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Cities Without Slums: Combatting Slum Formation

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Cities without Slums
Slum Formation
When we talk about slums the focus is often how to bring people living in them into better living conditions. UN-Habitat claims that the number of slum dwellers worldwide is nearing a billion people but this number could triple by 2050 if not addressed. It is important to consider how we can prevent the creation of new slum populations as well as addressing the conditions that already exist. This report aims to investigate the push and pull factors that facilitate slum formation as well as worsen the problem where there are existing slum populations. The driving factors will be examined in relation to case studies relating to urbanization as well as conflicts and climate events that force displacement. By looking at these examples it will be assessed the manner in which these situations contribute the issue of slums across the world. Furthermore, the observations will be used to suggest what may be done to prevent or minimize the effect that they have in creating and worsening slum conditions.
Slums tend to form when there is a demand for housing or infrastructure that is not sufficiently being addressed by whatever authorities or government controls an area. The problem of slum formation is complex; addressing land policies, housing prices, provision of adequate infrastructure and public services. The problem is especially exacerbated by large displacement or migration that can have a number of catalysts. Acioli states that the issue of reducing the growing slum population is a two-pronged challenge. The first is a ‘…focus on slum upgrading, infrastructure, improvement and regularization of informal settlements, coupled with measures that can actually improve living conditions and the quality of life in the existing settlements.’ This report focuses on the later challenge: using preventative policy and offering a legitimate alternative to the continued informal land settlement that is common today.
Dhaka, Bangladesh-Climate Change
In Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, climate change is the key driver behind the rapid growth of its slums. Each year around 500,000 people migrate from coastal and rural areas in Bangladesh to Dhaka, already home to over 14 million. 40% of the city’s population are estimated to live in slums and of this number, 70% of those moved to Dhaka after environmental changes made it impossible for them to stay where they were. This is mostly due to the increasing prevalence of severe storms and coastal flooding. The latter is especially problematic as the salt water destroys existing crops and makes it difficult to grow more in the future. This in turn causes famine and makes it impossible for many residents to earn a living. Most of Bangladesh is relatively low lying so as climate change worsens these conditions the problem is only expected to continue throughout the century, resulting in an estimated displacement of 15 million people. Furthermore, the urban migration patterns are changing from people going to Dhaka to earn some money then returning home to a dynamic where they are permanently residing in the slums.
Dhaka itself lacks the infrastructure to suffice for its already large population. There are no sidewalks or adequate transport systems and only enough electricity for 35% of the population. Scheffran raises two main areas of concern for the influx of climate refugees in Dhaka. Firstly, the extra population puts strain on existing infrastructure such as transport, water, waste, electricity and health services. This worsens the condition for the people already living in extreme poverty. Furthermore, they increase existing social stresses, participating in criminal activities when there may not necessarily be any other options but ultimately building the pressure that the slums have on the city as a whole as well as the conditions for existing and new residents. The increasing urban poverty is further solidified because poor migrants earn a living in informal sectors of society and are barred from formal employment because of education and official training; this leaves them in a vulnerable and insecure position.
What measures can be taken to reduce the influx of climate refugees in Dhaka and lessen the impact of climate change on its poorest citizens? Urban centres tend to contribute a large portion of greenhouse gases and Dhaka contributes a huge proportion of gases in Bangladesh. With increased population this number is increasing with energy consumption and traffic. Climate change not only causes an increase in poor populations but contributes to flooding within the city itself which is a huge drain on resources. In the last 20 years there have been three significant floods from the rivers and uncontained runoff. It is an uncomfortable truth is that, while the emissions of Dhaka are substantial proportionate to the rest of Bangladesh and continue to grow, on a global level they are almost negligible. The prevention of global climate change is outside the scope of this report so it must be examined how Bangladesh can address the immediate symptoms of it.
In the city of Dhaka flood regulation control measures were introduced as early as the 1980s. This included drainage plans, embankments, walls, sluices and pumping stations. While this may help prevent damage and disruption to the city itself, effective measures must be taken to protect the coastal and rural residents that are being displaced by flooding and severe weather conditions. Planning should be incorporated to minimize damage done by future events which are predicted to become more frequent. Three options are put forward to adapt to climate change in Bangladesh; retreat, accommodation and protection. Due to the population retreat is not a feasible option but there are a number of actions that can be taken to accommodate and protect from climate change. * Mangrove forests provide natural protection from tidal surges. By protecting the existing forests and committing to afforestation along to coast there can be immediate results in protecting coastal communities and economies. * New agricultural practises can be taken up. Rice varieties can be used which have a higher salt resistance and can grow in higher temperatures. These can be cultivated in non-cyclone periods to avoid crop damage. * Cyclone shelters can be provided along coastal and vulnerable areas so that people can protect themselves and their property/livestock from the harshest conditions. These are placed based on calculations of storm surge heights, weather severity and inland intrusion of surge water. * Embankments can be constructed in coastal areas to prevent the full force of storm surges from damaging vulnerable communities.
Kabul, Afghanistan - Conflict-based Displacement
Conflict-based displacement is the primary driver behind the rapid urbanisation of Kabul city in Afghanistan. Conflicts, both national and international, are responsible for upward of 26 million internally displaced persons around the world. An internally displaced person is effectively similar to a refugee but remains within the borders of their own country. This number is comparable in scale to the 36 million people that are estimated to have been internally displaced globally by natural disaster; phenomena previously discussed which we have less ability to control. As well as internally displaced persons there around over 10 million refugees in the world, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimating half of which live in large towns or cities as opposed to the stereotypical camps often portrayed in the media. Refugees are granted rights and protections under the 1951 Geneva Convention, though these are often unfounded, while internally displaced persons must often rely on themselves or their own government for survival. This makes them particularly vulnerable.
Afghanistan is currently estimated to have more than half a million internally displaced persons from escalating conflict around the country, the number who have been displaced at one time or another in the past 30 years is substantially higher. Tens of thousands of these are living in around 30 slums in Kabul. The conditions are described by Amnesty International as ‘…freezing, cramped and on the brink of starvation.’ It is common for displaced people to seek shelter and security in larger cities. Coming from a rural lifestyle that provides basic sustenance and shelter is vastly different from the realities of a modern city. Kabul has grown around 250% in population over the last 10 years and is already in a state of urban planning crisis. Rural migrants are not prepared to deal with the cash economy, comparatively high prices and overall complexities they are faced with beyond their limited experience. Furthermore, they lack the support structure that is provided by social networks.
As mentioned previously in relation to Dhaka, the conditions are not only bad for recent migrants but also work to further stress the existing problems for the already poor population they are joining. In Kabul this is especially affecting the recent advances in healthcare and education systems. The effect that this rapid urbanisation can have on a city can invoke hostility towards newcomers from existing residents. This is apparent in the case of Syrian refugees seeking refuge in Jordan. Locals blame newcomers for increasing food and shelter costs and being a burden on health and education services. This is partially because it can be profitable to service refugees or displaced people as they are more vulnerable and easier to profit from than local residents.
International aid from various organizations is provided but the usefulness is barred by the government. Officials do not allow aid that allows for the informal settlements to become permanent or even suggests that the people will not be moving on. The effect of these policies can be seen in how aid is administered, for example, instead of digging wells organizations have to provide tankers of water. Children will not be provided with an education if they can’t provide the proper identification, documents which are officially acquired within their home province and won’t be provided by local officials. It is common across the world for countries for governments to only allow certain humanitarian aid to those living in official refugee camps. This creates situation where the substantial proportion living in large towns and cities are unable to access humanitarian aid. From assessing situations in Kenya and Tanzania, Palau lists 5 pull-factors as to why displaced people choose cities over refugee camps. These are: ‘security threats, limited livelihood opportunities, harsh climatic conditions and lack of health and educational services.’
In Kabul, as is the case elsewhere, it is difficult to determine the status of populations migrating to urban areas. The definition of someone who has been displaced by conflict or similar events and a person seeking a better life through urbanization is blurred and the two groups are not necessarily distinct. There may be a primary cause for displacement such as conflict or climate events but studies show that these are often coupled with secondary driving forces such as vulnerability to crime or abuse.Kabul is seen to have greater security and opportunities. There has been no investment in public housing since the Soviet era and it’s estimated that 3 million of the city’s 5 million inhabitants live in illegal or unplanned housing. While not officially supported, the World Bank suggests that this ad hoc housing solution has prevented a worse problem of homelessness and camps. Rather than ignoring or outlawing this development, it should be seen as an asset and the value can be formalised with upgraded infrastructure and services.
How can the government in Kabul lessen the impact of rapid urbanization, especially due to refugees and displacement? * Stop viewing urban displacement as a temporary phenomenon or trying to distinguish between displaced people and those seeking better opportunities. There are complex driving factors behind the urbanization of Kabul but it is unlikely that it will slow down or cease in the near future. Officials must now put into action plans to ease the transition to urban lifestyles rather than denying there is a problem. * The resources of the Afghan government are limited but they can allow international aid to be used in the most effective way possible. Restrictions and limitations on what can be provided for displaced people have to be lifted if they are to face the reality of the situation. * Furthermore, displaced people must be granted access to the same basic rights as existing residents, especially through issuing documents outside of local government and providing education and healthcare as far as is possible with limited resource. * Measures must be taken to integrate displaced peoples with the locals; currently they suffer alienation, vilification and are particularly vulnerable. * For both the existing urban poor and displaced people moving towards cities the government has to accept informal settlements as a viable alternative to camps or widespread homelessness. There is perceived value that can be gained from these settlements (both slums and general unplanned or illegal housing) if they are given a degree of official support with infrastructure and service developments.
China – Urbanization without slums?
China is often praised for having massive rural to urban migration without the emergence of massive slums in its biggest cities. By 2012 it was estimated that over 260 million people had transitioned from a rural to urban life. Poverty in China is mostly associated with rural areas, so in a country where urbanization is happening at astonishing rates can we look towards China as an example of how to avoid global slum population growth moving forward into the future? Yanning Wei suggests that this is not the case and China maintains its position through a floating population and hard-line government policy.
Before assessing whether or not China’s method of dealing with slums is legitimate it must be first looked at what measures are actually in place. UN-Habitat report that the proportion of China’s urban population living in slums in 2000 was 37.3% and fell to 28.2% in 2010 despite massive population increase. The methods stated as to this achievement are economic reforms and using policies that focus on urbanization to drive national growth. Special tax rates and equity grants were used to get developers to mass produce millions of affordable housing units which are made available to slum dwellers. Mayer states a number of reasons beyond affordable housing that have helped avoid problems faced by other areas of mass urbanization across the world. Public transport developments allow migrants greater access to the opportunities and services in a city. This lessens the importance of location, both for employment and where to live compared to other cities where people are largely limited by where they can afford to reside. Flexibility and attention is given to land-use and zoning. Buildings can be built higher and land development can extend beyond urban boundaries. Special economic zones use special tax laws and open up land for development to encourage investment in China’s urbanization growth. Lastly, Mayer claims that China, at a municipal level, is willing to learn from outside its own borders, taking on advice and guidance from architects, planners and knowledge bases all over the world.
To get a true picture of the urban poor in China one needs to look at the population of migrants who move to urban centres temporarily to work and then return to their home villages. Estimates vary between 2% and 33% of migrants who are forced to return periodically. When the migrants are in the city many live in dense informal settlements which are considered to be dirty, chaotic and dangerous by the government. They are villages within urban centres that tend to be hidden and are often demolished without much concern for the residents. This is a symptom of China’s Hukou system. The Hukou system is used by the Chinese government to link available social services with the residential status. For migrants this effectively makes it difficult to remain in urban centres indefinitely though there are cases where generations do and live in squalor as a result. For the government the system helps control the movement of population and their implementation of large scale economic strategy. Reforms are occurring that make it easier for rural migrants to obtain urban rights, especially for moving to cities under a certain population. Granting rights to migrants in urban areas is especially important for those who are starting to reproduce, allowing their children to integrate into society. Li states that often the informal settlements within a city bring together migrants from similar areas. It provides a level of social support which helps break down social exclusion barriers that hinder the integration of migrant workers into an urban setting. The reports that often suggest the demolition of such settlements often don’t consider the satisfaction levels of the residents themselves, which are not particularly low. He suggests that demolition is not the key to building a harmonious society which is cited as a driving factor for such activity. * China has many strong points when it comes to avoiding the formation of slums. The foremost of these is a genuine embracement of urbanization as a strategy for the growth of the country. * The large focus on developing affordable housing has provided an official alternative to the informal settlements and slums that would otherwise have formed for a substantial portion of migrants. * Zoning and planning allows for the development of accommodation and is effective when compared to places like Mumbai which strictly regulate building height. * Public transport opens up opportunities in cities for poor residents and migrants. * Accepting knowledge from outside of the country helps build a global base to identify best practises when it comes to avoid slum formation. * The division between migrants and urban residents needs to be broken down to provide services to migrants and their families; this must begin with a reform of the Hukou system. * Furthermore, the social barriers to integration are exacerbated by the demolition of informal settlements and villages which provide a level of support to new and long term migrants.

Observing some current cases of slums being formed and the actions taken in response it is possible to draw conclusions regarding how to lessen the impact in the future. Regardless of the driving forces behind the migration it is clear that the strong trend of urbanization will continue into the foreseeable future. As much as possible action needs to be made to ensure that migration into cities and large towns is due to a considered choice rather than an option forced by environment, conflict or lack of economic opportunity. In Bangladesh it can be seen that innovative and cost effective solutions such as mangrove afforestation are being utilized so that coastal and rural residents can remain in their homes rather than being forced into cities. Governments need to be able to recognise vulnerable groups who are most at risk of ending up in a slum environment, this helps to frame the problem so that a solution can be targeted in the best way possible. An example of this is the Afghan government’s denial of displaced people remaining as such in the long term, this is turn prevents aid from being administered in effective ways. In all three case studies it was observed that poor migrants were putting pressure on the existing poor in cities. Governments need to ensure that segregation does not occur which too far separates those in need from existing populations, denying basic health and education services and marking them for potential exploitation and vulnerability.
While the solutions in China are not perfect there are lessons that can be taken from the strong embracement of urbanization. The two that stand out are the widespread construction of affordable housing and the provision of public transport. By accepting that city populations will continue to grow from urbanization the government is able to take measures that will lessen the impact. Having a good public transport infrastructure widely improves the options for poor migrants for where they can afford to live and work. Having a floating population where workers migrate to and from urban centres can have developmental benefits however it needs to be addressed that doing so will not take advantage of the poorest of society. The Hukou system has some serious negative implications but also has strong elements such as the potential to direct migration to smaller urban centres instead of the biggest or denser. Ultimately, while it is impossible to end the events and social situations that leave certain groups poor or vulnerable, it is possible to accept the reality of a situation and attempt to minimize the consequences. Learning from existing and past cases can help set a precedent for dealing with future problems.

References * UN-Habitat: United Nations Human Settlements Programme, UN Entities, 2013, * Acioly C, The Challenge of Slum Formation in the Developing World, Land Lines, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 2007 * Friedman L, Bangladesh: Where Climate Exodus Begins, E&E 2014 * Barnett J, Climate Change, Human Security and Violent Conflict, Political Geography Volume 26 Issue 6, 2007 * Hossain S, Rapid Urban Growth and Poverty in Dhaka City, Bangladesh E-Journal of Sociology Volume 5 Number 1, 2008 * Alam M, Vulnerabilities and Responses to Climate Change for Dhaka, Environment and Urbanization Volume 19 Number 1, 2007 * Ali A, Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Assessment in Bangladesh, Climate Research Volume 12, 1999 * Palau R, Rapid Urbanisation and Displacement: The Case of Kabul City, Afghanistan in Transition, September 2013 * Afghans Fleeing War Find Misery in Urban Slums, Amnesty International, February 23 2013, * Crisp J, The Urbanization of Displaced People, CIVIS Number 5, 2011, * Wei Y, Where are the slums in China? China Focus, January 30 2014, * State of the World Cities 2010/2011: Bridging the Urban Divide, UN-HABITAT, 2010 * Mayer A, How China’s Megacities Have Avoided Problems of Other Developing Cities, 2011 * Foggin P, Urban Poverty and Urban Slums in China, July 2008, * Li Z & Wu F, Residential Satisfaction in China’s Informal Settlements: A Case Study of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, Urban Geography Volume 34 Issue7, 2013 * Branigan T, China Reforms Hukou System to Improve Migrant Worker’s Rights, 31 July 2014,

[ 1 ]. UN-Habitat: United Nations Human Settlements Programme, UN Entities, 2013
[ 2 ]. Acioly C, The Challenge of Slum Formation in the Developing World, Land Lines, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 2007
[ 3 ]. Friedman L, Bangladesh: Where Climate Exodus Begins, E&E 2014
[ 4 ]. Ibid
[ 5 ]. Barnett J, Climate Change, Human Security and Violent Conflict, Political Geography Volume 26 Issue 6, 2007 p607
[ 6 ]. Hossain S, Rapid Urban Growth and Poverty in Dhaka City, Bangladesh E-Journal of Sociology Volume 5 Number 1, 2008
[ 7 ]. Alam M, Vulnerabilities and Responses to Climate Change for Dhaka, Environment and Urbanization Volume 19 Number 1, 2007
[ 8 ]. Ali A, Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Assessment in Bangladesh, Climate Research Volume 12, 1999
[ 9 ]. Palau R, Rapid Urbanisation and Displacement: The Case of Kabul City, Afghanistan in Transition, September 2011
[ 10 ]. Ibid
[ 11 ]. Afghans Fleeing War Find Misery in Urban Slums, Amnesty International, February 23 2013
[ 12 ]. Ibid
[ 13 ]. Op Cit, Palau
[ 14 ]. Ibid p3
[ 15 ]. Ibid
[ 16 ]. Crisp J, The Urbanization of Displaced People, CIVIS Number 5, 2011 p2
[ 17 ]. Op Cit, Palau p13
[ 18 ]. Wei Y, Where are the slums in China? China Focus, January 30 2014
[ 19 ]. State of the World Cities 2010/2011: Bridging the Urban Divide, UN-HABITAT, 2010
[ 20 ]. Mayer A, How China’s Megacities Have Avoided Problems of Other Developing Cities, 2011
[ 21 ]. Urban Poverty and Urban Foggin P, Urban Poverty and Urban Slums in China, July 2008
[ 22 ]. Li Z & Wu F, Residential Satisfaction in China’s Informal Settlements: A Case Study of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, Urban Geography Volume 34 Issue7, 2013
[ 23 ]. Branigan T, China Reforms Hukou System to Improve Migrant Worker’s Rights, 31 July 2014

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