A Quarter of World’s Population Lives in Urban Slums

Human Wrongs Watch

With a quarter of the world’s population living in urban slums, a sustainable response to improving the living conditions of the urban poor is becoming increasingly necessary, the United Nations agency tasked with promoting environmentally and socially sustainable cities and towns said on 2 October 2014. 

Photo: UN-Habitat/Julius Mwelu

In a press release made available ahead of World Habitat Day, UN Habitat warned that urban poverty was not just a present problem affecting today’s metropolitan environments but “an ever-growing concern posing development and humanitarian threats to humankind.”*

The theme of this year’s World Habitat Day, observed annually on the first Monday of October, is Voices from the Slums – an effort to highlight the hardships of slum living through the voices of the urban poor while also giving rise to their experiences and ideas about improving their living conditions.

A Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme

The UN agency voiced hope that the upcoming observance would also contribute to a policy dialogue that focuses on the broad range of issues related to the integration of life in the slum into the city; identify policy formulation and capacity development issues in which the UN can offer significant contributions; and identify key stakeholders in slum upgrading and adequate housing and actively engaging them in further discussions.

Among these measures, the agency added, is the creation of the Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme (PSUP) which seeks to work with African, Caribbean and Pacific nations in helping them upgrade the living standards of the urban poor.

“A sustainable response to improving the living conditions of the urban poor can only be achieved through the concerted and coordinated efforts of all relevant urban stakeholders,” the UN Habitat press release declared.

“This is done by improving the capacity of relevant urban actors, from concerned authorities to slum dwellers themselves, to collectively asses their urban development needs, devise city-wide strategies to improve living conditions and to implement these solutions.”

In the sprawling Kenyan slum of Mtwapa, located some 500 kilometres from Nairobi in the African country’s coastal region, the PSUP initiative is already bearing concrete results as pilot activities are undertaken with the aim of benefitting over 20,000 people.

In a recent interview with UN Habitat, Caleb Omondi, a Mtwapa resident, expressed hope at the prospects of an upgrade in living conditions.

“When I heard about this project through our local village association I was delighted,” said Mr. Omondi. “We have very many problems in Mtwapa including blocked drainages, poor waste disposal and scarce job opportunities which bites the youth the most.” (*Source: UN Release).

Need for Improved Urban Resilience, Mobility

On 4 October last year, senior United Nations Officials said that cities must boost efforts to become more resilient to natural disasters as well as provide their citizens with methods of alternative transportation to thrive.**

“As the effects of climate change increase, urban resilience becomes ever more necessary,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his remarks at an event at UN Headquarters to mark World Habitat Day, observed annually on the first Monday of October.

Urban mobility in Cairo, Egypt. Photo: UN-HABITAT

“All actors need to work together to save lives, protect assets and guarantee services when disasters strike. Planning is essential.”

Ban noted that the humanitarian and economic cost of natural disasters is mounting, with natural hazards having killed some 1.1 million people since 2000. Since then, more than 2.7 billion have been affected and the economic cost is estimated at $1.3 trillion.

“The poor, who are hit first and worst, have the least means to recover,” Ban stressed, adding that urban resilience is a sustainable development priority.

He also emphasized that improving urban mobility, this year’s [2013] theme for the Day, is crucial for a city’s development.

Bicycles, Buses, Trains

“Getting mobility right can mean the difference between a struggling city and a thriving one,” Ban said. “Mobility is not a question of building wider or longer roads. It is about providing appropriate and efficient systems that serve the most people in the best, most equitable manner.”

Alternative methods of transportation such as bicycles, buses and trains, can help tackle pollution and congestion, provide transport for those who cannot afford it, and benefit those who do not use cars due to impracticality such as the elderly and persons with disabilities. Increasing well-lit sidewalks for pedestrians will also addresses the issue of safety, which is of particular concern for women, young persons and minorities.

Improved mobility can regenerate urban centres, boost productivity and make a city attractive for all users – from investors to visitors and residents, Ban said.

“For far too long, the international community has worked in silos…”

President of the General Assembly John Ashe underlined that working towards improved resilience and mobility requires the involvement of multiple stakeholders including Governments, international, regional and local organizations, the private sector and civil society.

“For far too long, the international community has worked in silos: humanitarian action, poverty eradication, environmental protection, and disaster reduction were dealt with separately,” Ashe said. “To build resilient cities, serviced by sustainable transport, we must recognize the interconnectedness of all these dimensions and pull together knowledge, skills and best practices from different areas of expertise.”

In a press conference at Headquarters, Executive Director of UN-Habitat (HABITAT) Joan Clos emphasized that citizens need better mobility not just to go to work, but also to have access services, education and recreational activities. He added that countries face environmental and economic sustainability challenges to improve mobility.

Need to Change the Patterns of Mobility

“We need to change the patterns of mobility so that transport systems in the future are less dependent on for-sale energy,” Mr. Clos said. Cities also need to find ways to ensue that accessibility to transport system is not stopped by economical barriers. This, he added, is particularly pressing in the developing world.

Also speaking at the briefing was Professor Thomas Elmqvist from the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University.

In his statement on the Day, issues earlier, Mr. Clos said urban planning and design should focus on how to bring people and places together, by creating cities that focus on accessibility, rather than simply increasing the length and capacity of urban transport infrastructure.

“By optimizing urban densities and minimizing land zoning we start to make the city work for its citizens; proximity of goods and services takes advantage of the urban advantage and encourages investment and opportunity,” he said, adding that compact, well-designed cities can also be cleaner and have less impact on their environment per resident than more spread out areas.

“In an environment characterized by scarcity, this is not only preferable to our standard of living but vital if we are to grow our urban space in a sustainable and desirable way. We need to ensure the cities of the future are well-planned, sustainable and accessible to all,” he said. (**Source: UN Release).

Read also:

28 Million Egyptians Living in Slums by 2025?

 ‘Be Prepared for a Huge Urbanization Process – It’s Like a Tsunami’

Dispatch from Hell

Urban Population in 2050: 1.2 Billion in Africa, 3.3 Billion in Asia

Millions of Urban Children at High Risk of Violence, Exploitation and Trafficking

Africa’s Rapid Urbanisation – Magnet of Hope or Misery Time Bomb?

2014 Human Wrongs Watch  

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