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close this bookVolunteer Participation in Working with the Urban Poor (UNDP - UNV, 64 p.)
close this folderI. Urbanisation: recognition and response
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentUrbanisation and poverty
View the documentResponse to urbanisation
View the documentRecognition of ''Self-help'' initiatives

Response to urbanisation


Many developing country governments have watched mushrooming settlements engulf former vestiges of gracious living and seize all available living space at a breathtaking pace. For the most part, these swelling settlements have been perceived as a housing and infrastructure problem, which on many occasions prompted a "bulldoze and eradicate" solution. Housing construction schemes have often been far too expensive to assist large numbers of low-income groups. Likewise, government efforts encouraged by large international funding agencies to develop habitable areas and provide and upgrade services have usually been beyond the means of most states to support on a large scale. In addition, urban policy plans usually failed to reflect actual socio-economic conditions, especially of low-income urban groups. Ultimately, the role of the State appears to have been confined to supplying selected services in accordance with limited budgets, and modifying policies and legislation as necessary.


Severe expenditure and staff cuts during recent periods, especially following structural adjustment programmes, have constrained the ability of municipalities to respond to the needs of urban low-income groups as well. Small and shrinking municipal governments in developing countries generally have become increasingly discouraged with their inability to meet the widening range of needs and services for an exploding clientele.

International Organisations

Even though organisations such as UNICEF, WHO, OXFAM, USAID and the ILO began to target low-income urban communities in the 1970s, international organisations generally made a conscious effort to counter what they perceived as the "urban bias" of developing country governments in favouring centralisation, capital city investments and improvements, and the supply of services to urban elites. VSAs and international NGOs added other arguments: that hardcore poverty was still to be found in remote rural areas, where the productive potential of the agrarian economy had yet to be tapped; and that the political sensitivities and cultural complexities of the urban areas were too great for individual foreigners to be effective. In recent years, however, there has been a perceptible shift in this anti-urban bias as international organisations have increased their efforts towards urban sector development, especially for low-income urban communities. Nevertheless, the resources devoted to this growing segment of the population remain low.

Community Associations

Inadequate government investment and services in many developing countries have forced low-income urban groups to rely on their own means to meet social service/infrastructure needs by contracting these services to private entrepreneurs and establishing their own community organisations. Urban associations have sprung up throughout developing countries, some of which function at the municipal level and deal with issues of housing, infrastructure and service provision, such as Villa El Salvador in Peru; others function at the neighbourhood level to address concerns of water and sanitation or child-care. The most common purpose of these associations is to give voice to the needs, collective interests and rights of these communities. Many have developed without government support (or because of nonsupport), and these CBOs are generally more effective in organising self-help initiatives than organisations brought together under officially-sponsored development projects. As a social movement, it has developed furthest in Latin

America, outside the sphere of regular trade unions or political parties.