Slums: Beginning a Global Profile


Generally defined as a heavily populated urban area characterized by substandard housing and access to basic services, overcrowding, insecure tenure, and social exclusion. A slum is typically not recognized and addressed by public authorities as an integral or equal part of the city. Further, this definition can take two categorizations: Informal settlements such as squatter settlements and Declining communities in which conditions have degenerated due to neglect. Informal (improvisational) economic activities of slums are closely intertwined with the city’s formal economy and informal services located in slums often extend to the whole city in terms of clientele.


Over 30% of world’s urban population resides in slums

This type of urban living is particularly prevalent in developing regions accounting for 43% of all urban population (vs 6% in developed regions)

It is projected that population residing in slums will increase to 2 billion (approximately double) by 2030 if current trends persist

Population, specifically urban population, is growing rapidly in less developed countries – slums are a reservoir for much of this growth as formal construction, infrastructure, and building programs are unable to keep pace with these increases

Urban populations growing faster than the capacity of cities to support them

Slum formation diagram

UN Millennium Development Goals, Target 11

By 2020, to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.

Builds upon the Cities Alliance’s Cities Without Slums initiative. The Cities Alliance was founded in 1999 by the World Bank and UN-Habitat, and h has expanded to 18 members, including leading global associations of local authorities, ten bilateral agencies and four multilateral agencies. It is a paradox that the greatest global challenges – urbanization and urban poverty – are increasingly being managed at the local level. This is at the heart of our research.

“In facing the challenge of slums, urban development policies should more vigorously address the issue of livelihoods of slum dwellers and urban poverty in general, thus going beyond traditional approaches that have tended to concentrate on improvement of housing, infrastructure, and physical environmental conditions. Slums are, to a large extent, a physical and spatial manifestation of urban poverty, and the fundamental importance of this fact has not always been recognized by past policies aimed at either the physical eradication or the upgrading of slums. Slum policies should seek to support the livelihoods of the urban poor, by enabling urban informal sector activities t flourish, linking low-income housing development to income generation, and ensuring easy access to jobs through pro-poor transport and low-income settlement location policies.”
The Challenge of Slums, Global Report on Human Settlements 2003 – UN Human Settlements Programme


General urban housing standards have improved in last decade. Until the financial crisis of 1997, formal building kept pace with urban growth. Some countries, such as Thailand have continued to improve their urban conditions. However, most urban populations grew faster then the capacity of cities to support them, so slums increased, particularly in South Asia.

Sub-Saharan Africa
Most cities in sub-Saharan Africa and some in Northern Africa showed considerable housing stress. Slum areas increased significantly and the rate of slum improvement was slow or negligible in most places. In South Africa, a very large housing program reduced the numbers of informal settlements substantially.

Latin America
In some countries there has been wholesale tenure regularization and a large drop in numbers of squatter households, reducing the number of slums under most definitions. Also, urbanization reached saturation levels so slum formation slowed. Still, housing deficits remain high and slums a prominent in most cities.

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