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Urban poverty and social exclusion: challenges ahead

Date: Thursday 1 November 13.30–15.00
Source: Forum 11
Authors: Sabina Faiz Rashid, Assistant Professor, School of Public Health, James P Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University, Bangladesh


Urban slum populations around the world provide important case studies of the impact of systemic, structural and social inequalities, which exclude them and critically shape their lives and health experiences.

Let me begin with the story of Farida, an adolescent mother who a few weeks after giving birth to her second child in a Dhaka slum, was forcibly evicted overnight by the government, leaving them homeless and without access to health services. This is typical for the 4 million slum dwellers residing in Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka city.

Farida's story will also resonate among 1.9 poor urban dwellers living in low- and middle-income nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean who represent two-thirds of the world's urban population. At least 600 million of these have income and asset bases too low to cover the costs of essentials, and live in homes that are congested, have poor sanitation and overflowing sewage, face rampant crime, extortion and violence and inadequate basic services (e.g. education, health), placing them at constant vulnerability and risk.

This presentation draws on primary ethnographic research in Bangladesh and case studies from around the world to demonstrate how living in such dismal conditions, together with the larger external forces of national policies, result in urban poor populations bearing the brunt of social, political and economic exclusion and its multiple consequences on their lives, bodies and health.

Urban poverty is one of the most significant issues and challenges facing many countries in the world, and urbanization and its effects on health remain poorly understood and overlooked. To improve the lives of people who live in slums and to work towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals requires community empowerment, good local governance, dialogues among all stakeholders (development agencies, donors and other local actors) and political commitment from the state.