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The Formation of Slums in a Rapidly Urbanizing World

The formation of slums in any rapidly urbanizing city is inevitable, just like it’s being witnessed in Lagos state. However the population of slum dwellers can be brought to its barest minimum if the rights steps are taking in the appropriate direction. This article talks about the link between Urbanization and slum formation.

There has been evidence of large slum populations in a large number of developing countries and particularly in rapidly urbanizing regions like Asia.

UN Habitat estimates that there are currently 924 million slum dwellers in the world, making up one third of the global urban population. This number could grow to 1.5 billion by 2020 unless a significant health and infrastructure interventions and pro-poor housing and land tenure policies are undertaken. The poor are the fastest growing population in urban areas. A quick look at the absolute numbers of urban poor populations living in the developing region reveals a challenge of staggering proportion.

As a result, African’s cities, already facing significant challenges to targeting these populations with services, will face a greater burden in the coming years. Sixty percent of the world’s slums are in Asia. In absolute numbers, Asian slum dwellers outnumber those of any other region, with about 550 million people living in Asian slums. Africa follows with 187 million urban slum residents (UN Habitat 2003).

Almost 70 per cent of the urban population in sub-Saharan Africa resides in slums without running water, minimum conditions of hygiene and without access to essential services. Hence,  Nigeria’s premier Mega City, Lagos, have more than its fair share of people living in slum conditions to contend with too.

Lagos – the fastest growing city in the world with an estimated population of over 21 million people which may increase to 30 million people by 2030, is plagued with rapidly increasing population of slum dwellers. As a matter of fact, the population of slum dwellers in the state exceeds the standard benchmark. With the situation in Lagos state, there is a need to first recognize and then act to establish the link that is crucial between economic development, urban growth, and housing. This aspect has been largely neglected by past governments that have narrowly focused on economic growth with the consequent proliferation of slum formation as a housing solution.

From time immemorial, it has been observed that Government authorities faced with rapid urban development lack the capacity to cope with the diverse demands for infrastructural provision to meet economic and social needs. Not only are strategic planning and intervention major issues in agenda to manage rapid urbanization, but government agencies are not effectively linking the economic development trajectory to implications for urban growth and, hence, housing needs.

Rapid urban population growth has outpaced the ability of Government authorities to provide for housing, environmental and health infrastructure.

Squatter and slum settlements have formed mainly because of the inability of city governments to plan and provide affordable housing for the low-income segments of the urban population. Hence, squatter and slum housing is the housing solution for this low-income urban population. In the mega-urban regions or metropolitan areas, part of the problem would lie in the coordination among different authorities that are in charge of economic development, urban planning, and land allocation. Such coordination issues also exist between the city and national governments.

The economically more dynamic regions such as Asia have experienced strong growth because the state sector drives development agendas. National and city governments have generally adopted the position that economic development will take care of basic needs such as housing, environmental and health infrastructure. In cities of higher income countries such as Malaysia, private sector developers are more interested in building homes for the middle-income market. The proliferation of slum and squatter settlements shows, however, that planned economic growth has to be aligned with the planned development of health services, environmental infrastructure and housing.

For the scale and speed of urbanization that has been taking place in major Nigerian cities especially Lagos, it appears our government is municipal are unequipped physically, fiscally, politically, and administratively to tackle the problems of providing the basic infrastructure services to their people. In a situation of scarce resource allocation, the urban poor are frequently badly placed to compete for essential services. Biases in investment standards, pricing policy, and administrative procedures, more often than not, skew services in favor of the rich, denying the poor shelter, safe water, acceptable sanitation, minimal nutrition, and basic education.

In the mega city of Lagos, rapid development of new real estate continues to initiate gridlocked traffic conditions, severe environmental conditions (air, noise, and river pollution), unstable squatter tenements sandwiched between prime commercial complexes, loss of heritage edifices, and neglect of human development.

With the intensely competitive demand for land in cities, the urban poor will increasingly be marginalized. Many are now settling at the fringes of the most rapidly growing cities. Rapid growth of the larger cities and mega-urban regions in the developing countries is reflected in their being surrounded by dense and generally impoverished shanty towns and numerous other forms of so-called informal and/or irregular housing. These are characterized by inadequate infrastructure, service provision, and security of shelter and land tenure In these “peri-urban” zones or areas of rural–urban interface, there are usually far from clear administrative responsibilities between the urban and rural governments or provincial and national levels of governance.

With the reality of rapidly urbanizing world in which more city dwellers than ever before have  found themselves living in informal settlements, there is a need for the government of the day in collaboration with the private sector and international agencies to promote socially, environmentally sustainable human settlements and adequate housing for all.


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