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Mega-Cities: Poverty in Action

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Manila aerial shotOn Friday night I watched a documentary about the Philippines, specifically about the growth of the capital city, Manila. Those who can’t access British television can still read a good summary by the journalist who presented the program. Essentially, as more people move to urban areas, especially in developing economies, life is going to get far more crowded.

As journalist Jenny Kleeman points out, the 10,00 babies born worldwide every hour will inevitably put pressure on demand for housing, food, water, land and fuel. The situation she confronted in Manila — families of nine living in a three bedroom dwelling, people living on vulnerable sea walls, a major river that has been biologically dead since the 1990s — is obviously extreme, but could be a foreshadowing of what is in store for many other cities around the world.

For the first time in history, more people live in urban centres around the world than live in rural areas. As economic power is increasingly concentrated in cities, people will inevitably move to where they can make money. If infrastructure is not designed to accommodate them, slums will spring up or grow to take in new economic migrants as they are priced out of rental properties.

Are the governments of the world doing enough to combat the growth of slums as they seek the betterment of their countries’ economic circumstances? Of course not. That is left to the private sector, which generally tends to target those who have the most money rather than those who have the greatest need. As the world economy recovers from its latest setback, I fully expect the number of slum-dwellers around the world to increase.

Greed and need cannot be reconciled. Even as developing nations make progress, I fully expect electricity brownouts, erratic water supplies for the many, and increasingly privatised services for those who can afford them. Manila is already a mega-city that can be rivalled by Lagos. Rio de Janeiro is probably also on the list. Which city do you think will be next to be overrun by slums?

[Image by Storm Crypt]

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