What is a Slum?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2018
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A slum is a densely populated urban area that is characterized by a generally low standard of living. These areas may also be known as shantytowns, barrios, ghettos, or favelas, although some of these terms have specific cultural meanings. In the later part of the 20th century, they exploded worldwide, becoming a cause for serious concern among humanitarian organizations, as an alarmingly high number of people live in regions which could be considered slums; in Mumbai, India, for example, an estimated 60% of the population lives in one.

Slums can form in several ways. Classically, they have emerged in existing neighborhoods that fall upon hard times. In some cases, these neighborhoods have been prestigious and well respected, but the standards of living fall as homes are slowly subdivided into cramped tenement apartments, and the population becomes highly concentrated. At the same time, access to services like health care, fresh food, and basic sanitation may become restricted, creating filth and squalor.

In some cases, such areas can also arise from nowhere, as is the case with many of the shantytowns found in developing nations. These slums sometimes seem to emerge overnight, compacting humanity into filthy, densely packed areas with poorly constructed and often dangerous homes. In campaigns to clean up such areas, many cities have forcibly evicted people from these shantytowns, creating a ripple effect as forcibly displaced people attempt to relocate to new regions.


Most of the people who live in slums are extremely poor, and many are treated as second class citizens by their society. Health problems tend to be very high, as a result of improper sanitation and lack of access to basic health care. Malnutrition is another serious problem in many places, as is crime, which can make them very dangerous for their inhabitants.

Many people view slums as the ultimate symbol of inequality, and in some regions, such areas have formed in some very unexpected locations, sometimes neighboring the homes of the wealthy. Organizations that campaign against them argue that no human being should be forced to live in such poor conditions, and that as a basic act of humanity, cities need to provide livable low cost housing and regulate construction.

Unfortunately, the solution is seldom this simple. The world's population is rapidly growing, putting immense pressure on available resources, and as developing countries become more developed, this pressure is likely to grow. Although it is somewhat disheartening to think about, gross inequality seems to go hand in hand with growing societies.


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Post 11
Slum sanitation is a bigger problem than population density. Why are infectious diseases more common in countries with many slums? It's because of the lack of sanitation.

Many slums in India don't have proper toilets or water systems. They are living in filth and relieving themselves wherever they are able to. No wonder so many people are sick and dying.

And the article said that about 60 percent of people in Mumbai live in slums. This is a disgrace, considering what a wealthy city Mumbai is. It's the heart of the Bollywood film industry. Isn't it crazy that there are celebrities living in huge, expensive bungalows and a few blocks away people are living impoverished in slums?

Post 8
I think there are slums in most of the developing world and even in ones that we are starting to consider as developed countries now, like China.

There are also slums in many conflict-ridden countries like Iraq. I would argue that many refugee camps in the Middle East are not that different from slums.

For example, the Palestinian refugees in "refugee camps" in Jordan have been there for decades. Some have been living in those camps for thirty years. I don't think we can call these camps anymore. They are slums.

Post 7

I never knew what slums were until I saw Slumdog Millionaire. The film showed what slum life in Mumbai is like. It was very sad. I couldn't believe the poverty levels and the types of activities that went on in those areas.

Post 3

I would not consider an increase in infrastructure to be the answer to the problems of destitute villages and slums. Many of these areas cannot support the infrastructure found in industrialized nations so it is an impractical solution. Infrastructure will eventually erode if there is no one to maintain it. I think that the best solutions are ones that focus on promoting social equality. Reducing corruption, better urban planning, better access to education, and creating diverse and self-sufficient economies will all help eliminate slums. All of these things will actually allow people to find work when they migrate to the cities. These are just my thoughts.

Post 2

I have seen some of the atrocious conditions of slums in pictures, but never in person. I am sure they would be even more shocking if I witnessed them myself. I know it is tricky to eradicate slums, but how would a country go about fixing slums while still being equitable to the people who live their? Is the answer an increase in infrastructure?

Post 1

I just read today that the Brazilian Government sent military police into the favelas of Rio De Janeiro to deal with drug gangs terrorizing slum dwellers. The government has increased the police force in the slums of Rio by 1,300 heavily armed officers, and the result has been a series of street shootouts, one resulting in collateral damage. A 14-year-old girl was shot and killed by a stray bullet.

The saddest part of all this is the fact that the sweep was initiated as a means to clean up the streets of Rio before the 2014 Fifa World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. It wasn't the decades of atrocities that have inspired countless movies; the kidnappings, killings, or rapes

. The city is only cleaning up the slums to save face to the world. In doing so, the governments only options for cleaning up the city is to combat its own citizens. There is no improvement being made in the slums, only cracking down on their main source of income, however illegal it may be.

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