Slums, Sludge, and Sickness
Mike Davis’ article, Slum Ecology (2006) raises concern over the adverse cycle of health, financial, and ecological conditions that arise as a result of urbanization in Third World countries. Davis first describes the result of the role of urbanization, natural and manmade disasters, and ecological hazards in endangering people living in Third World slums, then accounts the development of urbanization and its health risks, and finally outlines international economic policies that result in the insufficient appropriation of funding towards healthcare programs by Third world countries, inhibiting aid towards diseases caused by urbanization.
Davis’ chief claim is that urbanization produce and worsen health and environmental issues of people living in slums. Davis defines urbanization as a “process” that is the cause of the “growth of slums, [and] characterized by overcrowding, poor or informal housing, inadequate access to safe water and sanitation, [as well as] insecurity of tenure” (2006). As a result of the development of Third World cities, safe living standards are unable to be maintained in proportion to the pace to which people are migrating, resulting in poor housing and health conditions. Additionally, Davis describes the deplorable living conditions for people slums, as “marginality [living] within marginality” or ‘semi-death’ (2006). As a transformative process, urbanization in Third World countries bear the brunt of city life without much of its benefits; people in slums face inadequate housing as well as crime without sufficient government oversight to alleviate the issues. Further, Davis’ chief claim is advanced in his thesis, in which he asserts, “Suffering under a series of crushing pressures, most recently a quarter-century-old regime of Draconian international economic policies, cities are systematically polluting, urbanizing, and destroying their crucial environmental support systems” (Davis 2006). Through international economic policies and urbanization, ecological and health risks are magnified.
First, natural and manmade disasters are made worse because of the ecological hazards that results from urbanization. Natural disasters, storms, and earthquakes exacerbate the sensitive environmental circumstances surrounding slums in Third World countries. Fires however, both in occurring both naturally and intentionally, manmade, is the most frequent and immediate threat. Where “a simple accident with cooking gas or kerosene” in “flammable dwellings, their [proximity of people living in] extraordinary destiny” becomes a “superlative recipe for spontaneous combustion” (Davis 2006). In the daily routine of preparing meals, life in the slums is made all the more dangerous because of their housing situation, as well as in the surrounding housing situations of others; the spread of fire is a regular threat because of the crowded conditions of slum shelters as well as the lack of quality, fire-resistant housing materials. Further, should a fire occur and spread, there is no guarantee of response, aid from local governments in trying to suppress the fire, as “fire-fighting vehicles, if they respond at all, are often unable to negotiate narrow slum lanes” (Davis 2006). Government resources are inadequate in serving the needs of the people; insufficient resources, as well as deficient infrastructure, impedes local agencies from helping in a dire situation.
Second, in the process of urbanization, Third World cities foster health risks, pollution of their environment, because of their lack of financial resources and ability to maintain a standard of ecological health and safety. The inability for local governments to appropriately implement waste disposal programs allows for the contamination of water sources and rise of diseases. Where the “average [waste] collection rate in Dar Es Salaam is barely 25 percent; in Karachi, 40 percent; and in Jakarta, 60 percent” (Davis 2006), the bulk of waste runs into nearby water sources (Davis 2006). Contaminated water sources in Third World countries pose the greatest risks to the health of impoverished people. In which “poor sanitation and the pollution of drinking water are the leading cause of death in the world” and “up to 80 percent of preventable diseases” (Davis 2006). The failure of Third World cities to implement decent waste disposal programs comes at a direct, dire cost to the health and livelihood of its people. Although the contamination of water and consequent diseases by inadequate waste disposal programs are preventable, Third World countries’ lack of investment into healthcare services inhibit relief.
The lack of Third World countries in providing aid to its people is in part, the result of international agencies that enforce economic policies that result in the lack of funding of healthcare programs in Third World countries. Faced with budgeting conflicts, as a result of imposed economic restructuring regulations, Third World countries often choose to cut back on healthcare spending. “[Economic] structural adjustment programs”, such as that implemented by Mexico for instance, to have lead to a dramatic increase, “82 [women] per 100,000 in 1980 to 150 [women] in 1988”, in maternal mortality, while “births attended by medical personnel fell” from “94 percent in 1983 to 45 percent in 1988” (Davis 2006). As a result of economic policies, enforced by international agencies, Mexico, as well as other Third World countries, consequently sought to restructure their economies by redistributing healthcare funds to other programs.
Urbanization negatively effects the ecological environment of Third World cities, fostering disease and risk among its people that live within slums. Lack of sufficient waste disposal and healthcare services devastates the surrounding ecology and people within Third World slums, as a result of urbanization efforts.