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Urban Slums: How they are created and Why they are destroyed

Slums don’t just spring up because a certain group of people or a certain cabal is out to mess up the structure of an urban city, Slums are created by individuals to fix a dire situation. This article talks about “how slums are created in urban cities and why they are destroyed”

Any society or urban city that is not well-planned and structured yet undergoes rapid population increase is bound to face urban decay. This urban decay can be essentially caused by rapid urbanization and the mismatch in the provision and maintenance of housing and infrastructure.

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) defines a slum settlement as a household that cannot provide one of the following basic living characteristics:

  • Durable housing of a permanent nature that protects against extreme climate conditions.
  • Sufficient living space, which means not more than three people sharing the same room.
  • Easy access to safe water in sufficient amounts at an affordable price.
  • Access to adequate sanitation in the form of a private or public toilet shared by a reasonable number of people.
  • Security of tenure that prevents forced evictions.

The inaccessibility to one, or more, of the above basic living conditions results in a “slum lifestyle” modeled by several characteristics.

Most of the housing quality related problems in Nigeria results largely from inadequately planned land use and non-secure land tenure, poverty, poor construction and weak development control. The outcomes are the proliferation of slums which are characterized by overcrowding, flooding, dilapidated structures and  existence of stagnant waste water.

Invariably, slums create room for a generally dirty and unhygienic living environments.

Slums depict poverty in its lowest form and in no way befits an urban city. Infact, in most cases you find the poorest of urban populations in slums. The houses inhabited by slum dwellers are mostly decrepit, overcrowded, in neighbourhoods that are prone to flooding and beset with poor sanitation and shortage of potable water. The Infrastructural decay in slums is at a level that beats the imagination.

It is no longer a hidden fact that slums are now prevalent in major Nigerian cities especially in Lagos

In an urban city where congestion exists already, there is often times a migration of poor inhabitants who cannot cope with the conditions that come with congestion. These people can settle for any form of accommodation as long as there is a roof over their heads. In such instances, quality does not even come on the front burner.

The overwhelming negatives notwithstanding, there are some positive aspects to slums. In recent years, some environmentalists and organizations such as the United Nations Population Fund suggested that despite the poor living conditions, slums are positive both environmentally and socially.

Slum dwellers also appear to have vastly better opportunities for getting jobs, starting small scale businesses and climbing out of poverty than rural inhabitants. So you won’t blame people who decide to settle for slums when they can as well live in a mansion in their village.

Nigeria is ranked as one of the countries with high slum prevalence. The proliferation of shanty dwellings, squatter settlements and slums in most of our cities in Nigeria, especially Lagos state and other less developed nations of the world is attributed to a chain of factors. Of course, such factors are closely associated with the low level of socio-economic and cultural lifestyles of the inhabitants.

The proliferation of slums in Nigeria has been over the years a matter of great concern. As a matter of fact, 75% of the dwelling units in urban centres in Nigeria are substandard and are no different from the dwellings sited in slums around the world.

These habitations are often unsafe, insecure and do not provide adequate shelter from the elements of weather. The environment in which the buildings are located is squalid in most cases, and this generally leads to slum conditions.

Makoko, Agege, Ajegunle, Ijeshatedo, Bariga, Badia and Iwaya are major slum areas in the mega-city of Lagos that gives the city of excellence a bad reputation. But whose fault is it really? The masses who have got no options or the Government that put them in such conditions?

Eradicating and relocating of slums has been described as a failed response of the 1960s and 1970s by the World Bank. However, in Nigeria, the slum dwellers are ejected and their property which are described as illegal structures are demolished. This is a worst case scenario.

The several demolition exercises in Abuja and that of the entire Maroko settlements in 1991 are typical examples. Ejection of squatters and demolition of illegal structures generates social, economic and political problems with their attendant security implications. It tends to portray government as insensitive to the plight of the citizenry. Is it then the best approach?

The ultimate result has been the loss of these dwellings and the dispersal of the populations either into new slums or to swell the ranks of the existing slums while the area is being laid out and allocated for high class residential development as is the case with the Ambode-led Lagos state Government.

Demolition also results in financial losses both to the squatters and the government; and depletes the national housing stock. So, is it really justifiable?

Of a truth, slum prevention and control is vital to creating sustainable cities. But are there no better ways to displace people other than the way it’s presently done in Lagos?

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