UN-HABITAT report on global slums

The figures are startling: globally, one billion people now live in urban slums, claims a new report. This number is expected to double within the next 30 years, if no action is taken

On October 6, which is celebrated by the United Nations as World Habitat Day, the human settlements programme of the international body, UN-HABITAT, released its annual report on human settlements entitled `The Challenge of Slums: Global Report on Human Settlements 2003'.

Based on studies of 37 cities across the globe, the organisation has compiled the most comprehensive report ever published on the growing problem of urban slums worldwide.

In a foreword to the report, United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan says: "The locus of global poverty is moving to cities, a process now recognised as the urbanisation of poverty. Without concerted action on the part of the municipal authorities, national governments, civil society actors and the international community, the number of slum-dwellers is likely to increase in most developing countries."

The report's major concern is the growing challenge presented by this crisis. The world's rural population has reached its peak, and almost all further population growth will be absorbed by urban settlements -- a critical situation recognised by very few governments, cities and other agencies.

There are a number of startling figures and facts in the report, which, its authors warn, should serve as a wake-up call to the global community to take concerted action to address urban problems in order to prevent the situation, which is already dire, from becoming worse.

Some figures thrown up by the report:

The report notes that the 1990s witnessed a rapid increase in the number of urban slum-dwellers. Encouragingly however, national approaches have generally moved away from "negative policies such as forced eviction, benign neglect and involuntary resettlement". Instead, the report observes, the emphasis is increasingly on self-help, upgrading existing slums rather than resettling their inhabitants, nurturing the abilities of the people who live in them, and respecting their rights.

The report also expresses concern about globalisation, saying that current evidence suggests that in its present form it "has not always worked in favour of the urban poor".

In addition to the figures, the report contains case studies of a situation that has made governments the world over increasingly concerned -- enough to have adopted a specific clause, Target 11 of Millennium Development Goal 7 -- to "significantly improve" the lives of at least 100 million slum-dwellers by the year 2020. UN-HABITAT is the agency tasked with implementing Target 11.

However, the report treads largely familiar ground in its prescriptions for change. The following are extracts from the Main Messages section:

(InfoChange News & Features, October 2003)