Policymakers said to be underestimating urban poverty
Governments and aid agencies fail to tackle urban poverty because they fail to understand it, according to a new book that paints the most detailed picture to date of how a billion-plus poor people live in towns and cities worldwide.
Urban Poverty in the Global South: Scale and Nature — published on Wednesday — draws on more than 20 years of research.
It shows how policymakers and development organisations underestimate urban poverty – and why this could lead to poor policies that fail to address injustice and inequality.
The book also challenges the idea that economic growth alone could eliminate that poverty, as many successful economies show little sign of decreasing poverty in their urban centres.
Professor Diana Mitlin, economist and social development specialist of the International Institute for Environment and Development and the University of Manchester and co-author of the book says “If we want to build a better world we have to understand better what the urban poor experience.”
“We have to understand what it means to have little income and face income, spatial, social and political inequalities. Only then can governments, development agencies and community organisations work with the urban poor to improve their options.”
The book says one in seven people worldwide live in poverty in urban areas, and most of these live in the global South – mostly in overcrowded informal settlements that lack adequate water, sanitation, security, health care and schools.
People there endure poor living and working conditions, low incomes and inadequate diets, which all add to large health burdens or premature death.
On top of these problems, the urban poor have little voice and few means to influence the policies and pressures that work against their interests.
The book says governments and aid agencies often fail to understand and provide for the urban poor because of the way they define and measure poverty, using systems based on the ‘$1 per day poverty line’.
This greatly understates the scale and depth of urban poverty because in so many cities, non-food needs such as accommodation, water and access to toilets, schools and employment cost much more than a dollar a day.
“The fates of the billion-plus people who live in poverty in towns and cities worldwide will have a major impact on human development,” says co-author David Satterthwaite, a senior fellow at the IIED and editor ofinternational journal Environment and Urbanization.
“But until decision-makers better understand how and why urban poverty exists, their actions will only ensure that it persists.”
David Piachaud, Professor of Social Policy, London School of Economics says “The book moves the discussion of the multiple dimensions of poverty out of the realm of theory and academic discourse, where the bulk of the literature has been concentrated, and shows how the recognition of multiple disadvantages can reframe and energize pro-poor policies and programmes.
He said the authors offered “detailed, specific insights grounded in long experience with the urban poor of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.