Evicting slum households might be effective way of clearing land for other uses, but all evictions result in increased poverty

slum3The World Bank Group has come up with a new report (click HERE to download), “Leveraging Urbanization in South Asia: Managing Spatial Transformation in for Prosperity and Livability”. In the following excerpt, it underlines, India’s 2011 Census has underestimated slum population:

Slums and informal settlements are widespread in South Asia and may house, at a minimum, a staggering 130 million people in nearly 30 million households. According to the most recently available estimates, about 26 percent of regional urban development is unplanned and informal, though this proportion varies greatly across countries, from only 12 percent in Sri Lanka to nearly 90 percent in Afghanistan. Estimates for Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan range between 46.6 percent and 61.6 percent of the urban population. In addition to Sri Lanka, the estimated share of the urban population living in slums is much lower for India.

According to India’s 2011 census, approximately one in six urban residents lives in slums. But since the 2001 census, serious concerns have been expressed at multiple levels of government that India’s census approach dramatically understates the country’s slum population. UN-HABITAT (2013) estimates India’s slum population in 2009 as nearly one in three urban residents. This potential additional slum population suggests that the number of urban slum dwellers for the region as a whole may have been as high as 157 million in 2011, equivalent to the entire population of Bangladesh.

However, not only the poor live in slums and informal settlements. In Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan, the most recently available estimates show that between 7 percent and 30 percent of urban residents live below the official national poverty line. But in each country, the share of the urban population living in slums is significantly higher. In Afghanistan, the most extreme case, the estimated share of the urban population living in slums exceeds that living below the poverty line by 58 percentage points; for Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan the gap is about 40 percentage points. For Sri Lanka, based on the most recent (2005) estimates, the gap is much smaller—4.8 percentage points.

India presents an exception in that the estimated share of the urban population living in slums is basically identical to the proportion living below the poverty line. However, this statement depends on accepting the 17.4 percent estimate of India’s urban slum population from the 2011 census. This disparity means that vast numbers of people live in South Asian urban slums who are not poor by local standards, whose nationally defined poverty lines. The implication is that factors beyond poverty—such as poorly performing urban land and housing markets, inadequate infrastructure, poor or expensive land titling, and lack of housing finance—are important contributory factors in the formation and expansion of slums and informal settlements.

slum1Fortunately, the share of the urban population living in slums in South Asia declined during 2000–11. But this positive trend should be qualified. Much of the reduction derives from the removal of one or more of the UN–HABITAT (2003) deprivations (that is, nonpermanent shelters, insufficient living space; no access to safe water; no access to adequate sanitation) and rarely reflects the establishment of formal land and property title. In other words, reductions tend to reflect improved infrastructure access rather than improved security of tenure. Also, while the relative proportion of urban populations living in slums is falling, in most countries the absolute number of urban slum dwellers is increasing.

Living in slums puts enormous social, economic, and financial burdens on households and can lead to intergenerational poverty. Some analysts argue that slums are a natural process of development and that they are simply a transition to modernization and adequate housing (Glaeser 2011). But many argue that they are a poverty trap—that living in slums makes it harder for households to move out of poverty. Marx, Stoker, and Suri (2013) present compelling evidence that several slum-related factors contribute to the perpetuation of poverty, including poor health outcomes; an inability to access finance and, more generally, leverage property assets; lack of access to basic services; and difficulty in commuting to jobs. Slum residents are subjected to low-quality housing in often precarious areas, which adversely affects their health and quality of life.

It is common for these settlements to be in areas prone to flooding and landslides. Slum housing is on land that has been squatted on or has not been properly subdivided and titled; it is built without planning permission and does not comply with local building codes. Construction therefore is often unsafe—being, for example, more liable to collapse in extreme weather conditions or in the event of a natural disaster. Additionally, most informal settlements do not have full access to infrastructure services such as water and sanitation, paved roads, and sidewalks. As noted by UN-HABITAT (2003b, 172), “In accessible parts of the city, the poor can often afford only precarious sites with insecure tenure…. Conversely, affordable sites that may have more secure tenure are more likely to be located in the less accessible periphery of the city and involve higher commuting times and costs.” For example, in Mumbai a disproportionate share of the urban poor live on the periphery in the poorly connected eastern part of the city (Baker and others 2005).

slum2Worse, as formal urban development continues across the region, slum dwellers face considerable eviction pressures because they typically lack property title. For example, UN-HABITAT (2007) reports that, between 1995 and 2005, 1.12 million persons were evicted in India and more than 242,000 people in Bangladesh. When slums are on private land, owners may take back their land to either sell it at high prices or develop it profitably. Nor are slums on public land exempt from these pressures: governments are increasingly relocating slum dwellers to build infrastructure or to rectify environmentally hazardous areas. But because lowincome urbanites lack the funds to commute long distances to work, they often prefer to live as close as possible to their workplaces, frequently in center-city areas where land is in high demand and thus expensive. When they are evicted, slum dwellers’ social and economic networks can be severely disrupted, depending on the place of their relocation.

As a recent UNESCAP report states, “Evicting slum households might be an effective way of clearing land for other uses, but almost all evictions, directly or indirectly, result in increased poverty” (UNESCAP 2012, 14–15). The threat of eviction also reduces incentives for households to upgrade their housing in place.

Estimating India’s slum population

According to India’s 2011 census, 17.4 percent of the country’s urban population—equivalent to 65.5 million people—lived in slum settlements. This figure is little changed from the 18.3 percent reported by the country’s 2001 census. But concerns have arisen within India that the census dramatically underestimates the country’s true slum population. The UN estimates that in 2009, 29.4 percent of India’s urban population was living in slums (UN-HABITAT 2013).

The 2001 census estimates were based on the definition of slums adopted by the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India (Census of India). This definition identifies three types of slums: (1) notified slums—all specified areas in a town or city notified as “slum” by state, union territories administration, or local government, under any act including a “Slum Act”; (2) recognized slums—all areas recognized as “slum” by state, union territories administration, or local government, as well as housing and slum boards, that may not have been formally notified as “slum” under any act; and (3) identified slums—compact areas of at least 300 people (or about 60–70 households) of poorly built congested tenements, usually unhygienic environments with inadequate infrastructure and lacking proper sanitary and drinking water facilities.

Several problems with the definition of slums and the way the slum population was enumerated caused the 2001 census to dramatically understate India’s slum population:

  • The definition excludes pockets with fewer than 60 households having slum-like features. In many places, slums may be found that have only 20–25 households.
  • The census excluded several smaller states: Arunachal Pradesh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Himachal Pradesh, Lakshadweep, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Sikkim.
  • In some states, district or town authorities did not report all the towns and enumeration blocks that needed enumeration.
  • In cities and towns covered under the census, district and town authorities did not consider nonnotified or nonrecognized slums that were the subject of land disputes.

Although the 2011 census increased its coverage to include some of the previously missing states, it still only covered slums in the country’s 4,041 statutory towns and therefore failed to enumerate the slum population of India’s 3,894 census towns (settlements that the Indian census recognizes as urban even though they are governed as rural areas). In addition, the 2011 census persisted in using the minimum 60–70 household definition of a slum.


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