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One billion live in squalor, UN says

HUMAN HABITAT: Urban slums are growing faster than expected, which means that one-third of the world's population could be living in slums within 30 years

Sunday, Oct 05, 2003

One in every three people in the world will live in slums within 30 years unless governments control unprecedented urban growth, according to a UN report.

The largest study ever made of global urban conditions has found that 940 million people -- almost one-sixth of the world's population -- already live in squalid, unhealthy areas, mostly without water, sanitation, public services or legal security.

The report, from the UN human settlements programme, UN-habitat, based in Nairobi, found that urban slums were growing faster than expected, and that the balance of global poverty was shifting rapidly from the countryside to cities.

Africa now has 20 percent of the world's slum dwellers and Latin America 14 percent, but the worst urban conditions are in Asia, where more than 550 million people live in what the UN calls unacceptable conditions.

The world's 30 richest countries are home to just 2 percent of slum dwellers; in contrast, 80 percent of the urban population of the world's 30 least developed countries live in slums.

Although the report emphasized that not all slum dwellers are poor, the UN warned that unplanned, unsanitary settlements threaten political stability and are creating the climate for an explosion of social problems.

"There is a vacuum developing, because local authorities have no access to the many slums," said Anna Tibaijuka, the director of UN-habitat.

"Extreme inequality and idleness lead people to anti-social behavior. Slums are the places where all the evils come together, where peace and security is elusive and where young people cannot be protected."

Tibaijuka called on governments to urgently address a deteriorating situation which potentially threatened security and would increase pressures on immigration to rich countries.

The report found that some slums were now as large as cities. The Kibera district in Nairobi, classed as the largest slum in the world, has more than 400,000 people. The Dharavi area of Mumbai and the Orangi district of Karachi have only slightly fewer people, while the Ashaiman slum is now larger than the city of Tema in Ghana, around which it grew.

Other cities, such as Dhaka in Bangladesh, have several hundred small slums or squatter settlements which have no access to services.

"The world is entering a significant stage," say the report's authors. "Over the next 30 years, the urban population in the developing world will double to about four billion people, at the rate of about 70 million a year. Rural populations will barely increase and begin to decline after 2020."

The authors also predicted that three-quarters of the world's anticipated population growth would take place in relatively small cities with populations of between 1 million and 5 million.

The report found that the world's urban population had increased by 36 percent in the 1990s, and that city authorities had been unable or unwilling to keep up.

"Slums are the product of failed policies, bad governance, corruption and a lack of political will," the report says. "Very few countries have recognized this critical situation and very little effort is going into providing jobs or services."


How can we manifest peace on earth if we do not include everyone (all races, all nations, all religions, both sexes) in our vision of Peace?

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