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«Abstract One of the most visible and enduring manifestations of urban poverty in developing countries is the formation and proliferation of slums. ...»

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Working Paper No. 2010/30

The Face of Urban Poverty

Explaining the Prevalence of Slums in

Developing Countries

Ben C. Arimah*

March 2010


One of the most visible and enduring manifestations of urban poverty in developing

countries is the formation and proliferation of slums. While attention has focused on the

rapid pace of urbanization as the sole or major factor explaining the proliferation of

slums and squatter settlements in developing countries, there are other factors whose impacts are not known with much degree of certainty. It is also not clear how the effects of these factors vary across regions of the developing world. This paper accounts for differences in the prevalence of slums among developing countries using data drawn from the recent global assessment of slums undertaken by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme. The empirical analysis identifies substantial inter-country variations in the incidence of slums both within and across the regions of Africa, Asia as well as, Latin America and the Caribbean. Further analysis indicates that higher GDP…/ Keywords: urban poverty, slums, developing countries, inter-country differences JEL classification: I32, R21, R31 Copyright © UNU-WIDER 2010 * United Nations Human Settlements Programme, e-mail: ben.arimah@unhabitat.org

This study has been prepared within the UNU-WIDER project on Beyond the Tipping Point:

Development in an Urban World directed by Jo Beall, Basudeb Guha-Khasnobis, and Ravi Kanbur.

UNU-WIDER gratefully acknowledges the financial contributions to the research programme by the governments of Denmark (Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Finland (Ministry for Foreign Affairs), Sweden (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency—Sida) and the United Kingdom (Department for International Development).

ISSN 1798-7237 ISBN 978-92-9230-265-8 per capita, greater financial depth and increased investment in infrastructure will reduce the incidence of slums. Conversely, the external debt burden, inequality in the distribution of income, rapid urban growth and the exclusionary nature of the regulatory framework governing the provision planned residential land contribute positively to the prevalence of slums and squatter settlements.

The World Institute for Development Economics Research (WIDER) was established by the United Nations University (UNU) as its first research and training centre and started work in Helsinki, Finland in 1985. The Institute undertakes applied research and policy analysis on structural changes affecting the developing and transitional economies, provides a forum for the advocacy of policies leading to robust, equitable and environmentally sustainable growth, and promotes capacity strengthening and training in the field of economic and social policy making. Work is carried out by staff researchers and visiting scholars in Helsinki and through networks of collaborating scholars and institutions around the world.

–  –  –

UNU World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) Katajanokanlaituri 6 B, 00160 Helsinki, Finland Typescript prepared by Anne Ruohonen at UNU-WIDER The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s). Publication does not imply endorsement by the Institute or the United Nations University, nor by the programme/project sponsors, of any of the views expressed.

1 Introduction One of the most enduring manifestations of urban poverty in developing countries is the proliferation of slums and squatter settlements. The global assessment of slums undertaken by UN-HABITAT (2003a) shows that 924 million, or 32 per cent, of the world’s urban population resides in slums. In the developing world, 43 per cent of the urban population live in slums. These settlements have the most deplorable living and environmental conditions, and are characterized by an inadequate water supply, squalid conditions of environmental sanitation, overcrowded and dilapidated habitation, hazardous location, and insecurity of tenure, as well as economic and social deprivation.

It is in recognition of the development challenges posed by the proliferation of slums that Target 11 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) seeks to create significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020 (UN-HABITAT 2003b).1 Given that this target hardly makes a dent on the magnitude of slums, in that it addresses only 11 per cent of current slum population, a revision of Target 11 has been proposed whereby, in addition to making substantial improvement to the lives of slum dwellers, concerted efforts should be made to provide adequate alternatives to new slum formation by prioritizing slum prevention programmes and proactive planning (UN Millennium Project 2005).

This paper contends that any attempt at improving the lives of slum dwellers, and providing alternatives to new slum formation, must be preceded by a proper appreciation of the factors that underlie the formation and proliferation of slums.

Currently, there is an apparent lack of understanding of the forces driving the proliferation of slums in developing countries. This state of affairs can partly be attributed to the absence of studies that empirically link the prevalence of slums with the possible driving forces at either the national or city level; which, in turn, can be explained by the fact that, until recently, data on the incidence of slums at various levels of spatial resolution were either non-existent or, at best, fragmentary.

The purpose of this paper is to account for variations in the prevalence of slums among developing countries, using data drawn from the global assessment of slums undertaken by UN-HABITAT. The availability of such data provides a unique opportunity to relate slums to various aspects of national development empirically. In this respect, the paper

addresses the following questions:

What factors apart from the rapid pace of urbanization explain inter-country differences in the prevalence of slums?

• What is the link between urban development policy and proliferation of slums?

• What role does the regulatory framework governing the allocation of residential land play in the formation and proliferation of slums?

• What is the nature of the linkages between the incidence of slums and the macroeconomic environment?

1 Target 11 of the MDGs stems from the Cities without Slums initiative launched in 1999 as a joint plan of action aimed at improving the living conditions of the world’s most vulnerable and marginalized urban residents (Cities Alliance 2001).


• Do countries with lower levels of inequality and good governance have a lower incidence of slums?

The answers to these questions are central to identifying the challenges that developing countries face in stemming the development of new slums, and providing alternatives to slum formation.

The remainder of the paper is organized as follows. Following this introduction, an overview of slum policies in developing countries is provided. The third section discusses the methodology used in measuring slums, and examines inter-country variations in the incidence of slums. Next, the empirical framework for exploring the determinants of the prevalence of slums is presented. This is followed by the discussion of the factors explaining inter-country variations in the prevalence of slums. Finally, some of the policy implications emanating from the paper are highlighted.

2 Slum policies in developing countries

Over the past five decades, authorities in developing countries have adopted several strategies designed to tackle the problem of slums and informal settlements. These include benign neglect; forced eviction and demolition; resettlement or relocation;

programmes upgrading slums; and, most recently, the adoption of enabling strategies.

2.1 Policy of benign neglect

In the early 1950s and the immediate post-independence period, authorities in developing countries adopted a policy of benign neglect or a laissez-faire attitude towards slums. This approach was based on the notion that slums were an illegal but temporary phenomenon that would disappear with economic growth (UN-HABITAT 2003a). Slums were also tolerated because they were seen as vestiges of ‘traditional villages’ that were in the process of being absorbed by the new urban planning tradition passed down by the colonial administration (Njoh 2003). In turning a blind eye to slums, governments pursued a programme of low-cost housing as a strategy for meeting the housing needs of low-income households. The belief was that such a programme sustained by high and steady economic growth would result in the elimination of slums (UN-HABITAT 2003a). Despite its laudable objectives, the programme failed to meet the housing needs of its intended beneficiaries.

2.2 Forced eviction and slum clearance

Forced eviction relates to the removal of people from their homes or land against their will (Olds et al. 2002). In the case of slums, agents of the state forcibly carry out mass evictions, accompanied by demolition. Although adopted mainly between the 1970s and early 1980s, when it became clear that the policy of benign neglect would not lead to the disappearance of slums, this practice is still prevalent in many countries. A notable example is Zimbabwe, where, on 25 May 2005, the government commenced the demolition of slums in Harare and other cities under a clean-up campaign termed 2 Operation Murambatsvina.2 The demolition exercise resulted in 700,000 people either losing their homes or their source of livelihood – or both. A further 2.4 million people, or 18 per cent of the Zimbabwean population, were also affected in varying degrees (Tibaijuka 2005). It also led to the destruction of the informal sector, which, in 2004, accounted for 40 per cent of all forms of employment. Although the government of Zimbabwe indicated that the operation was designed to rid cities of illegal housing and alleged illicit business activities, observers note that houses built with durable materials – such as backyard extensions of legal houses, and informal settlements that had formally been recognized by parliament and provided with water and sanitation facilities through World Bank funding – were not spared (Tibaijuka 2005).

The general experience of developing countries shows that slum clearance is not a solution to the proliferation of slums and informal settlements. This is because it focuses on the symptoms, rather than on the root causes of such settlements – thus resulting in their displacement rather than their elimination.

2.3 Resettlement/relocation programmes

Resettlement takes place when slum clearance entails the relocation of evicted households to alternative locations. Relocation programmes can either entail the allocation of plots on which households are expected to build their houses, or the provision of low-cost housing. Resettlement programmes are often premised on the notion that evicted households were legal owners of previously occupied land, or had occupied such land for a long period (Cheema 1987). A notable best practice of resettlement programmes is the relocation of slum dwellers from Brasilia to Samambaia, Brazil between the late 1980s and early 1990s. Prior to relocation, city authorities held extensive consultations with affected households. Apart from assisting households to move, the programme involved the allocation of serviced land, which enabled families to build houses in line with their financial resources. In order to forestall the sale of such land by the men, it was agreed that title should be given in the name of their wives (UNHABITAT 2003a). Relocation was also followed by the construction of a subway and provision of several government-assisted settlement programmes, which ensured easy access to the city centre and other employment nodes.

In reality, most relocation programmes hardly involve any meaningful dialogue with those evicted. They are hastily undertaken without proper coordination by the implementing agencies. Furthermore, city authorities do not have the financial and technical resources to undertake such resettlement programmes fully. Consequently, the plots and houses provided in the new locations tend to be grossly insufficient and in distant locations, without adequate infrastructure and services.

2.4 Slum upgrading programmes Given the failure of previous strategies to tackle the problem of slums and informal settlements effectively, in the 1980s many developing countries adopted programmes – funded largely by the World Bank – to upgrade slum and squatter settlements.

2 In the local Shona language, this literally translates to Operation Drive Out Filth.

3 Upgrading programmes involves employing locality-based improvement strategies designed to replace the various degrees of obsolescence and decay in slum areas through the provision or improvement of basic services and physical infrastructure; for example, water reticulation, sanitation, garbage collection, storm drainage, street lighting, and paved footpaths and streets (Abelson 1996; World Bank 2000). Upgrading also entails the provision of community services such as playgrounds, schools, markets, shopping centres, and clinics. Upgrading slums does not entail housing construction, but certain residents might be provided with subsidized loans to improve their dwellings.

Although upgrading programmes have produced some impressive results, they have been criticized on several grounds. These include: the low levels of investment that have been incapable of rectifying decades of neglect and deterioration; the adoption of a project-oriented approach that has failed to ensure the necessary follow-up maintenance;

hasty planning that allowed for little or no input from beneficiary communities, thereby resulting in lack of ownership and reluctance to pay for improved services; inability to address the more fundamental supply constraints of land, finance, and building materials; weak institutional and financial mechanism; and the absence of any clear focus on poverty reduction (Abelson 1996; UNCHS 1996, 2003a; Okpala 1999; Werlin 1999; Tebbal and Ray 2001; Gulyani and Bassett 2007).

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