World Slum Population Expected to Double

Sherwood Ross

The world’s slum population is expected to double to two billion souls within a generation --- a festering sore that traces back to the British Empire as well as to the post-World War II policies of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, according to the just published Planet of Slums (Verso) by Mike Davis.

Bombay, with 10-million or more squatters and tenement dwellers, holds first place among slum-filled metropolitan areas, followed by Mexico City and Dhaka, with about 9-million each, then Lagos, Cairo, Karachi, Kinshasa-Brazzaville, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, and Delhi, each with six to eight million, Davis writes.

“The British were arguably the greatest slum-builders of all time. Their policies in Africa forced the local labor force to live in precarious shantytowns on the fringes of segregated and restricted cities,” Davis says, and in India, Burma, and Ceylon “their refusal to improve sanitation or provide even the most minimal infrastructure to native neighborhoods ensured huge death tolls from early-20th century epidemics (plague, cholera, influenza) and created immense problems of urban squalor that were inherited by national elites after independence.”

As partners-in-aggression with the U.S., the British are also responsible for the spread of disease in Iraq. “In Baghdad’s giant slum of Sadr City, hepatitis and typhoid epidemics rage out of control,” according to Davis.

“American bombing wrecked already overloaded water and sewerage infrastructures, and as a result raw sewage seeps into the household water supply,” the author charges. “Two years after the U.S. invasion the system remains broken, and the naked eye can discern filaments of human excrement in the tap water.”

According the current Progressive magazine, published in Madison, Wis., 30,000 people in our world die each day due to poor sanitation.

Amitabh Pal, the magazine’s managing editor, in part blames the free market restructuring imposed on developing nations by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. “These institutions require cuts in public spending on health and sanitation. By ushering in multinational corporations, their policies end up throwing peasants off the land and into the city. And they impoverish urban residents by slashing public sector employment and subsidies on food and fuel. The IMF and World Bank call this ‘structural adjustment,’” Pal writes.

Author Davis notes that the 1980s, when IMF and World Bank used the leverage of debt to restructure Third World economies, were the years “when slums became an implacable future not just for poor rural migrants, but also for millions of traditional urbanites displaced or immiserated by the violence of adjustment.”

In Brazil, slums have become so dangerous some urban areas are run by gangs police fear to confront. Many governments have just given up attempting to fix their slums, Davis writes.

“The idea of an interventionist state strongly committed to social housing and job development seems either a hallucination or a bad joke, because governments long ago abdicated any serious effort to combat slums and redress urban marginality,” the author charges.

Most nations, the U.S. included, have few holistic approaches to ending slum housing. There never seems to be enough education and training for the poor, or fair wages for their labor.

Slums, obviously, are spreading faster than society’s ability to cope with them. One way to reverse this trend might be to lower the birth rate. Tragically, the Bush Administration which is in a position to impact the birth rate, “has launched a global war on condoms,” preferring to urge abstinence instead, according to Planned Parenthood.

It appears America’s neoconservatives, the same gang that invaded Iraq and turned it into a charnel house, has scant interest in reducing the number of poor people on this planet. After all, the poor represent both an abundant supply of cheap labor and military recruits.

Sherwood Ross is a reporter who formerly worked as a press aide to the mayor of the City of Chicago. Reach him at sherwoodr1@yahoo.com.



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