Govs Fail To Tackle Urban Poverty
Date published: December 12, 2012
Governments worldwide and aid agencies fail to tackle urban poverty because they fail to understand it, according to a new book that paints the most detailed picture to date of how a billion-plus poor people live in towns and cities worldwide.
This greatly understates the scale and depth of urban poverty because in so many cities, non-food needs such as accommodation, water and access to toilets, schools and employment cost much more than a dollar a day.
Set a poverty line too low and poverty seems to disappear, especially in high cost locations. Such simplistic measures also take no account of the full dimensions of what poverty actually means to people who live it.
The book entitled ‘Urban Poverty in the Global South’ published yesterday draws on more than 20 years of research. It shows how policymakers and development organisations underestimate urban poverty – and why this can lead to poor policies that fail to address injustice and inequality.
The book also challenges the idea that economic growth alone can eliminate that poverty, as many successful economies show little sign of decreasing poverty in their urban centres.
“If we want to build a better world we have to understand better what the urban poor experience,” said co-author Professor Diana Mitlin of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the University of Manchester. “We have to understand what it means to have little income and face income, spatial, social and political inequalities. Only then can governments, development agencies and community organisations work with the urban poor to improve their options.”
One in seven people worldwide live in poverty in urban areas, and most of these live in the global South – mostly in overcrowded informal settlements that lack adequate water, sanitation, security, health care and schools. People there endure poor living and working conditions, low incomes and inadequate diets, which all add to large health burdens or premature death.
On top of these problems, the urban poor have little voice and few means to influence the policies and pressures that work against their interests.
“The fates of the billion-plus people who live in poverty in towns and cities worldwide will have a major impact on human development,” added co-author David Satterthwaite, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development. “But until decision-makers better understand how and why urban poverty exists, their actions will only ensure that it persists.”
In 2013, Mitlin and Satterthwaite will publish a follow-up book about what we know about what to do to tackle the problems that face the urban poor.
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