Shelter is a fundamental human right, but it’s a right that is denied to many. It is estimated that one out of every seven people live in a slum or squatter settlement without adequate water, sanitation or public services. The problem is being compounded by mass migration from rural to urban areas, as well as by population growth within cities – particularly in low-income countries. Cities in developing countries are expected to absorb 95% of urban population growth in the next two decades, and city populations are growing by more than 200,000 new inhabitants each day. At current rates, 1.4 billion people could be living in slums by 2020.
Slums are often associated with squalor, crime and desperation, but they can also be home to vibrant and creative communities. While slum dwellings have little economic value, the land which they occupy is often worth billions of dollars. State authorities and developers often ‘solve’ the slum problem by bulldozing them and driving out the inhabitants; but in doing so they destroy communities and drive people even deeper into poverty. A more humane solution is slum upgrading, in which slums are gradually transformed into healthy living environments.
UN-Habitat (the United Nations Human Settlements Programme) provides access to the biennial Global Report on Human Settlements, plus other background documents. Also at the UN, the World Health Organization promotes an Urban Health program.
Reall assists slum dwellers and homeless people to improve their lives and find lasting solutions to urban poverty.
Slum Dwellers International is a group of organisations that advocates for the urban poor, particularly in the area of housing.
The International Institute for Environment and Development works to reduce poverty and improve health and housing conditions in the urban centres of Latin America, Asia and Africa.
Homelessness has many causes: illness, unemployment, drugs, foreclosure, and domestic violence are just a few examples. The subprime mortgage crisis that began in 2008 drove hundreds of thousands of Americans, many of them middle class, out of their homes and into cars or tent cities. Over 100,000 Australians are homeless, many sleeping in boarding houses or on the streets.
The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions acts internationally to protect people’s right to housing.
The Asian Coalition for Housing Rights works with the urban poor to reduce evictions, improve community environments and strengthen grassroots action.
StreetSmart raises funds and awareness to provide critical services and emergency aid as well as promoting social inclusion, empowerment and sustainable change for homeless people.
Homelessness Australia is the national peak body working to prevent and respond to homelessness in Australia.
For the 3.5 billion people who still live in rural areas, economic wellbeing depends heavily on access to land. In many countries land ownership is concentrated in the hands of a small minority, while the majority live as tenants with few legal rights. More than a billion people live in this situation, causing entrenched poverty cycles to persist over generations.
The Landesa Rural Development Institute works with governments and local organisations to improve the land rights of the rural poor.
Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement (MST) is one of the largest social movements in Latin America. It helps its 1.5 million members to obtain both land and food security.
The International Land Coalition is a ‘global convenor on land issues’ working to empower the rural poor and help them to secure access to land and water.
The past 40 years have seen the dramatic decline of many western cities, particularly in the United States where the collapse of manufacturing has left entire neighbourhoods boarded up or returning to parkland. However, in many cases signs of life are re-emerging in the form of community initiatives such as thriving market gardens.
Photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre have documented the collapse of Detroit, formerly the powerhouse of the US automobile industry.
Anglicare Tasmania has useful discussions of urban renewal from a Tasmanian perspective.