Sunday, 23 October 2011

Statistics on Poverty, Urbanization and Slums

Urbanization is on the rise. About half of the world’s population lives in cities: 3 billion, compared to 1.5 billion 30 years ago. Two hundred years ago, Peking was the only city in the world with a population of a million. Today, almost 500 cities are that big, and many are much bigger.

urbanization by region
largest cities in the world
growth of african cities
A third of Africa’s 1 billion inhabitants currently live in urban areas. Similar data for the world are here.
Many of the city dwellers, especially in the Third World, live in slum conditions. In fact, almost 1 billion people live in slums. That’s one third of global city dwellers. Of Africa’s 1 billion city dwellers, 70% live in slum conditions.

slum population in urban africa
(source, click image to enlarge)
From a human rights perspective, slums pose a variety of problems: they are an indicator of poverty, and the rights to housing and healthcare (art. 25 of the Universal Declaration) are only the most obvious rights that are less than perfectly protected in slums. We can all imagine how the rights to education, standard of living, privacy, property etc. are violated as well in slum conditions. Bad housing is a cause of bad health (due to the absence of sanitation), of a lack of education (due to a lack of electricity and light), a lack of security (because of the risk of fire and burglary) and it therefore perpetuates poverty.

Urban population living in slums
(source, click image to enlarge)
numbers of people living in slums
However, the World Bank, in its latest World Development Report, states that cities in the Third World grow so fast because they create economic opportunities and possibilities. Wages of people in cities are much higher than the wages of their unskilled rural compatriots.
Cities are created by trade and industry. Factories cluster together and create cities because they profit from a concentration of skills and from the infrastructure (housing, transport, ports etc.) that cities offer. Consumers also profit from the presence of different traders and service providers in a relatively small space that is a city. And, finally, businesses that specializes in services for businesses – banks, insurance … – cluster where their customers are. So slums may be a ghastly sight, but we shouldn’t forget that the country side is often in a much worse albeit not so visible predicament.
Of course, slums create enormous problems. Sanitation, water and other living conditions are below the levels necessary to maintain public health. This is caused by the overpopulation of slums combined with insufficient government investments.
The UN estimates that the number of people living in slums passed 1 billion in 2007 and could reach 1.39 billion in 2020, although there are large variations among regions. In Asia and the Pacific, two out of five urban dwellers live in slums, compared with three out of five in Africa.
In percentage terms, sub-Saharan Africa has about 72 percent of city dwellers living in slums. Asia has by far the highest number of city dwellers living in slums – the problem is worst in South Asia, where half of the urban population is composed of slum dwellers. The figure below illustrates the share of slum population in some Asian and Pacific countries. In 2001, Afghanistan had as much as 99 per cent of the urban population living in slums while Nepal and Bangladesh also had high proportions-92 and 85 per cent, respectively, although they have had some success in containing the problem since 1990. (source)
share of slum population in urban areas in selected asian and pacific countries 1990 and 2001
There seems to be some improvement:
urban population living in slums
The proportion of the world’s urban population living in slums has fallen from nearly 40% a decade ago to less than a third today. China and India have together lifted 125m people out of slum conditions in recent years. North Africa’s slum population has shrunk by a fifth. But the absolute number of slum dwellers around the world, estimated to be some 830m, is still rising. (source)

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