According to the UN, the percentage of urban dwellers living in slums dropped 10% to 37% in the 15 years leading up to 2005. But before you break out into celebration, there's just one tiny catch - because of the rising population, the total number of people living in slums has actually increased substantially, and is expected to continue to rise from about one billion today to about two billion by 2030.
Many residents vigorously oppose the description of "slum" on the basis that it leads to them being pathologized and opens them to threats of eviction (for example, this statement by the representatives of an informal settlement in Durban, South Africa). Even the United Nations (specifically the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, UN-HABITAT) has come under fire from some academics for their "Cities Without Slums" campaign which is intended to encourage urban upgrading but that some say has led to a significant increase in forced evictions as cities try to sweep the problem under the carpet.
The map above shows the estimated percentage of the urban population living in slums by country. It should be noted that just because no data is reported in the grayed out areas of the map does not mean that slums don't exist. For example, google the topic of slums in Europe and you'll find small pockets of shanty towns in Greece, Spain, France and other parts of Europe, as cities struggle to deal with an influx of often unskilled and illegal immigrants. As for the USA, while some parts of the country are extremely run down, those who have visited the shantytowns in the third world generally agree that areas of urban decay in America, and the many tent cities that have sprung up, although undoubtedly impoverished, don't come close to the conditions to be found in the third world.
The Simple Brilliance of Liter of Light: How an old plastic bottle, water and a bit of bleach is bringing light to shantytowns across the world.
This article was originally published in February 2012, and has been updated for the
April 2014 paperback release.
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