The world’s slums are growing, and growing, with the number people living in such dire conditions now at the 1 billion mark – making up 32 per cent of the global urban population, according to UN-HABITAT’s new Global Report on Human Settlements 2003. The report published this month entitled, The Challenge of Slums, says the crisis is such that the world will see this figure double in the next 30 years unless a concerted effort is undertaken to alleviate the situation.
“The locus of global poverty is moving to cities, a process now recognised as the urbanisation of poverty,” says United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in a foreword to the report. “Without concerted action on the part of the municipal authorities, national governments, civil society actors and the international community, the number of slum dwellers is likely to increase in most developing countries. And if no serious action is taken, the number of slum dwellers worldwide is projected to rise over the next 30 years to about 2 billion.”
In developing regions, slum dwellers account for 43 per cent of the population in contrast to about 6 per cent in more developed regions. In sub-Saharan Africa the proportion of urban residents in slums is highest at 71.9 per cent, according to the report. Oceania had the lowest at 24.1 per cent. South-central Asia accounted for 58 per cent, east Asia for 36.4 per cent, western Asia for 33.1 per cent, Latin America and the Caribbean for 31.9 per cent, north Africa for 28.2 per cent and southeast Asia for 28 per cent.
Although the concentration of slum dwellers is highest in African cities, in numbers alone, Asia accounts for some 60 per cent of the world’s urban slum residents.
The report, which runs into over 300 pages, is packed with new statistics and studies of a situation that has made governments the world over increasingly concerned – to the point where they have adopted a specific clause – Target 11 of Millennium Development Goal 7 – to “significantly improve” the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020.
“Slums represent the worst of urban poverty and inequality. Yet the world has the resources, know-how and power to reach the target established in the Millennium Declaration. It is my hope that this report, and the best practises it identifies, will enable all actors involved to overcome the apathy and lack of political will that have been a barrier to progress, and move ahead with greater determination and knowledge in our common effort to help the world’s slum dwellers to attain lives of dignity, prosperity and peace,” says Mr. Annan.
The report’s major concern is the growing challenge presented by this crisis. The world’s rural population has reached its peak, and almost all further population growth will be absorbed by urban settlements – a critical situation recognised by very few governments, cities and other agencies.
UN-HABITAT is the agency tasked with implementing Target 11. As it increases emphasis on policy and operational support in scaling up slum upgrading projects and programmes, it is also providing direction to help national governments, municipal authorities, civil society and international organizations alleviate the conditions of the world’s poorest urban residents.