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Rural Poor are Better off Than Slum Dwellers: UN Report

Slum dwellers in developing countries, including India and Bangladesh, are as badly off as, if not worse off than, their rural relatives, says a new UN-HABITAT report released Saturday //.

As the locus of poverty shifts from rural areas to urban centres, UN-HABITAT's "State of the World's Cities" report provides concrete data to reveal that the world's one billion slum dwellers are more likely to die earlier, experience more hunger and disease, attain less education and have fewer chances of employment than the urban residents who do not reside in a slum.

The report shows that there are remarkable similarities between slums and rural areas in health, education, employment and mortality.

"It shows how in countries such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Haiti and India, child malnutrition in slums is comparable to that of rural areas."

Breaking the myth that urban populations are healthier, more literate and more prosperous than rural populations, the study reveals that "the urban poor suffer from an urban penalty, as such slum dwellers in developing countries are as badly off, if not worse off than their rural relatives.

"For a long time, we suspected that the optimistic picture of cities did not reflect the reality on the ground," said UN-HABITAT's executive director Anna Tibaijuka.

"This report provides concrete evidence that there are two cities within one city - one part of the urban population that has all the benefits of urban living, and the other part, the slums and squatter settlements, where the poor often live under worse conditions than their rural relatives."

Tibaijuka has urged donor agencies and national governments to recognise the urban penalty and specifically target additional resources to improve the living conditions of slum dwellers.

The report comes at a time when the world is entering a historic urban transition. In 2007, for the first time in history, the w orld's urban population is expected to exceed the rural population due to rapid migration.

Citing studies from both developed and developing countries, the report highlights that job applicants residing in low-income neighbourhoods or slums are less likely to be called for interviews than those who reside in better-off neighbourhoods which impacts their ability to escape poverty.

About health, the report states that in many Sub-Saharan African cities, children living in slums are more likely to die from water-borne and respiratory illnesses than rural children.

Women living in slums are also more likely to contract HIV/AIDS than their rural counterparts.

These differences are attributed to the poor living conditions in slums, which expose women and children to a variety of health hazards and force girls and women to engage in sexually risky behaviour.

The report notes that countries need not achieve significant milestones in economic growth before they tackle growing slum populations.

Some low or middle-income countries, including Brazil, Colombia, the Philippines, Indonesia, South Africa and Sri Lanka, have managed to prevent slum formation by anticipating and planning for growing urban populations and by instituting pro-poor reforms.

"The report offers hope and direction to other low-income countries by showing that it is possible to prevent slum formation with the right policies and practices," said Tibaijuka.

(Source: IANS News)

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