The World is a Ghetto: Global Slums – Out of Sight and out of Mind: Deterioration of the Human Condition

It has been estimated that more than one to two billion human beings live in slums or shanty towns all over the world. One in every three people in the world will live in slums in the next coming twenty to thirty years, unless all the governments control unprecedented urban growth. A Report from the United Nations settlements program, UN-habitat, which is based in Nairobi, Kenya, they found that urban slums were growing faster than expected, and that the balance of global poverty was shifting rapidly from countryside to the big cities. The problem of slums is that the problems they present cannot be solved immediately. Slums or ‘squatters’ are a global problem and growing because of exponential growth and population expansion which ultimately forces a disproportionate number of people into seriously untenable living conditions.

The conditions of slums and slum dwelling exist because of colonial exploitation, economic isolation, political anarchy, sectarian violence and many other different debilitating conditions that do not affect those in developing countries, or not as drastically as it affects those in developing countries. The defining characteristics of these new megaslums is morphological. When these nation states collapse due to war or corruption, this makes land dangerous to occupy and make productive. For Example, The war in the Congo from 1998-2003, killed approximately 4 million people, and the presence of centralized Western Aid Bureaucracies make suffering poverty and housing needs easier than help to radically change the situation. (US GAO office) Throughout the world these slums are built literally out of rubbish, discarded metal, cardboard, tarp, old and rotting wood, etc. These houses of are made in such a way that they are to be built quickly and rebuilt rapidly. Globally slum living is very precarious because the people who live in slums are forever at war with the local governments and consistently being thrown out of their only shelters, repeatedly, and the local planning agencies might be very slow in meeting the needs of the swelling masses in tin-can houses, and are also making state land ownership and use it to provide adequate housing, impossible.

Hunger in the Slums

Hunger is an invisible killer, silently exacting its toll on humanity – particularly infants and children most of whom come from poor, homeless and displaced families. James P. Grant, executive director of UNICEF said: “Some 15 million small children die each year….. They die very quietly; one hears very little about them: they come from the world’s poorest families, who themselves are the weakest and most powerless members of those powerless families. Just last month … there was this terrible earthquake in Algeria where 12,000 people died [that] made the front page of every paper, yet some 35,000 small children died that day needlessly from the silent emergency – almost triple that, but it did not make the headlines.” What is this “normal” hunger, not part of an outright famine, that accounts for the vast majority of the 13-18 million deaths from hunger and hunger related diseases each year? (Shirley Foster) These are just statistics, but also they are a reality of our day-to-day lives, today.

The conditions and the infrastructure of the slums facilitates for the spread of all types of diseases, hunger and malnutrition, lack of quality health care and nutritional foods. Diseases like HIV/AIDS have become a global problem. Every country in the world people are dying from the AIDS epidemic. These people with the disease are seen as having a very big problem that is too big to be successfully combated, or it is maybe someone else’s problem. Here are some of the statistics of HIV and AIDS:

HIV infection rates have decreased in some countries as of November 21, 2005. However, the number of individuals worldwide who are living with AIDS continues to rise. Kenya and Zimbabwe are two African nations that have seen a decrease in HIV prevalence.

  • 40.3 Million people are living with HIV
  • Over 3 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses in 2005
  • More than 500,000 children died in 2005 from AIDS-related illnesses

Sub-Saharan Africa continues to have the highest incidence of HIV and AIDS. Although Sub-Saharan Africa is home to just over 10% of the world’s population, more than 60% of all people living with HIV call this Area home. And a higher percentage of them live in slums and underdeveloped, poverty stricken and disease-ridden enclaves.

  • 64% of new HIV infections occur in Sub-Saharan Africa (3.2 million people)
  • 25.8 million people are living with HIV is Sub-Saharan Africa
  • 2.4 million died of AIDS in 2005 in Sub-Saharan Africa
  • 7.2% of the adult population in Sub-Saharan Africa have Aids

South Africa (these statistics are as of the end of 2003)

South Africa has the largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the world.

  • 5.1 million people are living with HIV in South Africa
  • 21.5% of adults in south Africa are living with HIV
  • 370,000 people died of AiDS in South Africa
  • 1.1 million Aids orphans in south Africa

Kenya (statistics as of the end of 2003)

  • 1.1 million people are living with HIV in Kenya
  • 6.7% of adults in Kenya are living with HIV
  • 150,000 people died of AIDS in Kenya
  • 650,000 AIDS orphans in Kenya

The statistics above have been provided by UNAIDS/WHO Publications in 2005. UNAIDS noted that the AIDS epidemic continues to outpace the response as the estimated number of adults and children living with HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia region has doubled since 2001. Nearly 1.5 million people are living with HIV and the majority of them live in Russia and Ukraine. UNAIDS is very concerned that Eastern Europe and Central Asia is the only region of the world where HIV prevalence clearly remains on the rise. The UNAIDS report of 2008 on global AIDs epidemic, about 1.5 million people were estimated to be living with HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia in 2007; almost 90% of them living in either the Russian Federation or Ukraine. Although HIV epidemic in the Russian Federation is the largest in the region, there are rising numbers in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan. Kyrgyzstan, the Republic of Moldavia, Tajikstan and Uzbekistan.

Overall Regional/Global HIV/AIDS Statistics:

  • Sub-Saharan Africa- 22.0 million with AIDS; 1.9 million new Infections; 5.0% adult prevalence; 1.5 million child/adult deaths.
  • South/South East Asia- 4.2 million with AIDs; New infections 330,000; 0.3% adult/child prevalence; 340,000 adult/child deaths.
  • Eastern Europe/Central Asia- 1.5 Million with AIDS; new infections 110,000; 0.8% adult/child prevalence; adult/child deaths 58,000.
  • Latin America- 1.7 million with AIDS; 140,000 new infections; 0.5% adult/child prevalence; 63,000 adult/child deaths.
  • North America- 1.2 million with AIDS; 54,000 new infections; 0.6% adult prevalence; 23,000 child/adult deaths.
  • East Asia- 740 with AIDS; 52,000 new infections; 0.1% adult/child prevalence; 40,000 adult/child deaths.
  • Western/Central Europe- 730,000 with AIDS; 27,000 with new infections; 0.3% adult/child prevalence; 8,000 adult/child deaths.
  • Middle East/North Africa- 380,000 with AIDS; 40,000 new infections; 0.3% adult/child prevalence; 27,000 adult/child deaths.
  • Caribbean- 230,000 with AIDS; 20,000 new infections; 1.1% adult/child prevalence; 14,000 adult/child deaths.
  • These statistics were done by UNAIDS/WHO in the 2008 Report. Please see their Global map provided by WHO in 2007 in the hub’s picture gallery.

If one were to pay attention to this pandemic, it will be much more clearer when we take a peek at contemporary societies and their present day problems, as these slum conditions are affected and effected by and conversely affect and effect population explosion in a global scale; populations living in decrepit conditions throughout the world are affected; governments cannot cope or moving fast enough, and the whole dialectic repeats itself over and over again, for hundreds and hundreds of year. Meanwhile, the slums fester and grow bigger, and with the golbal economi meltdown, the onditions are becoming sorely desperate. It would be appropriate to casually explore and closely interrogate the existence of slums and their specific problems globally. One cannot do justice to this topic, because slums are not in one specific continent, but are global in existence, yet present similar characteristics based on their proximity to the bourgeoning cities.

Characteristics of a Slum:

As the pictures in the hub gallery show, , a slum is a cluster of compact settlements of five or more households which generally grow very unsystematically and haphazardly in an unhealthy condition and atmosphere on government and private land. Slums also exist in the owner-based household premises. A United Nations Group has created an operational definition of a slum as an area that combines to various extents the following characteristics:

  1. inadequate access to safe water and green coffee shops
  2. inadequate access to sanitation and other infrastructure
  3. poor structural quality housing
  4. overcrowding
  5. insecure residential status
  6. the low socioeconomic status of its residents

The are other common characteristics associated with slums and they vary from context to context and form country to country. Some of these are:

  • Slums are usually characterized by urban blight and by high rates of poverty and unemployment.
  • They are commonly seen as “breeding grounds” for social problems such as crime, drug addiction, alcoholism, high rates of mental illness and suicide.
  • In many poor countries they exhibit high rates of disease due to unsanitary conditions,malnutrition, and lack basic health care.
  • In many slums, especially in poor countries, many live in very narrow alleys that do not allow vehicles(like ambulances and fire trucks) to pass.
  • The lack of services such as routine garbage collection allows rubbish to accumulate in huge quantities.
  • The lack of infrastructure is caused by the informal nature of the settlements and no planning for the poor by government officials.
  • Many slum-dwellers employ themselves in the informal economy. this can include street vending, drug dealing, domestic work, etc.
  • In some slums, people even recycle trash of different kinds(from household garbage to electronics) for living – selling either the odd usable goods or stripping broken goods for parts or raw materials. This has debilitating and hazardous effects to the people employed to these tasks
  • Generally slum settlements grow on government and semi-government land or lots. Vacant land and public owned places become slums too. Including these are the abandoned buildings/places or by the side of the road.
  • Slum housing materials are very cheap and of low quality such as old gummy polythene bags, straw, corrugated zinc, card boxes, rocks and stones and so forth.
  • In the case of the US, you see abandoned flats or apartments where the poor folks make it their homes.

The world is Still a Ghetto and Slum today

In the United States, most of the “looking like after war” slums or ghettoes, have now mostly been razed to the ground and some have been rehabbed. the rest have been built anew especially in the Bronx and Harlem. The are still slums in America and they still follow the characteristics described by the UN above. Take Camden, New Jersey, for example, there are a lot of boarded houses and there are also signs of construction. About $175 million has been pledged for its rebuilding by the State and local government. In 2004-2005 North Camden was dubbed the most dangerous city in America. it is currently under renovation.


In the slums of Nairobi, you’ll find appalling slum conditions. There is a stench in the air, toilets dug or moving with any flowing water, excrement in plastic bags, garbage dangling from trees, piled-up or burning; animals foraging in the debris; aborted fuses; dead animal carcasses, and garbage composed of all sorts of rubbish garbage, dead animal bodies, excrement and the whole bit washing into a stream. This in turn is affecting the environment. it is estimated that it would take about $50 million to recycle and get rid of the rubbish and garbage.

Sao Paulo

The Shantytown are built of cardboard and scraps of wood and there is no sanitation or running water, and the slums fif-in the spaces between smarter neighborhoods. This city was thrown together and traffic flow was ensured. Elevated freeways and overpasses are often squeezed very close to the buildings that people in cars can see the the slum dwellers watching television fro their apartments or houses. Traffic jams which go on for hundreds of miles are not an uncommon occurrences. Approximately 80,000 people live in this slum and there are gangs who are responsible for and they control the drug trades in numerous slums. The metropolitan city of Sao Paulo has 23 million inhabitants, and it is one of the richest and largest cities in Latin America. Those working in the city whether in formal or informal economies have a hard time meeting their basic needs. Those who do not have title to their lands are at the mercy of living in tenements manipulated by unscrupulous middle men, and there are those who live in the streets because they have on other option. The city has renovated some occupied properties and renovated them for low income tenants and owners.

Govanhill Slum

Slum houses of Govanhill involves some 131 flats in the area bounded by Westmoreland Street, Dixon Avenue, Langside road and Allison Street, and the residents call it “Ground Zero” and it needs comprehensive improvement. Govanhill is plagued by severe , and its existence creates severe dangers to public health, fire risks, anti-social behavior overcrowding, substandard dwelling which are properties of slum landlords and rogue landlords linked to landlords. Those that are mainly affected are 2000 European Union migrants, mostly Roma, from Easter Europe and lack of government support for them. The HM Revenue and Customs are investigating into gangmasters operating in the city. The Holyrod’s Public Petitions committee in a petition warned: “The levels of substandard housing have become a breeding ground for crime, exploitation, poor health, poor educational attainment and cockroach infestations impacting directly on most vulnerable residents in the community and in particular, the new Roma residents who have no choice but to live in these conditions. These social impacts are also beginning to threaten the sustain-ability of the improved tenement stock as private landlords begin to expand their activities by acquiring from private owners desperate to leave the area.” Suggestions have been made for some improvements.

Regent Park: The Ghetto

Through the Late 40’s-early 50’s, Regent was implemented and expanded becoming Canada’s first social engineering project. The apartments were for people who were experiencing financial difficulties. Regent Park started attracting adoptive citizens, and by the 90’s 7 in 10 residents in Regent were minorities. With the passing years it depreciated in value as poverty and unemployment rates soared, then there were higher rates of social ills, crime, gang operations, violence and drug abuse were on the rise.

Canada’s Regents Park Statistics:

  • 70% of Regent Park lives in poverty(below Statistic’s Canada’s Low-income Cut-off rate)
  • Average income for Regent’s residents is approximately half that of general Torontians
  • 20% of individuals in Regent Park reported having no income at all
  • 50% of the population living in Regent Park are 18 years old or younger(the Toronto-wide average is approximately 30%)
  • Only 10% of residents in Regent have successfully completed university

recently the population has be dwindling and people are moved out so as to demolish and revitalize the area.

Japan, Osaka and the Homeless/Slums

The history of the Osaka slums, including Airin, goes back to the 20th Century at the time when Osaka was the heartland of Japans burgeoning industry. The districts of Airin and Kamagasaki was home to a large pool of unemployed and semi employed laborers. Kamagasaki and Airin can be likened to Chicago’s South Side, it’s a place where the history of modern Japan saw the emergence of a radical movement and social welfare initiatives took place.

Umeda, Osaka’s central business district lost about 460,000 jobs since Lehman Brothers Holdings collapsed since September 15, 2008. 2.95 million people in Japan are unemployed and this threatens propel the rise of the homeless. Prime Minister Taro promised 15.4 trillion Yen stimulus package which will include new social safety net for non-regular worker. Japan’s jobless rate will soar to a record of 5.7 by the end of March 2010, the highest since 1953 when records began. Across Japan, 77% of the unemployed people do not receive benefits, which compare with 57% in the US and 13% in Germany. Osaka is a city of 2.64 million people that is 250 miles from Tokyo. Welfare assistance has surged 30% in December and 54% in January. Officials say that the homeless numbers will easily increase, when they had decreased it to 4,024 from 7,757 in 2003. In the early 1980s and 1990s, Airin’s population has swelled to as many as 120,000 in the area the size of a 116 football fields. There were a lot of jobs and accommodation was cheap. Now there are 200 applicants for every job, up form 30 to 40 a year ago. The number of factories in Osaka declined to 16,913 in 2005 from 28,392 as manufacturers moved jobs overseas.(Biggs and Horie)

Kibera Slum

Kibera Slum in Nairobi occupies perhaps a square mile is home to 700,000 people, which is a quarter of the population of Nairobi. There are 9(nine) “villages” that make up the slum of Kibera. In the slums you can rent a 3m square room for 300(GBP2.50) a month, and around more or less 10 people can live in it. UNICEF helped build 11 pits latrines and now they are closed because sanitation is a huge problem. This brought about “flying toilets” because people used to “go” on a piece of paper and then threw it on top of someone else’s house roof. The UN Environmental Program the Kiandi(one of the villages) Co-operative have arranged workshops to train in working of flushing toilets, and they have now built three toilet blocks with septic tanks, and every user is charged 2.5 pennies and members pay 300(GBP2.50) a month. Each block makes 25,000(GBP200) a month which is used for maintenance. These toilets blocks were designed for 200 people each, and they are the best facilities for miles, and are now used by 1000 people everyday, and the sceptic tanks need to be emptied every week, costing 16,000s(GBP130) There is a tap outside the block toilets, and water is charged 2s((2p, GBO 0.02) per 20 liters , and there’s a flat space for washing clothes and a lot of women come and the company charges more for water.

The Slums of Sao Paulo

The city of Sao Paulo has a population of more than 20 million people, and this is where pulverizing poverty is side by side with extreme wealth. There is no running water in the flats and some foul smelly water oozes from the foundation and they do not even know its source. Kidnappings are on the rise in Sao Paulo, there is violence, crime, assaults and traffic is a nightmare. It is larger in size and population than New York It is constantly plagued by smog that hovers and covers the sky. On any given day there are 2,000 assaults and 25 murders. Some four million cars spew 7,000 tons of toxins into the city’s air and 1,000 tons of raw sewage are dumped into its main river. There are only 4.6 meters of vegetation per inhabitant – three times less than that recommended by the United Nations. More than half the families in Sao Paulo live and survive on $150 per month and live in either substandard housing or outright slums like those living near Tete river. In the 1980s drought and a declining and stagnating economy brought new immigrants from Bahia and the jobs they had hoped for vanished. Increasing overpopulation and economic hard times generated problems of crime, poverty and air pollution plague Sao Paulo today. There are some programs of cleaning the sewerage systems and one million dollars for city populations access to public service; addressing the issues of pollution, park areas; restoration of historical buildings and alternative housing for the city’s poorest citizens.

Shantytowns Barrios, Caracas, Venezuela

Caracas was founded in 1567 by the conquistador Diego de Lozada and was named after Los Caracas, the ferocious Caribbean Indians who lived in that region. The city has grown in the last 40 years and attracted people from all over South America, filling-in the valley and climbing up the steep sides of the surrounding hills. These new districts, known as barrios or ranchos – slums – are home to more than 50% of Caracas’s 3.8 million inhabitants. As in Sao Paulo or Bogota, whole streets are privatized an controlled by private militias. The gap between the rich and poor is constantly widening in the cities of developing countries reminiscent of industrialized nations like the US and United Kingdom. In 1979, the income of the richest 1 per cent of U.S. households was ten times that of average household in Caracas; by 1997, it was twenty-three times greater. It is a crowded, chaotic, often without access to water or electricity distressing living conditions. Their houses are built o unsafe hillside and many are so poorly built that they beome destroyed whenever there is heavy rain. Hugo Chavez came into power and promised better conditions, by issuing a presidential Decree 1,666 and commuity CTUs were born. The Presidential Order said that any family that could prove that they built their house could apply and become the legal owner. The CTU now represents close to 5.7 million people out of a total of Venezuelan population of 25 million. After the mudslides of January 5, 2006,groups of desperate homeless people took over abandoned residential buildings in the center of Caracas. The Mayor of Caracas, Juan Barreto said he was not going to tolerate this. The opposition felt that when the government takes over farms and businesses,by the same token the state encourages illegal takeovers by the people. CTU have discussed housing, clean water and electricity. Some of Venezuela’s vast oil profits were used to set-up a $142.5 million fund on October 2005. Some progress is apparent, albeit slow.

The Dharavi Slums of Mumbai

Dharavi slums are the largest in Asia and have an appalling stench, filth and dense humanity. It is a place. India contains one-sixth of the world’s population and only 7-15% work in formal employment. 70% of the the country is rural. At least 40 million have been displaced by big dams that generate little electricity and frequently fail to supply water to the villages that need it most. This is a place where the sale of emergency contraceptives has increases by 50% every month. In Mumbai, 53% of the population lives in slums, but unlike Delhi, its hard to see the real faces behind these statistics. The blogs are segregated into blocks mostly in central and northern Mumbai . Rent ranges from $25 to $4 a month. At more than one million people per square mile, that add to more than overpopulated in terms of real estate. The slums began when the French began erecting walls and sewer systems around the poorest areas of their colonies to keep sickness away as germs had yet to be discovered. Now Dharavi is a 21st century stain and slum- a heart shaped hole in the Universe where human souls have been substituted for cheap leather,clay, plastic, tin, aluminum, and other raw materials that toxic factories of Dhavarti produce. The incredibly small, smokey stone-walled factories make the world of Charles dickens look like a British Tea party. The men work here for a few years, die of poisoning or lung cancer, and are replaced all too often form the convenient surplus population of 2.5 million slumdogs. The superfluous, supernumerary people who drop like lemmings. This is called the informal sector. The surroundings are littered with mountains of garbage, with people using that to relieve themselves. At night, these streets are a malaise of moving death as they are invaded by hordes of gigantic rats and rodents at the bottom, and at eye -level the smoke from the lit cotton of the pottery kilns blinds the residents in thick black clouds. There is some development taking place although the dwellers prefer apartments with open spaces and parks, not the development that is done within the slums themselves.

Manila Slums

People in this slum live in “squatter” shanty homes and it is home for some workers, urban poor,peasants, students, street vendors,jeepney and tricycle drivers, women and senior citizens along with children. The system has been in crisis for some time now and it is unable to deliver life’s basic necessities; jobs and a living wage; affordable quality health care, education and food security. Between April 2007 and April 2008 the labor force grew by only 81,000 and the number of the unemployed rose by 249,000. in 2008, the number of employed persons fell by 168,000 and no employment was generated by April and jobs were being lost at a time when pries and inflation were skyrocketing. The UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported on september 2008 that “up to 500,000 people are enduring poor health services, unsanitary conditions and are fleeing fighting between the government and Muslim rebels in the South. Many people have been displaced by fleeing the conflict affected areas. The slums are still there and festering with human misery and decrepitness is still as worse without much reprieve yet in sight.

Slums of Jakarta

With the recent monsoon came the storms,and with them tidal surges that ate into the coast and destroyed the library and 30 or so houses. The sums of Jakarta is a vast labyrinth of houses and narrow walkways, and has seven neighborhoods and few people know how big it is. One neighborhood has 80 houses and 175 families in an area less than 5,000 square meters. The people live so close to water that they are subjected to regular flooding,with poorly constructed drainage system and no barriers from the shoreline. The floods bring more than just knee-deep dirty water in so much skin problems, fever and respiratory infections are common. The slum dweller earn 12 cents for a kilogram of peeled shellfish. Most residents earn less than $3 a day in a city where clean water can cost a dollar, that sanitation is not on everyone’s top list. These slum dwellers are a growing group of the urban poor who have little or no access to affordable health-care, education and economical opportunities. They usually do informal work and as a result are vulnerable to disasters, mostly flooding or fire, which occur regularly. Over 200,000 to 300,000 people come to Jakarta every year looking for opportunities. They are unwanted residents of the city(NGO) Children play barefoot beside drains full of murky-green stagnant water, families cook evening meals on the streets and goats forage on top of massive garbage dumps. People eat twice a day and a very high percentage of children are malnourished. According to UN Human Rights Settlements Program Seo Companies(UN-HABITAT) there were nearly 21 million slum residents in Indonesia in 2001-2003. Extreme weather and changing climate makes life even more precarious for the dwellers. The dwellers are still looking for alternative to bettering themselves because they have no other alternative.

Slums are found all over the world and they have become part of our perceived natural landscape. We have so gotten used to them, we are now desensitized as to their existence. It is like seeing homeless people anywhere in the big cities of the world, we jump over them, ignore them and make them invisible to our conscience and sight. This is not a new phenomena, and many people either grew up in slums or know about them. The Whole World is a Ghetto because the problem of slums persists and it is growing. Some governments are trying to address this social malaise, others continue to steadfastly refuse to give aid and respite to the dwellers. It is important we get the whole picture in a global and holistic sense as to this pandemic. Aids is prevalent in these slums because of lack of permissible behavior, crime, alcoholism, diseases and so forth. Our awareness should be that this is not only a particular continent, or country problem, but something that will help in giving us a teachable moment about Slums and what they are doing to our fellow human being and to us who are not living in those slums. For us, as a human race, to have a serious and well developed civilization, this will be determined by by history how we treat our most poor, wretched, and down-trodden and how we are making it better and live-able for them. If we cannot do that, the fact remains that these slums are never and will not be out of sight and out of mind. They will always be a sore sight and a burden to our conscience, thus making us a race of humans living in a globe that is a mega-slum: thus, The World is a Ghetto! if we do not take heed of this human suffering and underdevelopment.


Categories: Colonialism, Discrimination, Economic Exploitation, Economics, Economy, Health Care, Imperialism, International, Labor, Media & Culture, U.S. News, Workers Struggle

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