Session 63: Challenges in the developing urban world: Informal settlements, slums, and growing inequalities


Session Abstract

Over half of the world's 7 billion people now live in urban areas. As attractive as the city may be for economic, social and political motives, global issues of concern like climate change, environmental health, migration and cyber criminality disproportionately affect urban dwellers more than their rural counterparts. There is growing consensus that the battle for sustainability will be won or lost in cities and that in developing countries it may be best to target the challenge of poverty, which is growing fastest in the cities.

The wealth which cities generate is often held by the minority of urban residents. The vast majority of the urban poor work in the informal sector and live in slums, which are highly vulnerable to epidemics and disasters. The world currently counts over a billion slum dwellers and these slums appear to be the main destinations of new migrants. In the face of environmental changes these areas bear the greatest brunt of phenomena like floods and high temperatures. They suffer disproportionately from the health effects of environmental changes, and are more vulnerable to increasing crime and violence. The urban poor have little or no social protection, and rely largely on their own means and on traditional kin-based arrangements and informal social security networks, as the pattern of government spending and social security structures tend to favor formal sector workers more than those in the informal sector. For cities to be sustainable, we need more inclusive and socially equitable policies to reduce vulnerabilities to sudden environmental, social, and economic shocks.

Keywords: informal settlements, inequality, poverty, urbanization, sustainability


Key Discussion Points

  • Growing urbanization in both developed and developing nations is creating inequality and injustice, including unequal access to resources and services such as water and sanitation, making urban areas highly vulnerable to risks exacerbated by the threat of climate change.  
  • Challenges remain with respect to how research can be included and discussed with policymakers and planners:
    • Policymakers often require concrete information (e.g., numbers), thus we need to translate findings in a concise and concrete way or frame it in ways that can piggyback on other issues of concern;
    • Collaboration and coordination in this research community is key;
    • Often policymakers in developing countries are not willing to accept or use science given different norms and criteria used for decisionmaking;
    • Politicians in developing countries often practice politics for the sake of politics only, as the interest is on having power and staying in power, but not in what power can do to improve development; and,
    • Projects are often informed by existing research, not participatory and responding to the needs of the people.
  • New knowledge and synthesis is needed and should be on the agenda of Future Earth as well as how to better communicate research to policymakers and incorporate the findings in urban planning and development – this remains a great challenge in need of solutions as well as the willpower of our politicians.



Humphrey Ngala Ndi, University of Yaounde, Yaounde, Cameroon

Geoffrey Nwaka, Abia State University, Uturu, Nigeria

Prakash Chandra Tiwari, Kumaon University, Nainital, India



Prakash Chandra Tiwari, Kumaon University, Nainital, India

Presentation Title: Urban growth and assessment of its natural and socio-economic risks in high mountain ecosystems: A geospatial framework for institutionalizing urban risk management in Himalaya.

Humphrey Ngala Ndi, University of Yaounde I, Yaounde, Cameroon

Presentation Title: Regional policy and the growth in slum settlements in developing world cities.

Alisson Barbieri, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brazil

Presentation Title: Natural disasters, urbanization and forced displacement: a case study on the municipality of Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil.

Aliyu Kawu, Federal University of Technology, Minna, Nigeria

Presentation Title: Climate change, urban management and livelihood challenges in low-income neighborhoods of developing countries

Joshua Sperling, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO, USA

Presentation Title: Methods and tools for equitable and sustainable cities: Implications for infrastructure systems and policies that integrate diverse populations

Dieu Linh Nguyen, GIZ, Vientiane, Laos

Presentation Title: Rethinking improved access to sanitation for the urban population in a changing climate? An analysis of the urban poor in slum areas toward explaining variation in access to improved sanitation


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