The Detriment of Urbanization The developing world is urbanizing very rapidly; while the average poor person was once a rural resident, today the average poor person lives in a city. The majority of urban growth is taking place in the poorest segments of urban society, both because of migration and high fertility among the urban poor. This has resulted in the growth and proliferation of slums in the developing world. Tens of thousands of children, youth and women in slums make their way through life impoverished, abandoned, uneducated, malnourished, discriminated against, neglected and vulnerable. For them, life is a daily struggle to survive. Whether they live in urban slums. Children risk missing out on their childhood – excluded from essential services such as hospitals and schools, lacking the protection of family and community, often at risk of exploitation and abuse.
Many of these children are growing up without one or both of their parents. Many more are at risk of separation, due to the impact of poverty, family conflict, disability or such crises as natural disasters. Children without parental care find themselves at a higher risk of discrimination, inadequate care, abuse and exploitation, and their well-being is often insufficiently monitored. Many children are placed unnecessarily and for too long in institutions, where they receive less of the stimulation and individual attention needed to grow to their full potential.
At least half the urban population growth rate is being fueled by migration from the rural sector. People are being pulled by the prospect – real or imaginary – of more work in the cities. But they are also being pushed from the villages by increased landlessness and unemployment. Disasters also play a part – around 30,000 people are made homeless each year through one natural disaster or another and seek emergency shelter that is only available in the urban sector. Dhaka is the major magnet. This is partly because it has the best communication links with the rest of the country, but it also appears to offer the best job prospects. Migrants tend to go to places where they already have relatives and this ‘chain migration, further polarizes city growth.
Over 50% of urban households earn less than taka 2,600 per month – the basic minimum to cover food and other basic needs for a family of 6 people. And 30% can be considered as hard core poor – often female headed households living on the edge of starvation. One of the most pressing issues for the urban poor is housing – most people either squat on unoccupied land, public or private or, more usually, rent houses in slum settlements where there are no basic services. The areas are intensely overcrowded – in Dhaka slums only about 30 square feet per family of 5 persons. Security is precarious, with threats of eviction from both landowners and statutory authorities. Mafias and organized gangs have total control of urban slums through which they are active with violence, murder, theft, hijacking, kidnapping, illegal toll collection, drug and arms smugglings, female trafficking etc. The health conditions in urban slum settlements are extremely hazardous. The dense and squalid environments breed a host of communicable and non-communicable diseases. About 45% children suffer from stunting or chronic malnutrition and about 13% from severe malnutrition. Effective and free school programmes are simply not available urban slum areas. Many children simply cannot afford to go to them as they are forced by their families to earn a living to subsidize the family income.