Persistent Poverty in an Urbanizing World: A Role for GIS in Securing Humane Shelter for All
Track: Sustainable Development and Humanitarian Relief
Author(s): Molly Sheehan
In many cities of the developing world, the world's most explosive urban growth rates are meeting up with the world's worst poverty. Not only has poverty persisted in the 1990s, but the chasm between rich and poor has widened in many countries. These inequities are perhaps most glaring in slums, where the world's poorest, who are least able to protect themselves from environmental hazards, are exposed to the worst conditions, including pollution caused by the wealthiest. Unable to afford "legal" dwellings, millions of urban poor seek shelter in the most precarious places, on steep hillsides or floodplains, living not only with the constant threat of possible eviction but also vulnerable to natural disasters and disease from lack of water and sanitation. More than half the population of cities such as Cairo, Nairobi, and Bombay, for example, lacks legal residences.
The persistence of slums in an era of unprecedented wealth is dangerous. Settlements, without adequate clean water and sanitation, breed disease that threatens broader public health. Many recent studies have shown a correlation between more equal income distribution and better public health. Poverty and inequality can also lead to political instability and social tensions that impede economic growth and spark fanaticism and terrorism.
In many of the world's worst neighborhoods, residents aren't waiting for government to supply them with basic services, but are mobilizing their own resources to get the job done. Community organizers worldwide, loosely organized by the grassroots group, Slum-dwellers International, have been taking informal censuses of their neighborhoods as a first step towards slum upgrading. This work could benefit from the use of GIS.
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