo: Geography Blog

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