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%.