As the developing world becomes more urban and as the locus of poverty shifts to cities, the battle to achieve the MDGs will have to be waged in the world's slums.(1)
The unprecedented urban growth taking place in developing countries reflects the hopes and aspirations of millions of new urbanites. Cities have enormous potential for improving people’s lives, but inadequate urban management, often based on inaccurate perceptions and information, can turn opportunity into disaster.
Conscious of this gap, the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development recommended that: “Governments should increase the capacity and competence of city and municipal authorities to manage urban development, to safeguard the environment, to respond to the need of all citizens, including urban squatters, for personal safety, basic infrastructure and services, to eliminate health and social problems, including problems of drugs and criminality, and problems resulting from overcrowding and disasters, and to provide people with alternatives to living in areas prone to natural and man-made disasters.”(2) This chapter addresses some of these concerns, particularly as they affect women, in light of expected future urban growth in developing countries.
The Unseen Dramas of the Urban Poor(3)
Until recently, rural settlements were the epicentre of poverty and human suffering. All measures of poverty, whether based on income, consumption or expenditure, showed that rural poverty was deeper and more widespread than in cities.(4) Urban centres on the whole offered better access to health, education, basic infrastructure, information, knowledge and opportunity.(5)Such findings were easy to understand in view of budgetary allocations, the concentration of services and the other intangible benefits of cities.
Poverty, however, is now increasing more rapidly in urban areas than in rural areas but has received far less attention. Aggregate statistics hide deep inequalities and gloss over concentrations of harsh poverty within cities. Most assessments actually underestimate the scale and depth of urban poverty.(6)
Hundreds of millions live in poverty in the cities of low- and middle-income nations, and their numbers are sure to swell in coming years. Over half of the urban population is below the poverty line in Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Chad, Colombia, Georgia, Guatemala, Haiti, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger, Sierra Leone and Zambia. Many others have 40 to 50 per cent living below the poverty line, including Burundi, El Salvador, the Gambia, Kenya, the Kyrgyz Republic, Moldova, Peru and Zimbabwe. Many other nations would be included in this list if their poverty lines made allowance for the real costs of non-food necessities in urban areas.(7)
Urban mismanagement often squanders urban advantages and the urban potential for poverty reduction. Although urban poverty is growing faster than in rural areas, development agencies have only recently begun to appreciate that they need new interventions to attack its roots.