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close this bookBasic Facts on Urbanization (HABITAT, 2001, 21 p.)
View the documentAbout
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentGeneral Demographic Trends
View the documentThe Growth of Large Cities
View the documentThe Economics of Cities
View the documentUrbanization and Feminization of Poverty
View the documentThe Challenge of Adequate Housing
View the documentHomelessness
View the documentUrban Violence
View the documentEnvironmental Deterioration
View the documentAccess to Services and Basic Infrastructure
View the documentChildren in the Urban World
View the documentSustainable Urban Development
View the documentGlobal Campaigns on Security of Tenure and Urban Governance
View the documentNotes
View the documentList of References

The Challenge of Adequate Housing

The Habitat Agenda states that "Adequate shelter means more than a roof over one's head. It also means adequate privacy; adequate space; physical accessibility; adequate security; security of tenure; structural stability and durability; adequate lighting, heating and ventilation; adequate basic infrastructure, such as water-supply, sanitation and waste-management facilities; suitable environmental quality and health-related factors; and adequate and accessible location with regard to work and basic facilities: all of which should be available at an affordable cost."(28) Adequate shelter is thus not only a matter of the quality of the structure in which people live.

In 1990, it was estimated that 17 per cent of the world's stock of housing was one-room units, of which some three quarters were in developing countries. Some 42 per cent of rural and 35 per cent of urban dwellings in Africa are single-roomed.(29) In Kenya for example, 59.3 per cent of all urban dwellings in the eight largest cities/towns were single-roomed in 1993.(30)

As can be seen from table 8, one quarter of the urban housing stock in developing countries consists of nonpermanent structures,(31) while more than a third of the urban housing stock has been constructed without compliance with local building regulations.(32) The situation appears to be worst in Sub-Saharan Africa, where half of the housing stock do not comply with local regulations and only some 60 per cent of all dwelling units are permanent structures.

Table 8. Quality of urban housing stock, by region (1993)


Permanent structures31
(per cent)

Housing in compliance32
(per cent)

Industrial countries



High-income economies



Transitional economies



Developing countries



Latin America & Caribbean



Sub-Saharan Africa



North Africa & Middle East



Asia & Pacific



World total



Note: Based on data from selected cities (see note 11).

Source: UNCHS (Habitat), 1998.

The shortage of affordable housing for low-income urban households in developing countries has resulted in a proliferation of slums and squatter settlements. While large cities in some developing countries are growing at rates of up to 5 per cent per annum (and in some cases even faster), slums and squatter settlements in some of them are growing twice as fast. Slums and squatter settlements dwellers represent a significant part of the population in many cities of the developing countries. In many cities of Sub-Saharan Africa for instance, more than half of the population live in such informal settlements.

It has earlier been stated that only "One in every four newly formed households has access to standard authorized housing... On average, nine new households were formed for each new standard dwelling built in the low-income developing countries during the 1980s" while two new households were formed for each new standard dwelling built "in the middle-income countries".(33)

In fact, the housing crisis of developing countries is so severe that in many cases one-room dwellings have been split up into units in which several households live simultaneously or alternate with one another in night and day shifts.(8)

As was discussed above, a total of some 835-950 million urban dwellers in developing countries live in 'housing poverty'. With the current rates of urban growth and the inability of housing delivery systems to cope with the demand for affordable housing, the housing crisis is likely to increase in the future. If we move beyond the issue of population growth to the increase in the number of households, we get a better impression of the challenges ahead in terms of housing needs. Household sizes are declining in most countries, in industrial as well as in developing countries.(34) The result is that the need for new housing units is considerably higher than that indicated by the rate of population growth.

In absolute terms, the increase in the number of households in industrial countries is actually larger than population increase. During the last decade (1990-2000), 1.10 new households were created for each person added to the population. This stands in contrast with the situation in developing countries where the corresponding figure was 0.31. During the next decade (2000-2010) this figure will increase to 1.63 in industrial countries and 0.38 in developing countries. In the following decade (2010-2020) the figures are projected to reach 1.87 and 0.40 respectively.(35)

Every year in the course of the next decade, developing countries have to accommodate some 21 million additional urban households (see table 9).(36) For the following decade (2010-2020) this figure will increase to some 25 million. If all households that are currently homeless or living in inadequate housing units are to be adequately sheltered by the year 2020, that implies an additional requirement of some 14 million housing units each year over the next two decades. A rough estimate of the total average annual housing need in developing counties during the next decade is thus 35 million units (or more than 95,000 units per day). In the following decade (2010-2020) this figure will increase to some 39 million units (or more than 105,000 per day). The total demand on national housing supply systems in urban areas is thus truly staggering. Roughly two-thirds (65 per cent) of this increase is estimated to occur in the Asia and the Pacific region, some 16 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean, 11 per cent in Sub-Saharan Africa and 8 per cent in North Africa and the Middle East.

Table 9. Urban housing needs in developing countries, estimates (2000-2020)


Housing poverty estimates



Population inadequately housed, millions (2000)



Households inadequately housed, millions (2000)



Households inadequately housed, per cent (2000)



Average annual housing requirement (millions of units) to:

- replace current inadequate stock by 2020



- replace future deteriorating stock



- meet demand of additional households (2000-2010)



- meet demand of additional households (2010-2020)



Total average annual housing need, millions of units (2000-2010)



Total average annual housing need, millions of units (2010-2020)



Source: Calculated by UNCHS (Habitat) based on assumptions outlined in note 36, and data from United Nations, 1996c; UNCHS (Habitat), 1996a; and UNCHS (Habitat), 1998.