Preparing for Seven Billion: The Challenge of Slums

August 8, 2012Ian Hainline

This post is part of our Planning for 7 Billion series, highlighting the challenges posed by a quickly growing global population. The world is growing—and fast. We’ve just eclipsed seven billion people here on Earth, and that number is only going to increase faster in the future. Moreover, on our way to seven billion people, the world has, for the first time, more urban residents then rural ones. There are countless challenges stemming from these two shifts, but the need to feed and house so many people, and in so many places, will provide stern tests for our national and international leadership in the future. More people on the planet will mean a greater demand for resources. ThinkProgress, summarizing a United Nations report, notes that global population growth will require “by 2030…a 50 percent increase in food production, 45 percent more energy, and 30 percent more water.”

The challenge of providing these resources is heightened by an expansion of the population in slums, which the Boston Globe notes currently house an estimated one billion people, a total expected to reach two billion or more by 2030. Slums are loosely defined as settlements built either in, or in proximity to a city, and in the absence of official regulation, or titled holding to the land. As a consequence of this lack of oversight, the Boston Globe notes that “housing is typically substandard, and the infrastructure and services range from nonexistent to improvised.” Moving forward, urban policy makers the world over will need to keep a watchful eye on their slums, and ensure that these booming areas, where people are already prone to disease, hunger, and greater poverty, do not become even more blighted.  A lack of proper land ownership by slum residents means that thousands are at risk of losing their land in the event of an ill-conceived development project. It will fall to public interests to remember what we are taught in Deuteronomy 15:7-11, that “If…there is a needy person among you…do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your kin. Rather you must open your hand and lend whatever is sufficient.”

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