In his article, “Slum Ecology”, Mike Davis uses lurid examples and alarming statistics to draw attention to a problem that he believes will ultimately result in universal catastrophe. The problem that he argues exists is best recapitulated in the following quote from the article’s last paragraph, “Economic globalization without concomitant investment in a global public health infrastructure is a formula for catastrophe.”
To position his ultimate claim in a way as to influence his readers, Davis draws attention first to the growing globalization of city slums. He argues that the safety and health of city dwellers has become less important than securing land and tenure security. This is not merely a problem in a few states or countries, it is a global issue. He draws attention to the precariousness and poverty of slum ecology in Buenos Aires, Manila, Lagos, Johannesburg, and several other large cities. In these cities, the less advantaged are being pushed to the edge of cities with massively expanding populations. He offers the following statistic in addition to others to depict the rapid expansion of city slums: “UN researchers estimate that there were at least 921 million slum dwellers in 2001 and more than 1 billion in 2005, with slum populations growing by a staggering 25 million per year.” Davis elaborates on the growth of cities and city slums in order to allow him to demonstrate the global significance of this dangerous slum situation.
Continuing, Davis elaborates on the treacherous conditions of slum life. He posits that the beginning of slums is bad geology. The earth on which slums are built is the most friable and vulnerable to wide reaching catastrophes such as earthquakes and fire. He describes earthquakes as “urban housing crisis audits”. Whenever an earthquake strikes a city, it is the city’s poorest areas, its slums, that are most susceptible to damage and destruction. Not only is the ground’s earth fragile and incapable of providing stability, but the construction in slums is unreliable. According to Davis, the principles of urban planning are being ignored. In his words, “people are not paying attention to the fatal mix of poverty and toxic industry”. It is both the poverty of the people and the dangerous ecological and technological situations that are creating the detriment of the slums.
Both first world and third world cities are suffering the effects of slums, yet Davis writes that the solutions for first world cities are much more feasible than for third world cities. While, wealthy cities can engineer massive projects and insurance programs to protect city slums, third world cities do not have these options. Why? Because according to Davis, most third world countries are in debt to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). These countries are suffering under “most recently, a quarter-century old regime of Draconian international economic policies”. The IMF and World Bank’s conservative policies of the 1980s and 90s which deregulated international markets forced national economies to leave their local farmers to sink or swim. The disappearance of local safety nets made life for peasants much more difficult and nearly impossible. Warlords paraded around and civil wars erupted in a struggle to control resources. Strict migration policies block immigrants from entering “rich” countries. As Davis’s article states in his article, “Peasants have no choice but to become urban”.
According to Davis, the main threat of the slum situation for third world countries is overflowing waste. This overflowing waste causes not only poor health conditions but a lack of clean water which leads to further issues. Over 80% of deaths globally arise from poor sanitation. The dangerously unhealthy conditions that slum dwellers face are ultimately caused by international economic policies. Yet, these international governing bodies are the same ones that are making it much more difficult to contribute to public health care funding in third world countries.
Structural adjustment programs such as “Investing in Health Care” introduced by the World Bank in 1993, forced a new paradigm of market-based healthcare on third world countries that it was not prepared to be competitive in. This new structure has made it more difficult for third world countries to receive the funding they need to care for those affected by the detrimental conditions of city slums.
Davis describes the threat of city slum environments on dwellers in order to show that these conditions are causing global health issues. He then elaborates on the international economic restructuring that has created city slums and has at the same time made it impossible for third world countries to support their slum dwellers. Finally, he argues that international structural adjustment programs make it even more difficult for third world countries to receive the public health funding that they need to deal with the effects of rapid urbanization. Altogether, these arguments make it possible for Davis to make his final claim that without investment in a global public health infrastructure, economic globalization will be a recipe for global disaster.