Magazine article UN Chronicle

From Village to Shantytown

Magazine article UN Chronicle

From Village to Shantytown

Article excerpt

One of the most striking demographic features of the last half-century is the massive influx of third world populations from rural to urban areas. During this time, populations in towns and cities increased twice as fast as in the rural countryside. It is estimated that by the end of the century roughly one third of the populations of Africa and Asia and two thirds of that of Latin America will be living in cities. This trend towards greater urbanization has profound social consequences for all segments of society, particularly for children who make up half of the urban populations of developing countries. Rural poverty is bad enough, but its problems are compounded when families leave their rural homes to seek a livelihood in overcrowded city slums, leaving behind deep-rooted traditions and ties to the extended family and the village community.

The driving force behind these migrations is not the abundance of jobs in the cities. Only 40 per cent of migrants are lucky enough to find employment in low paying jobs in the informal sector, but that is still better than what the countryside can offer. The newcomers find themselves in an alien environment without adequate resources, and the majority will be forced to enter some sort of "self-employment" - various forms of street vending, or worse, scavenging, begging, crime, prostitution, etc. A survey conducted in Lima shows that three out of four street vendors earn less than the government's minimum wage.

As even the cheapest public housing is beyond their means, they are driven to construct their own dwellings with whatever materials they can get their hands on. The shanties lack water supply, sewage and waste disposal facilities, and are located away from the affluent city centre, requiring unaffordable public transportation to commute for jobs. They are located on lands unsuitable for development, or else the bulldozers will be sent to tear them down. In Rio de Janeiro, "favelas" are built on steep slopes, and every year many shanties are swept down the hill by mudslides during a heavy rain.

The housing problem in third world cities staggers the imagination. About a third of Calcutta's population lives in slums. Other cities are even worse off: up to 85 per cent of Addis Ababa's inhabitants are slum/shantytown dwellers, 59 per cent of Bogota's, 51 per cent of Ankara's, 40 per cent of Manila's; and continent-wide figures show that two thirds of urban residents of Africa, two fifths of Latin America and the Middle East, and one fourth of Asia live in shantytowns, the majority as squatters. It is not only the quality of the dwellings and the overcrowding within and outside them that pose a problem. It is the lack of easy access to clean water, lack of sewage facilities, solid waste disposal and, in general, the lack of quality medical care and education that make these urban dwellers the outcasts of humanity. In Asia, 29 per cent of urban residents have no convenient access to dean water, in Africa 26 per cent, in Latin America 12 per cent. Partly as a result of this deprivation, the urban poor suffer infant mortality rates 1.5 to 3 times higher than those living in better neighbourhoods.

Children in urban poverty

Given these facts, it is not surprising that the cities of the developing world, fed as they are by a constant stream of rural to urban migration, are a breeding ground of acute problems ranging from disease and malnutrition to social maladjustment, criminality and sexual and other forms of exploitation. The most helpless victims of this situation are children, many of whom end up working and living in the streets. They sell candy and flowers, shine shoes, wipe car windshields, beg and steal. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) classifies them into two categories: those who work in the streets during the day and sleep at home (at least most of the time); and those, homeless, who work and spend the night in the street. The latter may have occasional contact with their family, but have run away from it because of lack of food, conflict with a stepmother or stepfather, severe beatings, and so on. …

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