NAIROBI, Kenya -- The number of people residing in slums has climbed from 777 million in 2000 to almost 830 million in 2010 and will likely reach some 900 million by 2020. Even so, the living conditions for these people are an open violation of all basic human rights.
This is the dire picture that the United Nations presented at the World Urban Forum, which took place March 22-26 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In fact, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described "appalling living conditions in slums as a violation of human rights," saying that helping the urban poor reclaim their rights strengthened societies and stemmed environmental degradation.
"The children who have no clean water, the women who fear for their safety, the young people who have no chance to receive a decent education have a right to better," Ban said, "and we have a responsibility to do better to help them."
The Forum was established by the UN to examine the effects of rapid urbanization on communities, cities, economies and the climate. It held its first meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2002.
Ban noted that an estimated 22 million people in developing countries had managed to move out of slums each year during the past decade, "but that achievement was not enough to have the impact required to reduce urban poverty."
"All people have the right to safe drinking water, sanitation, shelter and basic services. All people have the right to live with a sense of security. All people should have the opportunity to work for a better future," Ban stressed.
227 million escaped
While some 227 million slum-dwellers worldwide have escaped their conditions in the past decade, the overall global population of slums has continued to swell, even bypassing its 2000 numbers by nearly 60 million. Those that have moved out of slums since 2000 have done so largely due to slum upgrading.
UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), agreed upon by world leaders, had set a target of improving the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020. This past decade's exodus of those living in slums has surpassed this goal by twofold.
"However, this achievement is not uniformly distributed across regions," Anna Tibaijuka, a UN executive who wrote in the introduction to the agency's biennial "State of the World's Cities 2010/2011" report.
"Success is highly skewed towards the more advanced emerging economies, while poorer countries have not done as well," she says, stressing "There is no room for complacency."
The report, entitled "Bridging the Urban Divide," characterizes efforts to reduce the number of slum dwellers as "neither satisfactory nor adequate," especially given that just over half of the world's population -- or nearly 3.5 billion -- now lives in urban areas.
Sub-Saharan Africa is home to nearly two-thirds of the world's slum population, with 200 million people. South Asia, East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean round out the top five regions with the largest number of slum dwellers.
The report also finds that "urbanization benefits political leaders, public servants and the rich in Africa, Asia and Latin American and the Caribbean, leaving millions behind".
"Achieving sustainable urban development is likely to prove impossible if the urban divide is allowed not only to persist, but to continue growing, opening up an enormous gap -- even in some cities a gulf, an open wound -- which can produce social instability or at least generate high social and economic costs not only for the urban poor, but for society at large," Tibaijuka stated.
The report notes: "In an inclusive city, residents take part in decision-making that ranges from the political to issues of daily life. ... Such participation injects a sense of belonging, identity, place into residents, and guarantees them a stake in the benefits of urban development."