Slumification: The Global Disparity between Rich and Poor

Slums are the densely populated, squalid parts of the city that are inhabited by the poor. They are undesirable areas of the city that are unwanted, usually because they are disaster areas, prone to earthquakes, mudslides, flooding, or are garbage dumps. These spots become inhabited by the millions of poor people who have low paying jobs or work in the informal sector of society- they are too poor to pay high rental fees and instead choose to build makeshift homes on un-chartered land. It is an immense global problem since so many people in the Third World are living below the poverty level, have no access to clean water, sanitation, toilets, and are repeatedly being evicted by their governments, from the cities into further areas in which they are unable to make any money. Due to globalization, the Washington Consensus, and the rise of free market capitalism, governments have been more concerned with the welfare of the rich, lining their own pockets, and pandering to foreign nationals who bring in investment. This mentality has left the poor perpetually marginalized and unable to gain a voice. Slums occur not because of scarce resources; instead slums are built as a result of an epidemic of indifference. Governments favor the rich and do not provide resources for the poor. Governments fail to protect citizens living in slums often forgetting that they are even citizens, they push them off the land to build apartment complexes for their rich friends and big businesses (Davis).

In the last century cities have grown at an immense rate becoming mega metropolises. Such major cities are New York, London, the Shanghai economic zone, the megalopolis of Sao Paulo to Rio, Mexico City, Tokyo- every major city has grown and therefore has changed the earning power and lifestyles of urban dwellers, necessitating that they move towards the cities in order to eke out a living, the problem is that they become the slum dwellers. Vast urbanization has changed people’s way of life since the destruction of nature has changed agricultural livelihood, for example a fisherman in Penang who’s home was cut off to the sea by a highway that the state has built and who’s fishing grounds have been polluted and hillsides deforested has no other alternative but to move towards the city and become part of the informal job sector or even send his daughters to a sweatshop (Davis). Governments of the Third World constantly want to deny the slum problem and push the people further into the peripheries but it is precisely their policies which cater to the rich and to foreign investors that create the problem. There is insufficient housing for the poor and not enough job creation by the government or international organizations such as the IMF. Instead, the budget goes to the middle and upper income. This results in people taking up any parcel of land that they find available, this is called squatting and it has become a huge unplanned subsidy to the very poor. There are slums throughout the Third World however some of the largest are the favelas in Rio de Janeiro, areas all over metro Manila, the garbage dumps of Guatemala, parts of Jakarta and South East Asia, Nairobi (all of sub Saharan Africa), Lagos, Bombay, Dhaka, Delhi, Calcutta, and Bangladesh- virtually a substantial part of the world is being subjected to living a humanity stripped of dignity.

“Rural landowning elites in the Third World have been transforming themselves into urban slumlords” (83 Davis). Land is owned by only handfuls of families who exploit the poor, meanwhile the government does nothing about the injustices since they rather profit from the bribes they would receive. The small percentage of the rich are becoming richer at the expense of the increase of a squatter society. The rich do this by buying the land in which squatters live on and dividing it up in order to rent the parcels out to the poor. However, the poor still do not receive any social services such as roads, schools, healthcare, and proper housing- the government focuses these precious resources to higher income families. In Nairobi, large acres of slums are owned by politicians and the upper middle class in order to create a profit, however this private rental “development” has no legal basis but it is the most profitable housing in the city. “Overcrowded, poorly maintained slum dwellings meanwhile are more profitable per square foot than other types of real estate investment. In Brazil, where much of the middle class serves as landlord to the poor, ownership of a few tenements leverages many professionals and middle managers in Copacabana lifestyles” (Davis 86). Governments should be held accountable for the destitute lifestyles that their citizens are being forced to endure. However, often times the poor do not have a voice and it is the rich who become officials as well as elect the officials that will keep them living in their grand lifestyles. It is high ranking politicians who benefit off of the poor- public officials and corrupt police who illegally subdivide plots. The problem which Third World countries face often times is not scarcity but it is the corruption that comes from the top that creates a society of inequality. “Everywhere, the most powerful local interests- big developers, politicians, and military juntas- have positioned themselves to take advantage of peripheral land sales to poor migrants” (Davis 91). When the elites make their money they create exclusive super villas that rival the likes of California, for example there is a Long Beach in China which is a pseudo L.A. The rich live in an Orange County setting in closed suburbs while their fellow countrymen live in squalor and may not even have enough food to survive. “Palm Springs is a heavily guarded enclave in Hong Kong where affluent residents can play tennis and stroll through the theme parks…Fortified fantasy-themed enclaves and edge cities, disembedded from their own social landscapes but integrated into globalization’s cyber California in the digital ether” (Davis 120). In Burma, the government started “urban beautification” in which one and a half million people were removed from their homes and put on the peripheries. The government then rebuilt the area to be equipped with a golf course so they could attract wealthy Western tourists and Japanese business men. These types of overly lavish complexes that are playgrounds of the rich exist in every Third World country, Bangalore has recreated Palo Alto complete with Starbucks, swimming pools, health clubs and walled private security.

The Philippines is another perfect example of people living lavish lifestyles right next door to squatters. There is amazing poverty and a vast squatter population right next to gated communities that have mansions filled with maids, air conditioning, refrigerators and swimming pools. My personal experience of being in the Philippines was shock, to have experienced being in houses that were not even comparable to some of the homes I have seen in America and riding in Range Rovers fully equipped with a driver and in the next instance seeing the poor, barefoot on the side of swampy river banks washing their clothes. This type of disparity in income and lifestyle certainly shows the incompetence of the government. They don’t invest in helping the poor but instead invest in building bigger and better malls. The slums of metro Manila were a pilot country for the World Bank, however it failed to actually help any of the poor since all of the money went straight to land developers and the construction industry. “Within five years all the original dwellers had left because their lots had been sold to wealthy families” (Davis 73). The Philippine government does not even want to recognize the slum problem and give those people the respect to be called citizens. During high profile events such as the IMF/World Bank conferences or beauty pageants the image of the slum is pushed away from the public eye. In Manila, shanty dwellers were cleared for the 1974 Miss Universe Pageant, the visit of Gerald Ford, and the IMF/WB meeting in 1976. “Altogether 160,000 squatters were moved out of the media’s field of vision, many of them dumped on Manila’s outskirts. The subsequent “People’s Power” of Corazon Aquino was even more ruthless, 600,000 squatters were evicted during the Aquino presidency and usually without relocation sites” (Davis 107).

So many of the poor decide to squat in disaster sites that are prone to earthquakes, flooding, landslides, and fires so that it will be less likely they will get evicted. The governments do not invest in many solutions to helping the poor. International organizations as well are culprits that develop destructive policies that continue to keep the masses impoverished. A large problem in India and Africa is the lack of toilet facilities and clean water and sewage system. Millions of people live in dirt, garbage and human feces because they are forced to defecate in the open. The solution to put in toilets did not improve the situation because again it was seen as a way to profiteer by the rich. “In the late 1990s toilets were privatized and are now described as a gold mine of profitability. Ghana costs 10 cents, Kenya 6 cents, and in Kampala slums 100 shillings a visit” (Davis 139). The rich are still trying to profit off of a basic need, it is unfortunate that those who are living in slums have to suffer the double humiliation of living in squalid conditions and still having their basic human rights exploited by the powerful. Water is another commodity that would be able to save so many lives but is being turned into a profitable business. “Water sales are a lucrative industry in poor cities. Nairobi, as usual, is an egregious example where politically connected entrepreneurs resell municipal water, which costs very little to families wealthy enough to afford tap, in the slums at exorbitant prices” (Davis 145). Governments and international organizations should not allow this kind of corruption and racketeering to occur so that a few well-positioned individuals can increase in wealth while the rest of the country lives and dies in filth.

The growth of slums in the Third World is a horrible problem that people decide to push away and forget. Many people are living in poverty and it is not because of resource scarcity, in fact the problem is the unequal distribution of wealth and the policies made by corrupt governments and capitalistic Western international organizations. It is also a global problem because every person should be concerned with the well being of the human race and people should not be subjected to live in areas where there is no running water, toilets, food, and be in danger of experiencing an earthquake or flood. However, the unfortunate truth is that if you do not have the misfortune of living in a slum then you don’t often think about them- this, along with government corruption, negligence, and pandering to the rich are the cultural problems that people have to realize in order for slums to be truly eradicated. Until there is a culture of equality and mutuality that replaces capitalistic profiteering, slums will unfortunately always be around.

Tondo slum, a part of Metro Manila. A city that is also home to Mega Shopping Malls.

Unsafe Slums near the Kamalapur railroad

Shanty town people in Bangladesh being evicted.

Bangladesh slum on the garbage dump

Favelas of Rio de Janeiro

People on a garbage dump scrounge for food and recyclable material to be resold.

Mother and baby, residents of a trash-covered Guatemala City slum.