What are the biggest slums in the world?

What are the biggest slums in the world?

This is the continuity of the ‘Slum Series’, the first part of which was published on Wednesday. Three modes of definitions of a slum out of 12 – as outlined by David A Smith, of the Affordable Housing Institute – were cited in the first piece. Today three more will be given, but by now many readers already have a general idea what slums are made of, and why they are allowed to stand, despite the ‘negative image’ they give to a city.

From there, readers will be taken on a trip to see what the biggest slums are in the world, and how many are there.

  • Smith said: a slum is a self-built spontaneous community

“Emerging-world slums are self-built. People immigrate to the city in search of a better life – and they are right to do so, because for all its faults, the city offers them better income prospects and education for their children.

“Upon arrival, immigrants find too little housing to accommodate them, so they build their own, applying their own skills on found or scavenged materials. They build what they can live in, nothing more. In time, they densify what once was rural or peri-urban.”

Johannesburg and its region of Gauteng in South Africa have many of such ‘squatter camps’, where economic migrants from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, among others, have built their ‘houses’ and settled in while looking for job or business opportunities, and therefore mingling with poor locals.

Sometimes tensions mount between locals and these migrants, with the former accusing them of taking away their building space, jobs and business opportunities, wives and girl-friends, and bringing Aids into the country.

There are 184 slums in the city of Johannesburg alone.

  • Smith said a slum is a place where private investment has outrun public infrastructure

“At the beginning, most slums are consciously ignored by the formal city. (“Maybe they’ll go away”). The slum dwellers settle on land that is available to them – usually poor quality, sloping, flood-prone, or downwind of the paper mill.

“This poor-quality land lacks infrastructure. Roads emerge from the dirt and mud between buildings. Water is bought from vendors and carried home in bottles. Toilets are pit latrines (at best, many slums use ‘bush toilets,’ defecating in the open) with night soil carried away by wheelbarrow. Electricity comes through jury-rigged wiring that bypasses meters.”

Slums in South Africa were mostly the legacy of apartheid, whereby whites chased blacks from the places they were living, forcing them to settle on the outskirts of the city, usually in places not suitable for human habitation.

These people had no choice but to build and settle wherever and whenever they felt fit. And today, 19 years after freedom saw the light and apartheid was ‘buried down’, these slums are still there, still informal and still ‘inhabitable’, and still in horrible state. The government has done something to ‘formalise’ some of them (paved roads, electricity, formal toilets, safe drinking water, healthcare clinics, adequate waste collection), but it is still a long way to go… And many more being born every day, as urbanisation roars and bites the country here and there.

  • Smith said a slum is a wealth-extraction machine

“Slums extract wealth from their slum dwellers: it costs money to sleep on the pavements of Delhi or Mumbai (India). Wealth leaches out in protection, in

bakshish to public officials to look the other way, in rent paid to absentee landlords (or their intermediary rent collectors), and in high unit costs for basics like poor-quality water or sanitation. These costs are priced and consumed at people’s subsistence level, because it’s expensive to be poor.”

Those who have watched the movie Slumdog Millionaire (directed by Danny Boyle, 2008) have an idea what is like living in a slum in India.

Now for the big one: the world has five biggest slums, according to a news report by Daniel Tovrov published in the International Business Times.

  1. Neza-Chalco-Itza: in Mexico City, Mexico, the world’s largest slum with roughly four million people
  2. Orangi Town: in Karachi, Pakistan, only 10 years old but already houses   close to 1.5 million people
  3. Dharavi: in Mumbai, India. After Orangi, the largest slum in Asia, one million residents
  4. Khayelitsha: in Cape Town, South Africa. 400 000 residents in 2005, but reported to have doubled by 2010. Township with large portion of youth population, with 40% of its residents under 19 years and only about 7% over the age of 50.
  5. Kibera: in Nairobi, Kenya. Something between 200 000 and one million live here.

*Photo by Charles Squatter Settlement. Kibera slum in Kenya.

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