Slums in South Africa Continues to be a Hurdle in Poverty Alleviation

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SOUTH AFRICA — The Trickle Down Effect, the economic phenomenon that causes a gap between the rich and the poor, is causing unsustainable growth in many developing countries with high levels of growth. It often leads to a very disproportionate distribution of income and wealth.

Currently, over 1.6 billion individuals around the world suffer from the combined effects of inadequate resources and poor housing in urban areas. Of this figure, over 900 million live in slums. Urban population growth is increasing exponentially across Asian and African countries, and urban slums are a recurring sight in many of the world’s biggest economies.

South Africa, in particular, has dealt with this debilitating problem since the Apartheid era. It has become the most urbanized country in the African continent. Consequently, urban slums in Johannesburg are ubiquitous; Durban, Gauteng and Langa are provinces with some of the largest slums in South Africa. Over a third of Cape Town’s population live in slums or informal settlements.

Over the past decade, the number of slum dwellers in South Africa has increased by a record 55 percent. Social infrastructure, economic opportunities and public facilities are often deficient in South African slums. Sudden deluges of flooding in the country have exacerbated the issue over the years as informal housing becomes even more vulnerable.

Many blame the government for not prioritizing the issue over the years. Despite the RDP housing system in South Africa which came into prominence to provide housing to the poor, many individuals still do not qualify for securing them due to their low incomes. The housing gap generated in the process impoverishes many and aggravates the urban housing crisis in the country.

Under the government’s current Reconstruction and Development Program, houses are often built on cheap and readily available land far from the city. The land is not used efficiently and effectively. Currently, many people commute long distances to go to school or work and spend a lot on transport. Developing good housing closer to cities can go a long way in easing the problem.

To crack down on the issue in South Africa, it is essential to develop a more streamlined and standardized national policy regarding informal housing in the country. In this way, every area in the country will be governed by one agenda. In 2014, the World Design Capital (WDC) began shack design projects to address the problem by improving the quality of housing and giving people more rental choices.

Moreover, to alleviate the problem of ‘spatial dislocation’, and reduce the number of slums and shanty settlements in South Africa, it is vital to increase the amount of subsidized housing in the country.

During the course of HABITAT III, one of South Africa’s most crucial urbanization summits, the establishment of a new urban agenda was reaffirmed. The aim of the summit is to set South Africa on the path of achieving sustainable urban development.

South Africa also wants to address the problem as an integral objective of UN HABITAT. The organization is bolstering capacity building for local governments in South Africa by implementing a ‘Transformation Program’, accordingly. Furthermore, UN HABITAT also focuses on developing Low Emission Development Strategies, or urban LEDs.

Besides reducing the number of slums in South Africa, the project revolves around developing urban cities that incorporate innovative strategies to address issues like climate change and the reduction of carbon emissions.

Eradicating the slums in South Africa can have a propitious effect on economic growth of the country. By developing a strong framework for combatting the housing problem, other African countries can implement similar strategies.

Shivani Ekkanath
Photo: Flickr

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