Power Marketplace’s public service journalism 💙 Give Now

Potential for disaster in urban slums

Gretchen Wilson Oct 25, 2007

Potential for disaster in urban slums

Gretchen Wilson Oct 25, 2007


Doug Krizner: By June, more than half of the world’s population will live in urban areas. That’s according to the U.N. And most growth will happen in low and middle-income countries.

This rapid urbanization means 1 in 6 people on the planet will live in an urban slum. Global humanitarian efforts will have to change. Gretchen Wilson reports from Alexandra, a township in Johannesburg.

Gretchen Wilson: In a concessions stand tucked between overcrowded tenements, Talkmore Sitole sells locals the basics, such as milk, chips and cigarettes. He’s just moved to Johannesburg from rural Zimbabwe. His home country is reeling from economic decline.

Talkmore Sitole: It’s very, very poor. I myself, I can’t support myself.

Every day, a hundred thousand people around the world move to a high-density urban area with substandard housing. Sithole sleeps inside his stand, which he’s fortified with metal bars. Still, he’s afraid of thieves and armed gangs.

Sitole: Sleeping here, it can be a problem for to me. They can come and destroy me.

People like Sithole are generally more vulnerable to organized crime than their rural counterparts. That’s one reason why U.N. agencies, NGOs, and governments are starting to refocus their humanitarian efforts on the urban poor.

A lot of humanitarian funding now goes to emergencies in remote and rural areas. But these groups say conditions in some slums are just as severe. And they say cities are increasingly going to be the sites of disaster and conflict in the 21st century.

Most of this growth is in urban slums in Asia and here in Africa.

In Alexandra, 22-year-old Blessing Moyo watches kids play next to a makeshift garbage dump. These conditions aren’t what he expected when he moved here from Zimbabwe last year. He’s still shocked by alleys flooded with sewage.

Blessing Moyo: The drainage system everywhere. It stinks, this place.

Moyo says no one should have to live in these disgusting conditions. But he tolerates the fetid smells and overcrowding, because the economy here is still better than home.

With migrants continuing to flood the world’s cities, an estimated 1.4 billion people are expected to live in urban slums by 2020.

In Alexandra, Johannesburg, I’m Gretchen Wilson for Marketplace.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.