Slums Around the World

Kibera Slum in Nairobi

Kibera Slum in Nairobi

“With over one billion poor people living without adequate shelter and basic services in slums and squatter settlements, the challenge of the urban millennium is to improve the living environment of the poor … we must all dedicate ourselves to the task of ensuring that, one day, we will live in a world of cities without slums,” – Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of UNCHS (United Nations Center for Human Settlements – Habitat).

It is estimated that more than 1 billion people around the world live in slums. By 2030, the world’s slum populations could rise to 2 billion if no action is taken. The markets in their slums sell sour milk, tainted chicken, and spoiled meat. Most have never tasted fresh water and many suffer from starvation and the ravages of diseases, such as AIDS and malaria. According to Dr. Tibaijuka of UNCHS, slum-dwellers not only live in misery, but their plight often goes unnoticed as the traditional focus tends to be on the rural poor living in developing countries.

Beirut Slum

Beirut Slum

The definition of a slum or sqautter settlement varies greatly from country to country, however they all have several things in common. Slums are considered to be a residential area in an urban geographic area that is inhabited by the extremely poor who have no tenured land of their own. These people end up squatting on vacant land, which is either private or public land.

Mumbia Slums - Aerial View

Mumbia Slums - Aerial View

For the poor, urban areas have always provided a means of improving quality of life, as well as being in close proximity to better jobs and incomes. Deteriorating conditions for those who live a rural lifestyle and the promise of a better life have prompted millions of rural inhabitants to migrate to cities.

Kibera Slum, Africa

Kibera Slum, Africa

However, one of the first problems that must be faced is the question of adequate housing. With little money, education, and few marketable skills, the only option available to many urban migrants is to illegally build shelter on a vacant piece of land. This problem is compounded by the uncaring attitudes of various government agencies, who view the development of squatter settlements as something that needs to be eradicated.

Tbilisi Slum near Kipshedse Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia

Tbilisi Slum near Kipshedse Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia

Because of their illegal status, public services within these areas are less than adequate or don’t exist at all. A water supply, electricity, sanitation, roads and drainage; schools, health centers and market places can all be absent in these communities or operate at a minimum level.

Slums of Mumbai, India

Slums of Mumbai, India

Often, water supply to individual households is unavailable. In some cases, public water pipes may be provided, but often these pipes become laden with excrement and refuse.This fetid water is what people use to drink and bathe in.

Similar arrangements may be made for electricity, drainage, and toilet facilities. There is very  little dependence on public authorities. As a result, these areas become a breeding ground for germs and disease. Inhabitants live in squalor. Kibera Slum in Nairobi, Africa, is one example of a slum that operates without any kind of public garbage disposal. Inhabitants literally live on top of their trash.

A “squatter” (in The Concise Oxford Dictionary) is a person who settles public land without title; a person who takes unauthorized possession of unoccupied premises.

Therefore, a residential area occupied by squatters becomes a squatter settlement. But the narrow generalization, especially of settlement type is evident: everything from a brick-and-concrete multistoried house to a “occupied” cardboard carton become “squatter settlements”.

Encyclopedia Britannica defines a slum as “…residential areas that are physically and socially deteriorated and in which satisfactory family life is impossible. Bad housing is a major index of slum conditions. By bad housing is meant dwellings that have inadequate light, air,toilet, and bathing facilities; that are in bad repair and improperly heated; that do not afford opportunity for family privacy; that are subject to fire hazard and that overcrowd the land, leaving no space for recreational use…..”

A few words on some of the world’s biggest slums:

Dhobi Ghat Slum in Mumbai

Dhobi Ghat Slum in Mumbai

DHARAVI SLUM IN MUMBAI, INDIA

Dharavi is a slum that spreads out over parts of the Sion, Bandra, Kurla, and Kalina suburbs of Mumbai, India. Situated in the heart of the world’s third largest city, it occupies an area of 500 acres and has a population of between 600,000 and 1 million people. It continues to grow each day. Dharavi exports goods around the world, and the total turnover of these exported goods is estimated to be more than $650 million US dollars each year.

The re-development of asia’s largest slum has stalled due to the global economic financial crisis.

ORANGI TOWN, PAKISTAN

Asia’s largest slum is located in the northwestern part of Karachi (Pakistan). Its inhabitants are from a number of different ethnic groups. The population of Orangi Town was estimated to be more than 720,000 at the 1998 census.

Man cooking in Kibera Slum, Africa.

Man cooking in Kibera Slum, Africa.

KIBERA SLUM, NAIROBI, AFRICA

Kibera can’t be found on a map, yet at least 550,000 Nairobians – one out of every five – call this area home. Kibera is home to 60 percent of Nairobi’s populations.  Kibera does not receive public services, including public waste collection. In some parts, shelter has literally been built on trash. The waste includes excrement, which fills the muddy streets and contaminates the water. The health hazards arising from the garbage are evident as soon as you enter the slum. Infectious diseases are on the rise and malaria is a huge concern at the moment.  No one is sure exactly how many people live in Kibera. It is estimated that there are 750,000 people in one square mile. It is one of the most crowded places on earth.

Slums of Rio de Janeiro

Slums of Rio de Janeiro

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL

A shanty town in Brazil is called a fevela. These crowded shanty towns differ slightly from slums in terms of origin and location. Slums are created from rural migrants coming into the city. Shanty towns occur when large groups of people become displaced. 

Many favelas have electricity these days, but these areas are virtually inaccessible to vehicles. They consist of irregularly self-constructed housing that are illegally occupied and often built one on top of another. They consist of an ad hoc network of stairways, sidewalks, and simple tracks which allow passage through them. Many of them are built haphazardly on hills that overlook the city’s prosperous neighborhoods. The gap between poverty and wealth has never been so well-illustrated.

There were approximately 300 favelas in Rio de Janeiro in 1969. That number has doubled since then. Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo are home to some of the biggest favelas in Brazil.

The 2008 Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire has brought the day-to-day misery of slum-living to our doors, but is the world ready to do something about it? This remains to be seen. One thing is for certain, something must be done.

Slum Living

Slum Living

How you can help:

Contact UNHABITAT – For a Better Urban Future to find out how you can help to stem this growing crisis.

Habitat for Humanity’s has a vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live. You can help Habitat realize that vision on a Global Village trip. Global Village seeks and mobilizes volunteers for a life-transforming experience, both for the volunteers and for the families whose homes they help build. Global Village provides a platform for volunteers to travel across international borders and work in communities outside their homelands.

Global Village Destinations in the Asia-Pacific region. Come and build in … Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Vanuatu and many other locations in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.

These photos are courtesy of the photographers on Flickr who have released their images through a Creative-Commons lisence.

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52 thoughts on “Slums Around the World

  1. Erica

    Thanks for sharing this, Carrie.

    Made me think of an article read some time ago. The author wrote that many of the people living in the favelas in Rio had never even been to the beach. Have you seen City of God by the way? A great movie that tells the story of two boys growing up in the slums of Rio in the 60's.

    Reply
    • globetrotteri Post author

      Hi Erica,
      Now that\\'s interesting and also a little sad. I spent a month in Argentina, Paraguay, and Uraguay when I graduated from high school. I never made it to Brazil, but that just means I\\'ll get to go back one day. I\\'ll definitely check out your movie recommendation. Sounds great!

      Reply
  2. WildJunket

    Brilliant piece! It's shattering to see so many people suffering in these slums. The slum areas near Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania are also in shockingly bad conditions. Your article is like a waking call. I hope more of us will do our part to stem this crisis.

    Reply
    • globetrotteri Post author

      Thanks Nellie. What\\'s even sadder about all this is that some of these slums were starting to receive redevelopment aid. Now all that has ground to a halt because of the world economy. I read about people all around the world every day talking about how the economy is affecting them in their day-to-day life, and while I don\\'t doubt that their lives are tough, I can\\'t help comparing it to what slum-swellers are going through in these times. Is it possible for their quality of life to get even worse? That\\'s the question that scares me.

      Reply
  3. Tina Wichmann

    I think we all have a responsibility to help our fellow humans, and the people living in poverty need to share in this responsibility. In Africa, one of the biggest challenges that aid workers had was to educate people on birth control. The other issue, is that some of the charity's that are so eager to accept your money, oddly enough don't get to the people that need it most.

    I know many here in China, refuse to give money to the beggars due to the fact that are part of a mafia ring.

    Perhaps one day, things will change, and in the meantime I can only hope our small donations help in some way.

    Reply
    • globetrotteri Post author

      Hi Tina,
      Thanks for stopping by. I agree with what you\\'re saying. I lived in China for three years and was one of those people who refused to give money. That has never stopped me from buying food for people who look hungry. John and I won\\'t give our money away, but we donate to charities and we have fed at least one person in every country we\\'ve visited. I don\\'t think there\\'s any point in visiting a country if you are just passing through and turning a blind eye to those in need. It only takes a small donation to make one person smile at least for a day.

      Reply
      • Tina Wichmann

        I agree. What I have learned over the many years of travelling, is that I rarely give money and either give the poor a meal, or donate clothing. We will usually take extra clothing when we travel and donate to the local people. We can only hope that we make at least small difference in their lives.

        Reply
        • globetrotteri Post author

          Hi Tina. Thanks for coming back and commenting. I just checked out your blog and see that you are in Xiamen. I am looking forward to reading more of your adventures. John and I always save up our toothbrushes that we collect from hotels and hand them out. It sounds stupid, but no one has ever said no! ;-)

          Reply
          • Mark Wichmann

            Toothbrushes? That's a perfect idea – free to us and a great gift to them. We given pens, ballcaps, and other nonsense items. We've been hoarding toothbrushes for ourselves, mainly because nobody else has the mini toothpaste that we can easily travel with.

            Is it always hard to see such poverty and to see people trying to extract cash by playing on your sympathy. We just always feel that they don't get to keep any money, but that it gets passed upward to people that just add to the problem of keeping them uneducated and down in the slums. It'd be great if there was a simple solution that would work to help to educate while not having people skim money and take advantage….

            We like your toothbrushes idea – we should all start taking all of the free items in hotels to distribute to charities everywhere.

          • globetrotteri Post author

            Mark,
            First of all, I really like your blog. I can relate to all your stories about living in China, as I lived there too for three years. Like you, I\\'m always cautious about handing out money, but we\\'ve found that food and other personal items are just as warmly accepted.

  4. air ticket sales

    Very interesting article. I have not many slums on my own eyes but a few years ago i visited Cape Town and a slum nearby this city was almost the same as those you are describing..

    Reply
  5. globetrotteri Post author

    Craig,
    I haven\\'t been to the Dharavi slum in Mumbai, but I expect it would just break my heart. I had a hard time walking through the streets of Phnom Penh and keeping my head up. Old bleeding heart here.

    Reply
  6. Tobie Openshaw

    Hi Carrie you can search for photos or stories on names like Gugulethu, Crossroads Squatter Camp, and Nyanga. I did a quick search, I am rather busy this morning, but you will find some stories and images. I spent some time in Crossroads in the 80's, I might go and take some photos there when I go to SA for a visit in August.

    Reply
    • globetrotteri Post author

      Hi Tobie,
      There are so many slums, shanty towns, and squatter settlements throughout the world, it was hard to pick just a few to write about. I\\'ll be sure to check out the places that you mentioned. Where can I see you Crossroads photos?

      Reply
  7. saif

    Its shocking to see the inhumane condition in world’s third largest slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Hope humanity will prevail there soon.

    Reply
  8. Jenn

    Thank you for your post. I’ve also seen various slums around the world, and it is truly sad to see. Yet, I’m always fascinated by how content the people living there seem. I suppose their lack of materialism and strong sense of family help to keep them grounded.
    I am going to check out the Unhabitat website, and see what I can contribute to their cause.

    Thanks much!

    Reply
    • Carrie Post author

      Hi Jenn,

      Thank you. I’m glad you found it informative. You’ll have to let me know what you think of the Unhabitat site. I think it’s brilliant.

      Reply
  9. Guilherme Fragomeni

    Hello Carrie!

    I´m a Brazilian lawyer and I´m working with environmental and urban law in the city of Curitiba-PR (south of Brazil). Liked your work, just out of curiosity, we call our slums FAVELAS because they started to get general attention in the city of Rio de Janeiro, spreading over hills too inclined for “legal” constructions. In these hills there was a typical plant called “favela”, that´s the reason for the name.

    I saw another post saying that many people from RIo´s favelas have never seen the ocean. That sounds a bit absurd considering most of Rio´s favelas have a gorgeous view to the ocean and are (at the most) a hour and half walk from the beach. But the movie “city of god” is a really good insight on Rio´s favelas, and so is “Tropa de Elite”.

    Take care!

    Reply
    • Carrie Post author

      Hi Guilherme,
      Thank you very much for stopping by to comment on this post. I’ve just started looking into the favelas in Brazil. I would like to learn more about them. Is there a group that you could put me in touch with?

      Reply
      • guilherme fragomeni

        Hi Carrie

        Unbelievable..but almost after one year I saw your reply….and that because I “googled” my name to see what would come up.

        Anyway…I can indicate you some private and public organizations linked to works in favelas, just send me your email! I think you have my mail

        Better late than never….

        Guilherme

        Reply
  10. Loyal Moon

    Nice article. This in human way of life in terms of living in poverty, is the subject in which most would sadly ignore, however a very very bad nightmare for those who could never imagine this suffering in overdrive. My name is Loyal Moon I am from and reside in the U.S.A. I have always been struck down by the knowing of terror happening to people all over the world. I will never experience the biological family for I have never known them, sorry to say. I believe someday I will rise and let the world know me for my staggering talents in, Leadership, Music, Astronomy, Writing Books, True Charities and so so much more. Carrie you will be rewarded. You have the eyes that can see what is happening. I look forward in meeting you someday mabe we can help each other revive the the World.

    Reply
  11. alex

    Excellent read, I grew up in Nairobi, Kenya and had the experience of being invited to a young man’s shack in Kibera, it is something that I will never forget. Growing up in Kenya and being half Mexican I have seen a number of slums across the world but Kibera is shocking. As you said the houses are literally built on rubbish and often from rubbish. Someone replied on your article about how these people seem to be content living in slums, but in my opinion this is not content, it is not having had the privilege to experience something better. As the saying goes “you don’t miss what you never had”. But speaking to people from Kibera and other similar slums in Kenya you can tell that they have no opportunity to improve their economic situation as governments and NGO’s see these slums as a way of providing them a very comfortable living.
    I always asked my dad why he drives a shitty car in Kenya and his response was “I am here to help the Kenyans improve their standard of living and donors pay for us to be here, I would be a hypocrite if I drove around in a flashy Mercedes asking people for money to help Africa.”
    This opened my eyes in seeing how many rich people there are in east Africa who say they are there to help but in reality they are just helping themselves.

    Reply
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  13. Ju

    Where are the other slums? You put only in countries that are considered poor. And where are the slums of the developed countries? I know that there are. Or do you think there is only poverty in these countries that you showed? It’s the world’s hypocrisy.

    Reply
    • Sarah

      Dear Ju,
      She was mentioning that she shows some of the BIGGEST slums around, in richer countries the slums dont get that big. I know in Hong Kong there are some too, this is nothing compared to what I saw in Africa or in India. And yes…there are some “ghetto’s” and trailerparks in USA and other “rich” countries with people havin a hard time getting by. I have lived in a squad before…but it aint a slum…it doesnt mean Im rich either, but Im very thankful that I dont have to go throug the garbage for food and built my own shelter.

      Reply
  14. Kennedy Odede

    My name is Kennedy Odede, am 25 years old and currently studying in the United States. I was born in Kibera slums and spent my entire 23 years in one of the largest slum in Africa. I saw the picture and reminded me of my home and my life. Kibera is a slum but has taught me a lot in life. Kibera has been my teacher since I was born. I know what it means to live under $ 1 per day, a day can pass without food, I had to walk for 45 minutes to fetch the water. Life is difficulty in the slums. Why do we have slums? We have slums because some people have too much than what they need. There is no equal distribution of the resources. Otherwise we can defeat poverty but some people must suffer in the expense of others to be the “big wigs”. The vision 2030 are words unless the “big wigs” are ready to abandon selfish desires.

    Reply
  15. SillySarah

    Wow, i just stumbled upon this site by looking for a place to donate clothes in Rio de Janeiro, which is my next trip. I have travelled a lot and saw many poor people. Never I give money, just food and water, clothes, pens, balloons, a kind smile and conversations and positivity. Although poor, some seem to be happy than the rich anyway, cause they have dreams, dreams of food and just a roof over their heads. Humbled by the Nepali with their usual diet of just plain rice whilst living in those mountains, houses made of cow dung, I slept in those and its sooo different.

    in Rio there are many favela’s, I saw that Guilherme didnt answer back, but I saw this site just a few hours ago. Its http://www.bealocal.com
    They give tours through the favela’ Rocinha. They take you out by motorbike and walk into the favela. My trip will be on 30st of March, I think my friend Carla, who lives there, will get a heart attack if I tell her that I wanna go visit. Im not afraid that much, just carefull sometimes. Most people are good, born good and got corrupted on the way sometimes just by circumstances. If I was a millionaire I would know what to do with the money. There is soooo much, if only every paycheck person would give up their wages for one month, you know how much good you could do? I have dreams…big ones…and I will not give up dreaming. :D

    Reply
  16. Khalid Nadeem

    I think, we can remove these slum from the map of world, if every rich of the world donate the some percentage of his income, every year.

    Reply
    • JOSHWA

      I have been living in Kibera slums in Nairobi Kenya , one of the third largest slums in the world and i have believed that something can be done to make it much better and already i have formed my organisation . KIBERA COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT ORGANISATION (KCEO)to empower people to develops the slum situation

      Reply
      • James Reeves

        We share interests, to empower people to develop the slum situation. Please contact me to share ideas.
        Thanks,
        Jim Reeves
        San Antonio, Texas

        Reply
  17. SAI FRED

    what you see on pictures does not bring a real reflection of life in a slum.pay a visit and be part of the slum community then you will know life is not easy in such places.i have lived in one! i know how it feels.

    Reply
  18. Dina Al Khalili

    Hi Carrie,
    BBCW ran a piece about Journalists around the world and the life threatning situations they are often put in in 3rd world countries. Part of it was about this British journalised who made an award winning short film about slum children in India – following that on the news was Rio’s slum raids for drug traffickers… This was 10 minutes ago, I googled world’s largest slums and I got your link :)

    I live in Oman, a 3rd but developing world country where the government grants people lands and housing. So a slum here is no where to be found. We do however have poor people, but after reading your article , it seems that our poor people could do something about it (maybe not much but they got it good compared to the people in the slums)

    I get very tired of reading about how “we” should do something about it, without mentioning how. As some of the readers mentioned above, giving or donating money might not be always the best solution, for lack of knowledge of where that money actually goes.
    Donating material always works for me, the basic food items and sanitary products, school material and clothes, used books…etc.

    Because Oman’s population consists of people who are originally African (Zanzibari – Tanzanian) those often carry on food or clothes drives for Tanzania. A friend of mine helped open a school in Zanzibar and people donated everything they can think of relevant to school and education.

    Alot of people refuse to make donations or any kind of contriubtion to other countries, with the excuse that “since we have poor people here, why should I help outisde the country” – and I too used to think that was logical – until I read this. Now, I don’t mind, or should I say, I will send the suitcase of clothes and items to Tanzania because alot there simply don’t have anything.

    Thank you. Please excuse typos, i’m using my phone.
    P.S. I LOVE the idea of hotel toilettries and will start doing that! :)

    Reply
  19. Ajay Ranga

    Very good research work. I am also working on crime in slums. If you can help in my research on crime in slums . I shall be very thankful.

    Reply
  20. Philip Wyatt

    The situation of slums is only ever going to get worst and it’s all down to over-population. What will happen in 50 years time when the world population doubles and resourses run out.

    Anyone who thinks you can eradicate poverty is living in a dream world. Civil wars, mass starvation will happen without a doubt. All the crap in the middle east kicked off because of lack of food in certain countries, but know one reports that!

    There is no answer unless you bring in a world law of one baby per family for the next 50 years. Radical I know, but the only way. It won’t happen so the only other way is mass misery. I would hate to be born now!!!

    Reply
  21. Ellermann

    More green zones, more controlling of metals in use for chemical and production plants, minor population and anti slum law (persons to settled proscribed per m²).

    signed

    Ellerman

    Reply
  22. sentongo george

    Thanks so much for providing this web, Am a ugandan and live in uganda, Rakai district, Kalisizo town. I’ve a diploma in Architecture, Right now am trying to arrange our town by educating people how to live in an organized environment but the task is to big, bi course of the poverty. there for if there someone out there who can help and we start up a project for building for poor people at less costs but organized houses may contact me though that address or call +256702365020. pliz lets do it before it worse. thanks

    Reply
  23. amee

    thanks so much. i am a food blogger and just came across this site while searching for “my seven links”…I am glad you gave us an extra chance to read this post. thanks for sharing this one.

    Reply
  24. guruben

    hi friends, i am an architect cum planner from India,i did my bachelor in INDIA and then i did my masters in urban and regional planning in FRANCE. i found this link while i searching the data regarding my research on Urban slums in developing and developed countries,

    As far as slums concern there is no proper,housing,basic facilities and income. but you can see the slums formed because of the above three factors, Rural population migrating from rural to urban for the better life, but again they failed to get all the above three factors.due to income vs current market rate of land value in cities.

    Perhaps there are lot of funds have been spent for the slum rehabilitation, development , regeneration, by the Government sector in all across the world. but there is no significant changes in the slum population in the cities.
    my suggestion on the slum issues in urban areas:
    make the awareness programme by advertisement, taking international movies. include the slum subject in the academic syllabus.
    Government must work along with the private sector and NGO to redress the slum issues.
    use the available resources effective and do not create the waste out of available resources.
    thanks …we hope one day we will live with no issues…

    Reply
  25. guruben

    development of a settlements must be focus on two factors, clean water and pure air , this two address all the other factors…

    Reply
  26. Dabiha

    I have spent considerable time in Nairobi and send time in Kibera. It is a slum and the people are organized resilient and solving their problems one day at a time. Like in USA the more privileged in Nairobi have never been in Kibera. I do a lot of work in SE Seattle zip code 98118 is among the most diverse in every socio economic and religious category. We seldom have Seattle residents living in northern communities come to Rainier Valey. Yet they collect money create gimmicky solutions and create an economy for themselves based on the misery of others. This is the how so many see Kibera it is so difficult for others to see any good the comes fron self efficacy. I have all my clothing made by a young woman that a small investment in the SACODEN NGO income generation project allowed her to create her own business. she is now returned to school, pays her children school fees and employs others. If you just take a photo of her 10 x 10 shop you might miss the dynamic of who she is. I get all of my photos downloaded at the tiny copy shop in the Makena Market. Yes, I see children on trash heaps but each year I see more and more children in school because of mothers launching their micro businesses. When we on USA, London, Rio, and all areas aligned with the world’s poorest can walk into these areas and see from an internal rather external filter we could solve these problems quicker.

    Reply

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