Global perspective Human stories

Over 200 million escape slums but overall number still rising, UN report finds

Over 200 million escape slums but overall number still rising, UN report finds

Haitian slum
While more than 200 million slum dwellers worldwide have escaped their conditions in the past decade, the overall population of slums has swelled by nearly 60 million in the same period, a new United Nations report finds.

Some 227 million people have moved out of slum conditions, largely due to slum upgrading, since 2000, more than double the target of improving the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020 set by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were agreed upon by world leaders.

“However, this achievement is not uniformly distributed across regions,” Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), writes in the introduction to the agency’s biennial “State of the World’s Cities 2010/2011” report.

“Success is highly skewed towards the more advanced emerging economies, while poorer countries have not done as well,” she says, stressing that “there is no room for complacency.”

Overall, the number of people residing in slums has climbed from 777 million in 2000 to almost 830 million in 2010.

The report, which focuses on the theme “Bridging the Urban Divide,” characterizes efforts to reduce the number of slum dwellers as neither satisfactory nor adequate, especially given that just over half of the world’s population – or nearly 3.5 billion – now lives in urban areas.

Short of drastic action, it warns, the world’s slum population will likely increase by 6 million annually to reach nearly 900 million by 2020.

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to nearly two-thirds of the world’s slum population, with 200 million people, with South Asia, East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and South-East Asia rounding out the top five regions with the largest number of slum dwellers.

The new report also finds that urbanization benefits political leaders, public servants and the rich in Africa, Asia and Latin American and the Caribbean, leaving millions behind.

Urban planning and policies seem to favour the empowered, usually the local and regional economic elite, and in the developing world, this pattern is usually linked to historical and cultural hegemony.

“Achieving sustainable urban development is likely to prove impossible if the urban divide is allowed not only to persist, but to continue growing, opening up an enormous gap, even in some cities a gulf, an open wound, which can produce social instability or at least generate high social and economic costs not only for the urban poor, but for society at large,” Ms. Tibaijuka writes.

The report calls on governments to implement inclusive policies to narrow inequalities dividing residents of many cities in developing nations and allow them access to decent housing, transport, education, recreation, communication, employment and the judiciary.

“In an inclusive city, residents take part in decision-making that ranges from the political to issues of daily life,” it says. “Such participation injects a sense of belonging, identity, place into residents, and guarantees them a stake in the benefits of urban development.”

In-depth reviews of cities’ systems, structures and institutions, the publication argues, are vital to kick-start real change.