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Published by: tialena on May 24, 2012
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A “slum” as defined at an Expert Group Meeting by UN-HABITAT and its partners
in November 2002 is: a settlement in an urban area in which more than half of
the inhabitants live in inadequate housing, and lack basic services. The definition
was further refined to make it operational: A slum household is a group of
individuals living under the same roof in an urban area who lack one or more of
the following five conditions:


•Durable housing

•Sufficient living area

•Access to improved water

•Access to sanitation

•Secure tenure

The widespread prevalence of slums and the rapidly escalating number of slum
dwellers across urban settlements reflects a gross failure of the State to provide
adequate housing to its citizens. Faced with no opportunities to access affordable
and adequate housing and with no available alternatives, a large and rapidly
accelerating percentage of urban dwellers across the world find themselves
forced to live in adequate conditions, in what are widely known as slums today.
While the nature of slums and their characteristics might differ greatly across
geographical regions and cultures, the common underlying feature is the difficult
social and economic conditions and manifest deprivations that they pose to
their inhabitants.

According to UN-HABITAT, there are approximately 998 million slum dwellers
in the world today, compared to 715 million slum dwellers in 1990, reflecting
an unprecedented rise in the growth of slums. One out of every three city
dwellers – nearly one billion people – lives in slums. Most of the slum dwellers
in Southern Asia – 63 percent, or almost 170 million people – reside in
India. 56

Mumbai with a population of 18.3 million is the fourth largest urban
agglomeration in the world, after Tokyo, Mexico City and New York-Newark.
More people live in Mumbai’s slums than in the entire country of Norway.57

While there is talk of improving the lives of slum dwellers, including the
Millennium Development Goals, it is generally more rhetorical than practical
and tends to leave out the majority of people living in slums. Demolishing
slums, as is the current trend, is definitely not the answer to improving living
conditions of the working poor. While slum upgradation must be undertaken in
order to guarantee the provision of basic services such as clean and safe drinking
water, electricity, sanitation and healthcare, the simultaneous policy focus has
to be on addressing structural causes of rural-urban migration, and on

56.State of the World’s Cities 2006/7: The Millennium Development Goals and Urban Sustainability: 30 Years
of Shaping the Habitat Agenda, United Nations Human Settlements Programme, 2006.

57.Ibid, p. 24.


addressing trends of land agglomeration, real estate speculation, unchecked
growth of the land and housing market, and the absence of public and social
housing programmes sponsored by the state for low income groups. Unless a
human rights approach is adopted to address the manifold factors that result
in inadequate housing conditions in slums, the majority of city residents will
continue to face multiple human rights violations.

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