Achieving inclusiveness: The challenge and potential of informal settlements.
A comprehensive approach to upgrading slums needs to be seen as a way to foster equitable development. Habitat III can help bring about this recognition. The United Nations estimates that more than 860 million people are currently living in urban slums! It defines a slum as a place where people live and lack any one of these: access to clean water, access to improved sanitation, sufficient living area, durable housing or secure tenure. This means that almost a quarter of those who live in urban areas today lack at least one of these basic necessities — and that hundreds of millions lack all five.
The terms “slums” and “informal settlements” are often used interchangeably, although they are not always synonymous. Slums are found both in the centre as well as on the periphery of cities, while some informal settlements may provide adequate living conditions. Available data does not allow for consistent differentiation between the two, but it is clear that most of the informal settlements that are home to hundreds of millions today — encircling both large and intermediate cities across the globe — are indeed slums.
Millions of people live in garbage-strewn conditions because there is no municipal trash collection. They are surrounded by environmental pollution because there are no or too few toilets. And too many people are crowded into cramped quarters, facilitating the spread of disease, among other things — simply because there are no other options.
In many places, people construct as best they can with cardboard and scrounged material, providing flimsy shelter from the weather and little physical safety. The physical precariousness of this existence is often exceeded only by its psychological impact. People living in slums know they do not have a recognized “right” to live there, and most recognize that they can be removed at someone’s will or whim or something else quite beyond their control.
On the one hand, the proportion of people in slums today is lower than it was a decade ago. Yet the absolute number continues to climb. The proliferation of informal settlements demonstrates vividly the failure of cities to keep pace with urban growth.