Anna K. Tibaijuka, UN-HABITAT Executive Director

Headquarters - Nairobi
P.O. Box 30030
Tel: +254 2 621234
Fax: +254 2 624266/624267

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More than one billion people
call urban slums their home

By Tann vom Hove, Editor

Introduction to world's largest cities | Cities ranked 1 to 100 | Cities ranked 101 to 200 | Cities ranked 201 to 300 | World's largest urban areas | Ranking of urban areas | Capital cities | Europe's 500 largest cities |

5 October 2003: At least one billion people live in slums, with the highest percentage of them found in Asia, Africa and Latin America, according to a new report by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT). The UN report The Challenge of Slums: Global Report on Human Settlements 2003 was published on World Habitat Day, 6 October 2003. At a press briefing, Anna K. Tibaijuka, UN-HABITAT executive director, told CityMayors that at least 40 per cent of settlements in the world were classified as slums.

The report, which runs to over 300 pages, is packed with new statistics and studies of a situation that has made governments the world over increasingly concerned – to the point where they 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. (Highlights)

The UN General Secretary Kofi Annan said that slums represented the worst of urban poverty and inequality. Yet the world had the resources, know-how and power to reach the target established in the Millennium Declaration. He appealed to the world: “It is my hope that this report, and the best practises it identifies, will enable all actors involved to overcome the apathy and lack of political will that have been a barrier to progress, and move ahead with greater determination and knowledge in our common effort to help the world’s slum dwellers to attain lives of dignity, prosperity and peace.”

The UN Millennium Development Goals, Ms Tibaijuka said, had recognised the problem of slums and had sought to improve the living environment in cities and towns. “Some 71 per cent of city-dwellers in sub-Saharan Africa live in slums, and the figure is 40 per cent for Asia and six per cent for developed nations,” she explained. Ms Tibaijuka continued that slums were not inevitable even though they existed. The UN-HABITAT report, the first global assessment of slums, had attributed the formation of slums to, among other things, the rapid pace of rural-to-urban migration and the urbanisation of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

According to the report increased political will, investment in infrastructure, proactive urban planning and the empowerment of the urban poor were all ways of tackling the problem. The deterioration of the living environment was not limited to the poorest countries, and the report’s recommendations were aimed at the entire world.

Jeffrey D. Sachs, Special Adviser to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the Millennium Development Goals and Director of the Earth Institute identified urbanisation as one of the most powerful trends in the world today. Evidence pointed to the fact that cities were the core of economic growth in the long term, which was promising from the aspect of determining how developing countries could grow and get integrated into the world economy. He stressed that while that was promising, the problem lay in the fact that people were either not finding productive employment for income generation or having the necessary infrastructure - or both.

Key findings in the report show that Asia has about 550 million people living in slums, followed by Africa with 187 million, and Latin America and the Caribbean with 128 million. While slums have largely disappeared in developed countries, the report still found that there were approximately 54 million urban dwellers in high-income countries living in slum-like conditions.

The UN findings also revealed that sub-Saharan Africa had the highest rate of slum-dwellers with 72 per cent of the urban population living in slums, followed by South Central Asia with 59 per cent, east Asia with 36 per cent, western Asia with 33 per cent, and Latin America and the Caribbean with 32 per cent. Although the concentration of slum dwellers is highest in African cities, in numbers alone, Asia accounts for some 60 per cent of the world’s urban slum residents. The report stresses the urgent need to do much more to improve the lives of slum-dwellers.

Some highlights from the UN report
• Some 923,986,000 people, or 31.6 per cent of the world’s total urban population, live in slums; some 43 per cent of the urban population of all developing regions combined live in slums; some 78.2 per cent of the urban population in the least developed countries live in slums; some six per cent of the urban population in developed regions live in slum-like conditions.

• The total number of slum-dwellers in the world increased by about 36 per cent during the 1990s and in the next 30 years, the global number of slum-dwellers will increase to about two billion if no concerted action to address the challenge of slums is taken.

• More than 41 per cent of Kolkata’s (Calcutta) slum households have lived in slums for more than 30 years.

• In most African cities between 40 per cent and 70 per cent of the population lives in slums or squatter settlements. Many African cities will be doubling their population within two decades. In a city like Nairobi, 60 per cent of the population lives in slums which occupy about five per cent of the land.

• While most slum-dwellers depend on the informal sector for their livelihoods, slum populations in many parts of the world (for example in Pune, India and Ibadan, Nigeria) quite often include university lecturers, university students, government civil servants and formal private sector employees.

• About one out of every four countries in the developing world has laws that contain clauses that impede women owning land and taking mortgages in their own names.

• All slum households in Bangkok have a colour television.

• Slums are also places in which the vibrant mixing of different cultures has frequently resulted in new forms of artistic expression, including some of the major musical and dance movements of the 20th Century, such as jazz, blues, rock and roll, reggae, funk, hiphop, soukuss, breakdance, fado and flamenco.

Related report: WHO calls for stronger cities to help prevent Asian disease crisis

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