Urban Blight in Developing Countries

Urban blight in developing countries slows progress and kills hope. The developing countries cannot afford to care for the rural migrants who swell the slums or to lessen the problems they bring.

The problem

The poor have no power to demand services anyway; government only listens to people who know how to exercise their power. Meanwhile, anyone who can moves away from the dangerous slums. The leafy suburbs expand the metropolitan area, but they are no longer politically part of the city, and the poor are left alone to rule the chaos.

Increasingly, people all over the world are city dwellers. About 50 percent of the world's population is urban, and by 2030 two-thirds of the world's people may live in cities or towns. Even in highly developed countries, the rise of megacities is a problem, stretching resources, causing pollution and sprawl. In developing countries without resources to cope with the influx, it is a tragedy.

The rural poor naturally seek to better their lot. They move to megacities but have no urban skills, no income and no settled home. Cities are centers of technology, education and economic growth, yet for many they are also places of poverty, crime and disease.


People with no skills seldom make good wages. Recent migrants get only the most marginal jobs at the lowest pay. Yet urban goods are as expensive as rural, and housing is often more expensive.

Migrants may be forced to live in housing they scratch together themselves, usually without electricity or running water, and often with unsafe cooking and heating fuels. Every home in a slum is unsafe because of amateur construction techniques, overcrowding, lack of public sanitation and crime.


People without incomes may become criminals. Even if they do not, their children are susceptible to the lure of cash and a sense of identity. A near-child may choose to be a gangster rather than a hick. The newly urban poor are easily drawn into crime and easily used by more sophisticated criminals.


Yet disease is the real scourge of the slums. The overcrowding, the lack of sanitation and the insecure water supplies all lead to disease that spreads rapidly. The poor die young, much younger than their compatriots in the high rise apartments or the leafy suburbs that ring the megacities.

Poor people have no health care, though it might be to the advantage of the prosperous to see that at least vaccinations were free. Poor people go to faith healers, herbalists or traditional healers. Even if such practitioners are sincere, they almost never have effective medicines to offer.


Some megacities are not growing as fast as they were. Some rural migrants turn away to different destinations. They find work in factory towns where goods are made more cheaply than in developed countries.

If people in the developed countries demand better conditions for these workers they will have them. Meanwhile, the poor who work in low-wage factories have jobs and can take better care of their families. They can save, however little, and they can afford to hope again.

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