Urbanisation and poverty
People have traditionally moved to the cities in search of higher
income and greater job opportunities, or to benefit from better urban services
of education, health and infrastructure.
Civil war, persecution, drought, natural disasters and even the
incapacity of the soil to support a community have forced people to seek refuge
and support in urban areas. The growth in urban population is not, however,
primarily due to migration from rural areas (except in Africa); two-thirds of
this expansion is due to the net increase in births taking place in the cities.
Nearly half of the absolute poor in developing countries are urban
inhabitants, largely concentrated in the slums and pavements of the inner
cities, as well as in periphery squatter settlements and shanty towns. By
accretion or through invasions of vacant land, the greatest population growth is
taking place in these periphery urban areas. Usually, the locations are
unhealthy, dangerous and overcrowded. It has been the "self-help" initiative of
these low-income groups, however, which has ensured their survival -most new
settlements in developing countries, for example, have been constructed by these
groups themselves, often illegally, defying existing living standards and
lacking basic utilities and services.
The causes and consequences of poverty in urban areas are
numerous, a detailed analysis of which cannot be covered in the scope of this
discussion1. In general, poverty in urban areas is the result of the
interplay between local, national and international forces which determines
resource flows, the distribution of income, the structure of the labour market
and the possibility of integrating a growing population into the development
process2. Because structural adjustment measures continue to have a
major impact on urban poverty, the importance of social structures and policy
environment cannot be overemphasised.
1 For a solid discussion of the
dynamics and causes of poverty, see Gerry Rodgers, ed. Urban Poverty
and the Labour Market (Geneva. ILO, 1989).
2 Generally, the "poor" are an
heterogeneous group, a subgroup of which may be classified as "destitute" (those
who are unable to purchase a minimum "food basket," defined in relation to
nutritional criteria and variety in consumption). The characteristics and causes
of poverty may; vary widely between regions, making it cliff cult to make broad
generalisations. (Rodgers, 5-6; 68, 123.)
Today, the common problems of poverty are more central to policy
concerns than differences between the rural and urban sectors. Policy-makers and
development organisations are finding that the links between rural-urban and
formal/informal sectors need to be studied more comprehensively for each
individual urban settlement. In addition, the unique history and growth of each
urban community merit attention, as do the dynamics of its social organisation.
The phenomena of changing sex-ratios in urban poor settlements, increase in
women-headed households (50% and higher in many countries), and the growing
numbers of street children (an estimated 30 million in Latin America alone), all
need to be better understood as part of the wider development context. It is
impossible, therefore, to work from generalisations about the urban sector when