Just over half a billion Asians live in slums and the UN expects the number to double by 2030 because of rapid population growth and urbanization…
Floods, cyclones and riverbank erosion render many people homeless and helpless every year…
- the big, rapid economic change that China has undergone has left many people unable to cope, and you see large dislocations both in the urban and in the rural areas. In China, the ‘mong liu’ (‘blindly migrating people’) are closest to our concept of homeless people. Another term, ‘nong min gong’, refers specifically to peasants who come to the city to work. Both terms refer to a rural-to-urban migration without government approval. Initially, the migrants have nowhere to live and, therefore, some spend their nights sleeping in railway stations, harbours, and empty buildings. Because they come to the city without registering, they are not counted in the national census.
- China's Ministry of Civil Affairs estimates that the number of children under 16 living on the streets in China has risen 50% in the past decade to 150,000, according to the United Nations Childrens' Fund and Xinhua, the state-run news agency. Professionals in the field say the true figure is probably three or four times higher than official statistics suggest - or as many as 600,000 - and growing quickly in a system that is ill-prepared to cope.
- estimates of homelessness in India illustrate how different methods can generate completely different results. One method of calculating homelessness is to equate it with the difference between the total number of households and the ‘usable housing stock’. Such a calculation imply that there were some 18.5 million homeless people in India in 1991, and that some 4.8 million of these were living in urban areas; (1)
- if housing shortage is taken as a measure of homelessness on the grounds that, if a household must share someone else’s living accommodation, or its dwelling is due for demolition, it is homeless, India would probably have some 20 million homeless households (probably 110 million homeless people) on this measure alone! If those who are not sharing a dwelling but have poor servicing, and those whose tenure is very uncertain are added, the numbers become very large indeed; (I)
- over 50% of Mumbai’s 12 million people live in 3000 slum pockets. Forced evictions are a particularly disturbing phenomenon for those in precarious housing. Between November 2004 and January 2005, roughly 80,000 homes were demolished, affecting some 300,000 people. Most of them have not been resettled, and are actually living on the street;
- Indian cities are well known for their pavement dwellers. Many thousands of individuals (250,000 in Mumbai alone) and households occupy space in the streets, either with a tarpaulin stretched out between poles and neighbouring structures or simply open to the sky. Many children are pavement dwellers, living with their parents on the streets. Unlike slum and tenement dwellers, who over the last two decades have been acknowledged as having the right (now backed by legislation) to civic amenities, particularly housing, pavement dwellers in India have no rights.
- Bangladesh: in Dhaka 2.5 million people live in ‘slums’ most of which have little or no provision for sanitation and water. Rural homelessness is estimated to vary between 7% and 15%. In the river-eroded areas, it may reach 20%; (2)
- Cambodia: according to Slum Dwellers International (SDI), more than 180,000 people live in informal settlements in Phnom Penh - on rooftops, along rivers and roadsides, on government and private land. Most have no water supply, electricity or toilets, and many are harassed by evictions, fires and flooding;
- Indonesia: in 2003, 716 demolished and sacked homes have pushed on the streets 10,321 families in Jakarta. More or less 50,000 people were evicted;
- Philippines: on January 2004, a fire left 4,500 families homeless in a squatter settlement in Manila, the capital. About 30% of Davao's population lives in insecure and under-serviced slums along the city's roadsides, railway tracks, canals and coastline. An estimated 1,200,000 children live on the streets nationwide;
A new global movement is beginning to transform the lives of some of the world's poorest urban dwellers. In Africa as well as in South Asia…
- in China, according to the Red Cross, 26 provinces and 150 million people have been affected by severe flooding in the Huai He valley in August 2003. A reported 814 people died and some 3,8 million people were homeless;
- more than 2 million people across Vietnam, Cambodia Thailand and Laos became homeless as a result of the worst floods in a generation sweeping through the Mekong River basin in September 2000;
- in Bangladesh, in July-August 2004 the worst floods in 15 years killed about 600 people and left up to 30 million people homeless;
- on Dec. 26, 2004, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, whose epicentre was off the west coast of the Indonesian Island of Sumatra, caused a tremendously powerful tsunami in the Indian Ocean that devastated 12 Asian countries. More than 162,000 people died in the disaster, and millions were left homeless. Statistics are staggering, really. In Sri Lanka alone, more than 1/5 of the country’s population is now homeless. 3 million people in Indonesia are homeless.
- a new international movement, the Federation of Slum and Shackdwellers, is now challenging governments and aid agencies to address the problems. These federations are remarkable for several reasons. They are organised and managed by poor or homeless people. Most are women who began as managers of savings schemes. Many are illiterate, yet have managed complex projects;
- like in Africa, these organisations are spreading out in Asia also. In at least 5 countries - in India, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines - there are now federations that have developed their own poverty reduction programmes, drawing on their own resources and capacities and negotiating with local and national government for support;
- In India, two federations work together - the National Slum Dwellers Federation and Mahila Milan. Both are savings schemes formed by homeless women. They have more than 750,000 members and work in 70 cities. They have designed and constructed community toilet blocks that serve hundreds of thousands of people and are implementing hundreds of slum upgrades and new housing schemes;
- In Thailand, a national programme is under way to provide good quality housing for 300,000 slum and homeless households. It is being organised by community groups and urban poor federations. Similar programmes are under way in Philippines and Cambodia while federations are growing in Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia.
(1) See Census of India 1991 and UNCHS, 1996-a.
(2) David Satterthwaite, “Improving Urban Water & Sanitation - Can the Poor Effectively Participate?” (presentation to the World Bank), International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), 2001; www.worldbank.org/watsan/lecture/satterthwaite.pdf