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Health, Education & Shelter

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Key Facts - Shelter
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The Basics:

Until now humankind has lived and worked primarily in rural areas. But the world is about to leave its rural past behind: By 2008, for the first time, more than half of the globe's population, 3.3 billion people, will be living in towns and cities.[1]

In 2005, the world's urban population was 3.17 billion out of a world total of 6.45 billion. Current trends predict that the number of urban dwellers will keep rising, reaching almost 5 billion by 2030 out of a world total of 8.1 billion.[2]

It is estimated that 900 million urban dwellers and over one billion rural people now live in overcrowded and poor quality housing without adequate provision for water, sanitation, drainage or the collection of household waste. (Official figure was 924 million people in 2001, representing about 32 per cent of the world's total urban population.[3]

Around 100 million people around the world are homeless (2005).[4]

Sub-Saharan Africa has the world's highest annual urban growth rate (4.58%) and highest slum growth rate (4.53%).[5]

Overcrowding, inadequate infrastructure and services, insecurity of tenure, risks from natural and human-made hazards, exclusion from the exercise of citizenship and distance from employment and income-earning opportunities are all linked together. Shelter is at the core of urban poverty: Much can be done to improve the lives of people through better policies in this area.[6]

The basic features of slum life have not changed: The difference today is one of scale. Slum dwellers of the new millennium are no longer a few thousand in a few cities of a rapidly industrializing continent. They include one out of every three city dwellers, a billion people, a sixth of the world's population.[7]

Over 90 per cent of slum dwellers today are in the developing world. South Asia has the largest share, followed by Eastern Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. China and India together have 37 per cent of the world's slums. In sub-Saharan Africa, urbanization has become virtually synonymous with slum growth; 72 per cent of the region's urban population lives under slum conditions, compared to 56 per cent in South Asia. The slum population of sub-Saharan Africa almost doubled in 15 years, reaching nearly 200 million in 2005.[8]

At least 8 million people remain illegally evicted and forcibly displaced on 1 October 2007 (International Housing and Land Rights Day).[9]

Homelessness and slums in the developed world:

Slums in the United States: "The Urban Third World is here. In addition to the traditional dereliction in inner-city neighborhoods and older suburbs, the U.S. Southwest is now spawning informal settlements that are virtually identical to those on the outskirts of any Latin American city."[10]

Across the United States, the number of homeless people has been rising in recent years, say specialists who work in the field.[11]

Number of homeless in the United States: The best approximation is from a study done by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty which states that approximately 3.5 million people, 1.35 million of them children, are likely to experience homelessness in a given year (National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, 2007).[12]

Causes:

"Today's megaslum in most instances is the result, not of the slow, incremental accumulation of poverty, but of the "big bang" that occurred with debt and structural adjustment in the late 1970s and 1980s. Huge exoduses from the countryside encountered rapidly shrinking social investment in urban infrastructures and public services. The new urban poor were left to improvise their own shelter and livelihood strategies. Their ingenuity indeed moved mountains, but only for a limited period" - Mike Davis.[13]

"The privatization of social housing and of utilities, as well as the greater scarcity of social services, land and other resources under the constraints of economic globalization and neo-liberal policies, has affected lower-income groups in most of the world and has led to new types of insecurity. Public policies in a globalizing world increasingly reduce housing to a commodity, and measure the value of human settlements in business terms, excluding hundreds of millions of low-income families from habitat policies, plans and programmes. Governments have limited capacity to influence the housing market, and there are insufficient low-cost houses available for sale or rent. This situation generally worsens in times of economic recession, foreign occupation or internal conflict."[14]

"Then you have a very strong ideological belief in the market, that essentially says: one of the ways the economy can grow and be robust is if everybody buys a home. But ... those that can buy a home are only those who can afford to get a loan or have collateral -- and that leaves out many, many people. Because of this market-oriented policy, you don't have an investment in social housing, you don't have an investment in rental properties, and you have speculation. You have the general real estate market increasing, and the poor are left even more out of that market. There are central areas, primary areas of cities -- whether you look at Manhattan in the U.S. or [Bombay] in India -- where essentially only the rich live, because no one else can afford a place to stay. So you have this development of ‘urban apartheid' across the world" - Miloon Kothari, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing.[15]

In Europe, privatization has emerged as a primary obstacle to States' ensuring an adequate standard of housing for all.[16]

International commitments:

International law and the commitments by governments to development targets made at global summits, including the Millennium Summit and the World Summit on Sustainable Development, recognize the right to adequate housing and land.[17]

In 2005, the United Nations Millennium Declaration drew attention to the growing significance of urban poverty, specifying, in Target 11, the modest ambition of achieving by 2020 "a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers".

War, occupation, discrimination, development projects, privatization and economic reforms have evicted millions from their rightful homes and lands. The global number of slum dwellers is projected to increase five-fold between 1990 and 2020, the period during which the Millennium Development Goals seek to reach one hundred million slum dwellers with significant improvements to their lives.[18]

Instead of diminishing the amount of slumdwellers by 100 million by 2015, as laid down by Objective No. 7 of the Millennium Development Goals, this figure is destined to rise by another 700 million by 2020.[19]

"The struggle for housing involves an economic and social strategy of insertion in the city or in the rural environment, and is thus a struggle against poverty... (and) against marginalization, social and urban segregation, dispossession and private appropriation of common property goods."[20]

Future prognosis:

"Now across the world, there is overwhelming evidence that the famous frontier of free or nearly free squattable land has closed, and the informal economy is tragically overcrowded with too many poor people competing in the same survival niches. In Africa especially, this "miracle" of bootstrapped urbanization now more closely resembles the struggle for existence in a squalid concentration camp than any romanticized vision of heroic squatters and micro-entrepreneurs."[21]

It is projected that in the next fifty years, two-thirds of humanity will be living in towns and cities.[22]

An outstanding feature of urban population growth in the 21st century is that it will be composed, to a large extent, of poor people.[23]

UN-HABITAT's report The State of the World's Cities 2006/7 estimates that the cost of meeting the Millennium Development Goal 7 Target 11, committed to improving the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, is about $67 billion. However UN-HABITAT also predicts that an additional 400 million people will be in slums by 2020.[24]

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.[25]

Urban peripheries in Third World countries have become war zones where states attempt to maintain order based on the establishment of a sort of "sanitary cordon" to keep the poor isolated from "normal" society.[26]


[1]World Urbanization Prospects: The 2005 Revision'. (United Nations: Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, New York, 2006)

[2]State of the World's Cities 2006/7: The Millennium Development Goals and Urban Sustainability: 30 Years of Shaping the Habitat Agenda' (UN-HABITAT, Earthscan Publications, July 2006) see chapter 1: ‘Urbanization: A Turning Point in History'.

[3]The Challenge of Slums: Global Report on Human Settlements 2003' (UN-Habitat, Earthscan Publications, London 2003)

[4] Gustavo Capdevila . ‘More Than 100 Million Homeless Worldwide' (IPS News, 30 March 2005)

[5]State of the World's Cities 2006/7: The Millennium Development Goals and Urban Sustainability: 30 Years of Shaping the Habitat Agenda' (UN-HABITAT, Earthscan Publications, July 2006) see chapter 6: ‘Slums: Past, Present and Future'.

[6]A Home in the City. The report of the Millennium Project Taskforce on Improving the Lives of Slum Dwellers' (UN-Millennium Project, Earthscan Publications, London 2005) See chapter three: Rethinking Policy on Urban Poverty

[7] Ibid, see chapter two.

[8] Ibid.

[9]Housing and Land Rights Crisis! 2007: Violations Escalating Around the World' (Habitat International Coalition / Housing and Land Rights Network, 2007)

[10] Mike Davis. ‘Planet of Slums: Interview by Socialist Worker' (Znet, May 2006)

[11] Mark Weisenmiller. ‘US: More People Call the Streets Home' (Inter Press Service, March 5th 2008)

[12]How Many People Experience Homelessness? NCH Fact Sheet #2' (National Coalition for the Homeless, August 2007)

[13] Mike Davis. ‘Planet of Slums: Interview by Socialist Worker' (Znet, May 2006)

[14] Housing in the world: issues and contexts, Habitat International Coalition (accessed March 2008) <http://www.hic-net.org/context.asp#3>

[15] John Zarocostas. ‘Homelessness increasing all over the world: interview with Miloon Kothari, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing' (Washington Times, 11 April 2005)

[16]Housing and Land Rights Crisis! 2007: Violations Escalating Around the World' (Habitat International Coalition / Housing and Land Rights Network, 2007) p 6.

[17] Housing in the world: issues and contexts, Habitat International Coalition (accessed March 2008) <http://www.hic-net.org/context.asp#3>

[18]A Home in the City. The report of the Millennium Project Taskforce on Improving the Lives of Slum Dwellers' (UN Millennium Project, Earthscan Publications, London 2005)

[19]A Home in the City. The report of the Millennium Project Taskforce on Improving the Lives of Slum Dwellers' (UN Millennium Project, Earthscan Publications, London 2005)

[20] Housing in the world: issues and contexts, Habitat International Coalition (accessed March 2008) <http://www.hic-net.org/context.asp#3>

[21] Mike Davis. ‘Planet of Slums: Interview by Socialist Worker' (Znet, May 2006)

[22]The Challenge of Slums: Global Report on Human Settlements 2003' (UN-Habitat, Earthscan Publications, London 2003)

[23]A Home in the City. The report of the Millennium Project Taskforce on Improving the Lives of Slum Dwellers' (UN-Millennium Project, Earthscan Publications, London 2005)

[24]State of the World's Cities 2006/7: The Millennium Development Goals and Urban Sustainability: 30 Years of Shaping the Habitat Agenda' (UN-HABITAT, Earthscan Publications, July 2006) see chapter 19: ‘The Global Scorecard: What Works and What Next'.

[25]The Challenge of Slums: Global Report on Human Settlements 2003' (UN-Habitat, Earthscan Publications, London 2003)

[26] Raúl Zibechi. ‘The Militarization of the World's Urban Peripheries' (Nacla News, 16 February 08)