In 2001, almost a billion people were living in shanty towns, and by around 2030 this figure will have doubled. In the world’s poorest countries, as many as 80% of the population are confined to these deprived areas. But wealthy countries are not exempt from the phenomenon either: they too have ghettos where poverty and social exclusion are endemic
Poverty and lack of access to basic services are the characteristics of these overpopulated districts. They have no infrastructure, no houses built of stone or concrete, no access to health services, and no transport services to and from the city. The terrain itself can often be dangerous due to subsidence or the proximity of garbage dumps containing toxic substances.
Built without any kind of planning, wherever there is available space, shanty towns are capable of disappearing as fast as they sprang up, since the inhabitants rarely have any rights of ownership. Sometimes all it takes is a building project for an apartment block, and the bulldozers move in. Sometimes it is the authorities themselves who seize the initiative to destroy a shanty town and expel its inhabitants—maybe because the latter are often perceived as a source of instability, despite being the victims of circumstance. But the expulsion of these people only moves the problem on. It even exacerbates it, increasing levels of poverty by making it more difficult for those who had jobs in the city to continue to work.
Experts suggest a very different approach—one that enables these communities to settle properly in their districts and aims to combat poverty: by helping people to acquire their own pieces of land, or promising them a fair and fixed rent; by giving them access to microcredit so that they can furnish their homes comfortably; and by giving them a role and a voice. Nevertheless, such measures can only be fully effective if they form part of a coherent political commitment backed up by significant investment.