The development issue of the 21st century

Dhaka,  Tue,  26 September 2017
Published : 22 Aug 2017, 19:55:42

The development issue of the 21st century

Babui Salsabil
During the second half of the 20th century, the developing world has seen noteworthy economic development. One of the key contributors to international development has been urbanisation. Urbanisation can be defined as the process, by which towns and cities transform by providing urban facilities to people. 

Urbanisation has led to reasonable development in terms of creating jobs, better education, health services and lifestyle for many people in cities and towns across the world. Dhaka is the most prominent example of urbanisation in Bangladesh. In fact, urbanisation is an inseparable element of the development process. 

According to The Guardian of UK, 54 per cent of the world's population lives in the urban areas; by 2050, the urban population is estimated to rise to 62 per cent in Africa, to 65 per cent in Asia and to 90 per cent in Latin America. 

Development, however, can be a double-edged sword, and like many other development activities, urbanisation also comes with its costs. Some of the unwanted effects of urbanisation include overcrowding in urban areas, traffic congestion, air and noise pollution, etc. One of the most challenging offshoots yet, which seems to happen alongside rapid urbanisation, is perhaps the rise of slums in the heart of metropolitan cities. This is often counterproductive to development. While the prevalence of slums is common in most developing countries, solutions to combat it are not as prominent.

WHAT ARE SLUMS? As per UN Habitat, a slum is characterised by "lack of durable housing, insufficient living area, and lack of access to clean water, inadequate sanitation and insecure tenure." As of 2012, almost one billion of the world's population lived in slums.

The phenomenon of slums goes back to as early as the time of the Industrial Revolution, which grew in the peripheries of the urban hubs of Europe and America. Interestingly, at present, slums are found both in developing as well as developed countries. The major drivers of slum creation are as follows:

n Urbanisation and poor housing planning: Rapid Urbanisation is closely related to the growth of slums. Due to the economic growth, more people are attracted to the cities in hopes of better employment opportunities. However, as the urban population rises, the capability of the local government to accommodate that large population does not increase accordingly. The lack of budget as well as poor planning for housing encourages the expansion of the informal slums which offer cheap housing to these poor migrants. Moreover, poor infrastructure and lack of affordable transportation also compels the poor families of the workers to settle near to their place of work to save the cost of commute.

n Natural Disasters: Besides the pull of the cities, certain push factors also drive people from villages to cities as well as from country to country. For example, major natural disasters often force people to migrate to unaffected areas. Originally, these migrants settle in temporary camps as an immediate shelter. However, with time these turn into permanent slums, as the disaster-driven destitute people are unable to find cheaper accommodation alternatives. 

n Social Conflicts: Similar to natural disasters, even social conflicts often push people to forcefully migrate from their homes and live in other places. This was seen when many slums sprung around the city of Kabul to accommodate the rural Afghans fleeing Taliban violence.

n Colonialism and segregation: Interestingly, many slums that exist today are the result of urbanisation that was initiated by colonisation. For instance, in the nineteenth century, European colonisers arrived in Kenya and created urban centres to serve their financial interests and they created slums in Nairobi on the basis of segregation by colour. 

HOW DO SLUMS ERODE THE EFFECTS OF URBANISATION? No matter how much an economy urbanises and develops, the existence of slums will take away much benefits from its development efforts. Below are some major problems that slums pose to their inhabitants:     

n Absence of proper regulation: The planning or regulation of slums are often not done by legitimate governing bodies, but are usually divided among various private actors, landlords, etc. The conflict of interests and policies between these actors, often deprive the slum-dwellers from basic facilities and services, such as adequate access to clean water, sanitation or electricity, which they should have been normally entitled to by a designated authority. 

n Health and child mortality: Due to a huge number of people living in close proximity, diseases and illnesses spread way faster in slums. In Kenya's Kibera slum, diarrhoea is the predominant disease, taking the lives of children under five.

n Women, children and education: The children living in the slums are often deprived of the opportunity of education, especially the girls who are already burdened with chores, such as carrying water from long distances.

n Disasters: Given their fragile housing, the slum-dwellers are susceptible to greater damage by natural disasters, such as storms, earthquakes, etc., and are also to prolonged flooding due to poor drainage systems.

The negative impacts of slums directly challenge the broader Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) such as: ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all, achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls and so on.

UNDERLYING CONSTRAINTS: According to the UN-Habitat (2012b), 450 million new housing units would be needed in the next 20 years just to accommodate families in urgent need of housing as a result of increasing migrants to the existing slum populations. Therefore, policy-makers must come up with solutions that would address this pressing development issue of the twenty-first century.  But first, it is important to look at the existing constraints that prevent the solution of this problem currently:

n The informal nature of slums often makes them excluded from urban planning since sometimes the government consciously wants to avoid public investment on slums so that the slum-dwellers do not feel entitled to any additional occupancy rights.

n Moreover, the power struggle between various conflicting government and informal authorities entail that these agencies often contest for their own benefits, depriving the slum-dwellers from basic amenities.

n Additionally, slum populations are often wrongly estimated and misrepresented. Due to these enumeration errors in census data, it is often impossible to design adequate intervention plans as the true extent of the target population remains unknown.

Therefore, the policies to address the existing problems of slums have to be designed while keeping these limitations in mind.


n In order to address the challenges of slums, a comprehensive approach is required that takes care of not only housing policy, but also the overall needs of the rural migrants such as: health, hygiene and sanitation issues. Ensuring both formal and informal systems of property rights can also control the rapid growth of slums. 

n The objectives of the various public services in slums should be made more specific and measurable, so that relevant projects and programmes can design interventions accordingly.

n Additionally, since cities are a hub for employment and educational opportunities, and yet the high living expenses of the cities force people to settle for the inexpensive slum settlements, better commuting facilities should be offered so that people do not have to live in the cities but can commute regularly from their own residence. 

n Last of all, a general political willingness to change the overall governance dynamics in slum areas is essential to achieving success. Most importantly, if the informal sectors, which exploit the helpless conditions of the slum-dwellers to their advantage, are not taken care of, then no rehabilitation plans will have desired outcomes.  

MOVE CITIES TO VILLAGES? It is evident how the prevalence of slums corrodes the accomplishments of urbanisation and directly confronts some of the key Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Slums are detrimental to the overall development of a nation and this problem needs to be addressed by all sectors. In closing, one alternative perspective can be considered. Overpopulation in cities is mostly caused by rural-urban migration and is often beyond the capacity of the local and national governments to accommodate, and this leads to the inevitable establishment of slums. Therefore, to curb rural-urban migration, which is the root cause of urban overpopulation, the rural areas could be developed instead, so that people have enough job opportunities in the villages, thus no longer needing to migrate to the cities.  Moreover, the villages should be better equipped to face natural disasters so that such occurrences do not drive the villagers away from their homes. 

In fact, if rural and urban development efforts are not treated as two distinct issues, but rather as a common national goal, the problem of city-based development and resource concentration can be avoided. A better approach, therefore, could be to expand the very concept of urbanisation and instead of solely developing the cities and enticing people to migrate to the urban areas, to move the essential and desired services and facilities to the rural areas. This would require massive reorganisation of power and de-concentration of resources, but in the end, it would lead to a more holistic and decentralised development for the country as a whole.

The writer iscurrently working for Swisscontact-Katalyst as Principal Business Consultant. The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Katalyst.

Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
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