Slums, Clean Them Up, Or Death to Us All.
University of California professor Mike Davis asserts in his 2006 article, “Slum Ecology” that due to the massive expansion of urban areas, the world has experienced a severe increase of impoverished communities in Third World Countries. These impoverished communities are plagued by unsuitable housing and living conditions, insufficient access to clean water and effective sanitation, housing insecurity, and overcrowding. They are also extremely vulnerable to natural disaster. These conditions make it necessary for a global commitment to the investment in a world-wide public health system.
To support his claim, Davis explains since the 1950s our global population has increased markedly, with urban areas contributing the majority of new births; adding around a million babies a week. This large population growth in already overcrowded cities, partnered with the majority of slums located in geographically unstable areas can lead to disaster, death, and disease.
Davis uses several examples of weather events in overpopulated, impoverished communities that have led to disaster. Slums built on already unsteady hillsides in Caracas, Venezuela combined with unprecedented rain fall caused land-slides destroying lower-lying coastal towns. This disaster killed tens of thousands of people and left almost half a million homeless and or jobless.
Another example, a well-known slum named “garbage mountain” in Manila was devastated by flooding brought on by a typhoon. This flooding killed an estimated one thousand residents and destroyed hundreds of homes. Earthquakes are also a real threat for some of these communities as the majority are built with low-quality materials and lack adequate construction.
Fire is a common fear of residents living in impoverished communities. Poor quality building materials, overcrowding, make-shift cooking areas and homes heated with unsafe methods are a combination often leading to disaster. One small mistake can cause a fire possibly devastating the entire community. Land owners seeking to avoid lengthy court battles and high legal fees to remove the residents have been known to go to extreme measures to resolve their problems. Setting fire to these fragile dwellings quickly and completely destroys them, clearing the way for new, profitable construction. On many occasions, fire-fighters cannot navigate through the cramped, overcrowded streets to get to the fire in time. Sadly, in these poor communities, fire fighters may not make an attempt to respond.
In his argument, Davis offers another reason for urban population growth as the relocation of rural farmers. The majority of farmers forced to leave rural areas have done so because of illness and medical debt. Many have left because of drought, falling profits, or higher interest rates on their outstanding debts. Without any help from their governments, they are forced to move to cities to find work or with extended family.
Water contamination and inadequate waste disposal is another threat faced by slums in Third World Countries. In poorly built housing communities, plumbing is commonly subpar or nonexistent allowing waste to contaminate already untreated water supplies. Scrupulous water vendor’s mark-up the price of clean water to rates not affordable to the impoverished. Residents are forced to go without water, use rain water, or use sewage water. They must sacrifice bathing and live with the imminent danger of possible illness and death from water contaminated by human excrement and toxic chemicals. Garbage collection is not sufficient in these areas for the amount of waste produced far exceeds the ability of poorly funded sanitation departments to clean it up. Waste and contamination accumulate spreading typhoid and malaria. Diseases from contaminated water kill thousands of people regularly and are easily preventable.
Impoverished areas are suffering because of the debt owed by their governments. Drowning in debt, low-income nations are unable to supply resources to rural and urban areas in dire need of assistance. Financial resources have been rerouted to pay off debt owed to the World Bank and International Monetary Funds. This has left many indebted countries without a budget to supply much needed social services or to make improvements to their infrastructure to accommodate their growing and relocating populations. Redirection of government spending has removed funding from health care and education in already at-risk areas. Increased infant and maternal mortality rates have been found in areas lacking adequate medical services.
Global pressure has forced poor nations to open themselves up to competition and privatization of health care. Countries that once provided medical insurance now allow private hospitals to charge exorbitant fees for medical services leading to a decrease in medical care for the poor, again raising the rates of infant mortality. Countries that once had a social conscious are now controlled by selfish governments driven by personal interest.
Slums are a breeding ground for death and disaster. They contain the perfect elements for the creation of new diseases and are host to deadly, once thought eradicated diseases waiting to re-infect society. Globalization and increased poverty have made the global spread of deadly diseases a realistic threat. The same people that created these conditions must now create policies to reverse it. Without a global plan for investment in health care, a global health crisis may be inevitable.