We’ve all heard the term ”slumming” it, but what if you actually lived in one? For millions of people around the world, from the United States to Bangladesh, this is a stark reality. Living in a slum isn’t quite the same as being without a home, but it’s pretty close, and without access to decent food, clean water and suitable housing, those who live in slums are certainly well below the poverty line. The term “slumming” may be used flippantly all around the industrialized world by well-off people traversing a bad neighbourhood or eating at a 2-star restaurant. But in comparison to the real, densely-populated urban settlements across the globe, a 2-star restaurant is like dining at Buckingham Palace.
According to the United Nation’s State of the World Cities 2012/2013, a prosperous city is one that provides productivity, infrastructure, quality of life, social inclusion and environmental sustainability. Conversely, slums are the direct opposite: slums are marked by overpopulation, lack of water, sanitation and a high-risk of disease and are representative of a vicious cycle of social exclusion. Although effective urban planning has reduced the number of slums in countries such as Argentina, Egypt and South Africa, these substandard settlements still exist in large numbers – a last resort for thousands of citizens seeking shelter. Sub-Saharan Africa is the area in the world which ranks the highest for slums, at 79% of all households classified as slums according to UN Habitat findings in the mid-2000s.
In addition to defining a slum, the UN State of the World’s Cities report also examines the economic, political and social dynamics among counties that can lead to the prevalence of urban slums. When nations have high levels of crime, weak institutions, inadequate infrastructure and high instances of corruption, the propensity for people who are already on the brink of destitution to become completely incapable of sustaining themselves is significantly increased. Without capital, these disenfranchised individuals and families rapidly migrate to cities for greater opportunities; only to be employed in the ‘informal sector’ with few rights and, in some cases, without even the benefit of minimum wage protection.
Gathered from a variety of current sources, the following list shows, by population, some of the world’s cities and counties with the greatest prevalence of densely populated slums. The numbers demonstrate the tendency of urbanized populations to maintain a stigmatized, marginalized society. A study of slums shows a worrying tendency towards systemically steamrolling these segregated citizens onto the cusp of poverty and deprivation. Without local, national and international political commitment to eliminate the macro and micro causes of these deprived informal settlements, it seems they’ll continue to flourish in urbanized centres.
10. Hidalgo County, United States – 52 Thousand
As farm-working Mexicans crossed the Rio Grande seeking opportunities in employment and a better standard of living, colonias became home to thousands of residents in the Hidalgo County of Texas in the United States. Exploited by wealthy landowners, many of these new migrants were sold inadequate property and land. Without a proper water supply, housing, or equal opportunities for a competitive wage, settlers are forced to take matters into their own hands by buying water in buckets or drums and constructing shelters with tents, wood, and cardboard. 52,000 of Hidalgo County’s around 800,000 residents live in a slum, and it’s reported that over 50% of the county’s population live below the poverty line – in contrast to the state average of around 20%.
9. Rocinha, Brazil – 69 Thousand
Located on a steep hillside in Rio de Janeiro, Rocinha is the largest slum of a group that totals more than 11 million people. The vast majority of the dwellings are made from raw material such as hard rock, unlike the typical metal constructions in many of the slums in Africa and Asia. Classified as a favela neighbourhood, this slum is fortunate enough to have access to basic plumbing, transportation and, at one time, a McDonald’s. Known for police bribery and under-the-table deals between authorities and drug traffickers, this community makes a large profit in the illegal drug trade.
8. Khayelitsha, South Africa – 392 Thousand
This slum, located south of iKhusi Primary School on the Cape Flats of South Africa, was founded in 1985 and its population is the result of the historical apartheid and its end during the Second World War. A location of extreme poverty and disease, the biggest risk factors for this informal settlement are crime, AIDS and a huge 80% unemployment rate. Conditions here are so dismal that infestation has become a major and often over-looked problem. According to a gruesome article published by UK-based tabloid publication The Daily Mail in 2011, a baby was attacked here by one of the townships’ giant rats that can grow to as large as 3-feet long.
7. Cité Soleil, Port-au-Prince, Haiti – 400 Thousand
With a population of mostly children and young adults, Cité Soleil is the most densely-populated “shanty-town” in all of Haiti. Diseases such as AIDS and many forms of violence terrorize many of its citizens whose life expectancy is only 52. Many of its residents originate from La Saline slum after it was a destroyed by a devastating fire. Armed gangs and almost a complete lack of public servants make this commune one of the poorest and most dangerous in the Americas.
6. Dharavi, Mumbai, India – 1 Million
With huts as big as 12.5 meters-squared, Dharavi consists of families who migrated there after the 1960s; 40% of the household here belong to the “economically weak” and 39% belong to the low-income category. “Chawls” and “pavement dwellers” make up this gargantuan community of 1 million, with many residents of 50-years or older who have little to no education. Water is extremely scarce, coming mostly from informal taps, although this source is inadequate. Despite a $20 million grant in 1985 to reconstruct Dharavi, this slum remains one of the biggest and poorest in all of Asia.
5. Manshiet, Egypt – 1.5 Million
Due to the prevalence of high-income housing that low-income families simply can not afford, the 3 million slum dwellers of Greater Cairo, Egypt, are unable to get on the property ladder and are forced to live without water, electricity, plumbing or a sustainable food supply. Finding shelter wherever they can—including graveyard tombs and abandoned urban apartment buildings—Cairo’s largest slum, Manshiet, finds home to more than 1 million impoverished people. Only recently has the Egyptian government recognized these “deteriorated and underserved urban residential areas,” of which the poorest dwellers are not isolated, but mixed with middle-income and high-income residents.
4. Orangi Town, Pakistan – 1.8 Million
The largest slum in Asia, Orangi Town, a settlement negatively effected largely by the growth of globalization, has over 80% of its residents working in the “informal sector.” Due to a lack of sustainable water supplies, settlers are forced to rely on community groups and each other for clean water, purchased from water tanks. Earning enough money to supply for their basic needs or to purchase adequate land is among the biggest hurdles settlers face in Orangi Town. Although migrants are more ready and willing to solve their various problems, which are plentiful, old-world settlers are less likely.
3. Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya – 2.5 Million
With a population of approximately 2.5 million dwellers, the slum of Kibera, located 7km southwest of Nairobi, consists of 200 settlements and occupies just 6% of Niarobi’s total land. Completely void of any cartographical context, its many unpaved roads see thousands of Kiberians walk many miles to and from work, passing metal homes and stores made from scrap barrels fashioned by hand. Only 20% of Kibera has the luxury of electricity. Water, until only recently, was collected from dam sources ripe with diseases such as typhoid and cholera. Any settler of the Kiberian slum must do without any government-owned hospitals or clinics.
2. Neza-Chalco-Itza, Mexico City, Mexico – 4 Million
As the railroad and population grew in the 1900’s, so did the barrio of Neza-Chalco-Itza in Mexico City, Mexico. Unable to meet the increased housing demand due to large expenses and the sudden change in population, this settlement just outside of Mexico City is now one of the largest slums in the world. Despite the efforts of the Mexican Government to create more sustainable housing by collaborating with organizations such Infonavit and FOVISSSTE, the demand for affordable housing is still on a steady rise
1. Maharashtra, India – 19 Million
While one of India’s most developed and wealthiest states, Maharashtra is representative of the wealth gap in the country; it houses India’s largest and poorest “informal settlement,” according to a study conducted by the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO). This impoverished and over-populated area in India’s capital houses 7 000 of the nation’s 33 000 slums (23%) with homes almost doubling that of any other slum in the country. A reported 60% of Maharashtra’s entire population live in slum areas. The region is one of those most polluted in the world, with little government intervention for proper assessments. According to one government state-audit report, The Maharashtra Pollution Board has not prepared suitable databases to identify water pollutants, nor is there any Common Effluent Treatment Plants deemed adequate to treat industrial toxins.