Friday, June 13, 2008

The Shantytowns as Solutions for Salvation

There are roughly one billion people, or 33% of the world's population, who remain invisible to their fellowmen. They are ignored, dismissed, or denied acknowledgment and largely discriminated against because of the squalor within their midst or the sub-human conditions of their existence. These are human beings who inhabit shantytowns or informal settlements, who struggle to eke out a life in unforgiving locations under unsympathetic surroundings; because of an unforgivable crime of being born in destitution.

About 70 million of the world's poorest human beings flock to cities annually, where in 20 years, their number could reach 2 billion. They seek opportunities, but face the constant threat of eviction, being squeezed out by industrial development, or merely bulldozed over because they are an urban blight that the non-poor refuse to see. At best, they are walled in and practically buried within the perimeter to remain out of sight. Some shantytowns have existed for 100 years and almost all have no clean water sources, no electricity, and no sanitation; yet they get little or no support because rural poverty has long been the image of deprivation. But urban poverty can be just as debasing, dehumanizing and life threatening.

Outsiders tend to view slums as breeding grounds of criminality, or recruitment areas for terrorists, but given that they are disdained, unaccepted and given up for dead; raises their predisposition to desperation and blind obedience to the hand that feeds them. But a new mindset is evolving that reverses the concept, that looks at slums in cities not as problems but solutions against global poverty. For within these communities are human beings who constantly strive to lift themselves out of impoverishment with undiminished tenacity and unbreakable will to survive. Amidst this depressing area of hopelessness are hardworking people with skills, trades and some education, who seek incomes from the informal economy that also benefits the workers in formal economies. The concept also sees this migration to impact on the settlers by way of lower birth rates where the world's population could be helped to level off.

This new way of thinking about informal settlements should permeate the rigid minds of governments and funding agencies. The treatment of poor people as undesirable statistics, which results in denial of basic infrastructure, property rights, and basic rights as a human being is anathema to real development. Development is for people, marginalized and deprived by policies that favor the influential, the rich and the powerful. Commercial and industrial development can continue but not to exclude the poor, but to integrate the poor into mainstream society. The way forward is not to disengage them from their temporary location, but to engage with them - to embrace those who reside in these communities, and sincerely understand how they live their lives.

Sadly, even this new mindset will perhaps be dismissed as worthless, for the minds of the non-poor may have been irreversibly molded by social discrimination. To this end, the solution for salvation will not come to pass. And, the absence of assistance for the many who are poor will one day endanger the lives of the few who are rich.



Jenaisle said...

Excellent post, very well written with so many thought -provoking insights.

Indeed , what you stated are sadly true. Sooner the supposed to be middle class - economic strata will be swallowed and engulfed by the indigent class. Sooner, the middle class will disappear if the present economic crisis is not resolved.

Thanks for sharing.

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Jenaisle,


Thanks for your kind words.

It is only in China, India and South Korea where the middle class is growing at a faster rate than most Asian and African countries. But even in India and China, poverty is widespread and grows faster than their respective middle classes.

In the Philippines, the middle class as we know it may disappear as you say, and I agree with you. The economic crisis is already changing lifestyles and eating patterns, yet wages remain depressed.

If the middle class gets mired in poverty, what would today's poor be like. I am afraid of seeing bands of hungry and desperate people resorting to anarchy in the midst of chaos and lawlessness. I hope it doesn't even come close to that.:-) --Durano, done!

Kim said...

ah yes Durano !!!
when society ignores the poor and needy we have a situation for revolution as history has shown ....
an excellent post with thought provoking insights....

SheR. said...

Who do you think should take action to remove those slums and relocated these people to a better place? What actions do you think should be taken??

I've seen government trying to remove slums by designating another region for these people to live in. Unfortunately most of them won't move because whatever area they are occupying now is probably the best place. Being close to the city centre. I really don't know what will be a better solution..

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hello Kim,

Society should really not ignore the poor because it is its own by-product. Displacement of people had often been the result of "development" that favored the influential and the powerful. Governments have, at times, allowed these to happen.

When the opportunities in their locations have dried up because of these developments, their only option is to migrate to the cities. The struggle to survive in the harsh environment of cities results in violence or criminality.

I do not think that people would like to live in the squalor of urban slums nor the environment that degenerates into violence because of the tempers brought on by hunger and deprivation. Assistance that would give them hope and allow them to persevere would be the logical approach. An given that they are concentrated in a confined area, some education and skills to make them more productive in a socially acceptable way. :-) --Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Sher,

You're right, where they are is where they should be assisted.

If opportunities are to be developed in rural areas, migration to the cities could be mitigated. However, those already in the cities should be given education and facilities as well as skills to become more productive.

Relocation would only expose them to another undeveloped area and may subject them to a hostile environment. It will only make it costlier for them to travel to the cities where they have a chance at survival.

The place where they are, at times abandoned properties or speculative land, should be purchased by government and sold to the poor at low cost and for long term payback periods. Housing assistance and sanitation, electricity should also be provided, then the skills and help in mainstreaming their produce or crafts. Employment in commercial or industrial companies may also be given for those with some education. Mobilizing them as an organization within a community can be done for productive purposes as in building the homes within their community, which would help create concern for its cleanliness, order and peace. Beautification could follow. A movement in the Philippines has been doing this for 11 years. It's called Gawad Kalinga" or giving care. I will write a post about this group at some point. :-) --Durano, done!