Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 03:20 | SYDNEY
Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 03:20 | SYDNEY

900 million slum dwellers, and counting

16 June 2010 15:16

Mary Fifita is a Lowy Institute intern working on a Policy Brief series tracking China's aid program in the Pacific.

Even for those of us enduring Sydney's infrastructure woes, the devastating poverty, inadequate housing and substandard living conditions which result from accelerated urbanisation seem like a world away. But you don't have to look much further than our immediate neighbourhood to encounter these issues. In Fiji, for example, there has been a progressive move of the country's population from rural villages to urban centres, with over half the population now living in urban areas, predominantly on Viti Levu.

Tomorrow, more than 100 key international development minds from across the Asia Pacific will descend on Sydney for a Lowy Institute conference titled, 'Advancing Innovative Development and Aid Strategies in the Asia-Pacific: Accelerating the Millennium Development Goals'.

The delegates' ideas on MDG seven are what I'll be looking out for. It includes the target of trying to achieve significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.

Some UN agencies argue that the expansion of slums in the developing world will be one of the greatest challenges to face humanity this century. This UN-HABITAT report claims the number of people living in slums grew from 35 million to 900 million in the past 50 years, and during the next 25 years, this figure is estimated to increase by a billion. UN-HABITAT's 2007 annual report identifies sustainable urbanisation as one of the biggest problems facing the global community.  

As urban populations continue to inflate, the amenities, infrastructure and job opportunities do not. Thus, many of the rural migrants arrive in urban areas without jobs or money and end up finding shelter in illegal squatter settlements. If they can find work, it will often be as part of the informal sector. This makes them more vulnerable to exploitation and displacement as they are effectively invisible renters and workers. It also makes individual and community progress hard to measure, especially in terms of the MDGs, which are based on quantitative measures.

This situation is common in many urban centres throughout the world. Yet despite the magnitude of the problem, this MDG is in need of more attention and research. I look forward to reading the recommendations resulting from this week's conference.

Photo by Flickr user Cak-cak, used under a Creative Commons license.