Posted on 05 February 2008 by Philip Brookes
Ok, I succumbed and spent $29.95 to buy “Planet of Slums” by Mike Davis. I think this is going to become one of my most valuable texts in understanding and prioritising the needs of poverty relief. It’s packed with so many cross-references to other sources to back up his studies, and even just reading up on those referenced sources boggles my mind with so much available information!
In the first paragraph of Chapter 2 Davis quotes the World Bank‘s warnings during the 1990′s that urban poverty would become the “most significant, and politically explosive, problem of the next century.” I’m inclined to agree. The problem is almost incomprehensibly huge. It’s just that most of the urban poverty and slum dwelling is centred in developing countries, and therefore most of the richer nations are comfortably oblivious to the true scale of the issue.
And the more I consider this reality, the more I’m disturbed at how much effort and finance we can throw into combatting global warming whilst simultaneously allowing a huge percentage of the world’s population to suffer in unimaginable poverty. If you were walking down the street and encountered a malnourished, ill person dying on the pavement would we not immediately call an ambulance and ensure that they received medical attention? And yet, because they’re a few thousand miles away, we don’t do anything! But we’re happy to spend thousands of dollars on installing rain water tanks, subsidising Green Energy, building Energy Efficient houses, replacing our whitegoods with more efficient models, upgrading our sprinkler systems for better water use, and buying hybrid vehicles to cut down our “carbon footprint”.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for us being environmentally friendly – but why is it that we can’t reach out compassionately today to people who, right at this very instant, are suffering worse than we’ve ever experienced?
I guess it feels like a sad irony, indeed selfishness, that we should put so much emphasis on the environmental issues that may afflict us in 50 years time, when the majority of the world’s population is at this very moment in tough, if not dire, circumstances and we do nothing to assist them.
If we can’t show love and compassion for our fellow humankind, what hope is there for this planet anyway??
Posted on 01 February 2008 by Philip Brookes
Last night I read just the first ten or so pages of a book called “Planet of Slums” by Mike Davis. Fascinating and thought-provoking stuff. I’ll have to go back to Borders (my regular haunt) and keep reading it (or even buy it!).
Davis points out that right about now, for the first time in human history, we’ve reached the 50/50 point where 50% of the global population lives in an urban environment. This growth of urbanisation is amazing, with some cities experiencing as much as 4000% growth in the past 50 years, and mega-cities of 10, 15 or even 20 million people becoming more and more common.
But a curious aspect of this is that the growth of urbanisation is radically greater in developing countries (particularly Asia, Africa and South America) than in western countries. And the formation of these urban areas does not follow the previously expected patterns with a single nucleus and high density living at the centre of a city, but rather many, many communities are expanding and merging together to create massive urban corridors even as long as 600km.
The most worrying part of all, however, is that urban growth does not equate to economic growth. Instead, these developing countries are experiencing rapid growth in poverty, and the explosive growth of the slums that inspired the title of the book. Along the west coast of Africa, Lagos (the former capital of Nigeria), which had a population of about 290,000 in 1950, now has a population of about 8 million and is referred to as a ‘conurbation‘ due to it’s sprawling nature which amalgamates many cities/towns/suburbs/communities into one huge mass of humanity spread over 1000 sq.km. Yet in spite of all this growth (or perhaps because of it?) The Economist, in their December 2006 Liveability Survey, identified Lagos as only 64.7% liveable (where 0% is perfect and 100% is intolerable) and ranked it 130 out of 132 of all the cities surveyed.
Anyway, that’s enough for now – just some food for thought. Once I’ve had a chance to read more of Davis’ arguments, I’ll share my analysis with you. Apparently Davis argues that these issues are further exacerbated, and manipulated, to the advantage of the rich, by organisations such as the IMF intentionally setting policy (e.g. ‘Structural Adjustment Programs’) which further entrench the poverty and transfer wealth and resources from the poor to the rich. Whether he’s right or wrong, it undoubtedbly calls our attention to a very real crisis faced by humanity.