Tackling Urban Slums


SEATTLE — Rapid urbanization in developing countries throughout the world has led to an increasing shortage in housing. In 2013, over 860 million people were living in slums, up from 725 million in 2000. The UN – Habitat for a Better Urban Future estimates by 2030, about 3 billion people, or 40 percent of the world’s population, will be in need of housing, water and sanitation services.

The developing world has had trouble meeting the demands of its increasing urban population, and now some cities have as many as 80 percent of their population living in slums. Slums are defined as having inadequate access to safe water, sanitation and infrastructure; poor structural quality of housing; overcrowding; and insecure residential status.

“So far, the failure of urban planning and the construction sector in matching demand for homes has resulted in a huge housing backlog that has led to the development of slums in a variety of contexts globally,” UN – Habitat reports. “Due to constraints in formal housing and land delivery systems, more and more people who would otherwise qualify for housing programmes are resorting to slum settlements.”

Since 2000, 55 million people around the world became new slum residents. The following shows slum populations by region:

  • Sub-Saharan Africa: 199.5 million
  • South Asia: 190.7 million
  • East Asia: 189.6 million
  • Latin America and the Caribbean: 110.7 million
  • Southeast Asia: 88.9 million
  • West Asia: 35 million
  • North Africa: 11.8 million

A 2009 article in the New England Journal of Medicine cites increasing urbanization as a potential threat to public health, especially for certain vulnerable populations. “This demographic shift threatens to create a humanitarian disaster,” the article states. “The threat comes both in the form of rising rates of endemic disease and a greater potential for epidemics and even pandemics.”

“To protect global health, governments and international agencies need to make commensurate shifts in planning and programs, basing all changes on solid epidemiologic and operational research,” the article says.

The UN – Habitat Global Housing Strategy aims to help Member states develop national housing strategies that would address all areas of housing, slum upgrading and slum prevention. “Housing strategies, at national and city levels, are inseparable from land-use strategies, infrastructure strategies, including mobility and local economic development strategies, all integrated in the broad, participatory and inclusive urban planning and management process within a supportive legal and regulatory framework,” according to the UN-Habitat website.

One successful initiative has been the Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme (PSUP), which is a joint effort of the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) Group of States, the European Commission, and UN – Habitat. The program has reached out to 38 ACP countries and 160 cities and has provided assistance to improve the lives of at least two million slum dwellers.

“In practical terms, PSUP puts slums on the ‘urban’ maps and encourages the necessary policy changes, budget allocations and multi-stakeholder partnerships for the sustainable improvement of slum dwellers’ living conditions,” UN – Habitat reports. “PSUP thus institutionalizes partnerships and empowers key urban actors to contribute to the incremental eradication of urban poverty at community, city-wide and national levels.”

Sources: New England Journal of Medicine, Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme, UN Habitat,
Photo: World Health Day


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