Urban poverty: its challenges and characteristics

By Nidhi Batra

Poverty has many dimensions ranging from Income poverty, Education and health poverty, Tenure security, Financial Insecurity, Personal insecurity and social and political exclusion or dis-empowerment Entrapped in all of the above dimensions, we know that urban poverty is an ‘issue’ that needs to be addressed. We also know that the development community needs to ‘tackle’ this issue together with the citizens, but we also know that this development community is struck with challenges in even ‘understanding’ urban poverty.

Below is just a list of some of the aspects that make urban poverty a unique challenge for the development community and needs a re-oriented approach to address urban poverty issues on ground.

  1. To begin with, most development professionals have been trained and have worked and continue to work on issues of rural development, livelihood and governance. Panchayati Raj system has seen the much needed focus and attention by this development community. This community who now though ‘lives’ in urban areas, still needs to equip itself to ‘view’ the issues prevalent in urban areas.
  2. The urban poor are a diverse group. The urban poor comprise different groups with diverse needs and levels and types of vulnerability. These differences may be traced to factors such as gender, physical or mental disability, ethnic or racial background, and household structure; they also relate to the nature of the poverty itself (for example, long-term or temporary).
  3. Urban poverty can be temporary or persistent. Poverty is a dynamic condition—people may move in and out of it, for example, due to major macroeconomic shocks
  4. Urban areas also cover wide extremes of wealth and poverty. To have a common benchmark comparing urban poverty in different country, states or cities is just not possible. Also important, and relevant in the context of “urban”, is that the chronically poor are also spatially differentiated with, for example, different problems associated with residency in inner cities, urban peripheries and smaller towns
  5. Conflict and security in urban areas also differ much from those in the rural setup. Societal relationship is much different in urban areas (if at all) and outside influences are much greater. Violent Civic Conflicts – gangs, organised crime, terror and riots are much more of a problem in urban areas as a result aspect of urban policing and security models differ.
  6. In recently settled urban areas, informal ties and reciprocities are likely to be more fragile. This is because, in a more mobile context, the ties that bind take time to settle. Informal safety may well be weaker. Poverty targeting, which so many cash transfer programmes rely on, will be more complicated due to a greater mobility of residence. Access to urban health services requires the development of new relationship networks.
  7. Access to services may appear enhanced in urban areas, but often their quality is uneven and the competition for them is intense. As per David Satterthwaite: “Having access to a pit latrine is not the same in a rural setting where it is used by one family and can be sited to avoid contaminating water sources, and urban settings where 50 households share it and where there is so much faecal matter that it is very difficult to protect water sources from contamination.”
  8. Urban poor organisation and movements have been seen around issues of labour (example safai karamchari) , trade or informal market, micro entrepreneurial activities or home workers, groups facing eviction, tenure issues or lack of basic services, exclusion on grounds of race/ethnicity (example oriya basti), exclusion on grounds of gender, or even differentiation in the class of urban poor itself (untouchables/ dalits)
  9. Poor urban dwellers have to deal with high levels of pollutants, toxicity and traffic-related injuries. And diet-related, non-communicable diseases tend to be a bigger problem in urban areas because of the availability of street foods.
  10. Urban hazards are likely to hit harder because of population densities, so disaster-proofing urban planning and infrastructure is vital in promoting urban resilience.
  11. The urban poor tend to buy a bigger share of their food than rural dwellers, hence their hunger and malnutrition is more dependent on growing and volatile food price levels
  12. Information communication technologies have a higher penetration rate in urban areas, offering all kinds of opportunities and risks for development processes and programmes

The above is not an exhaustive list but just a pointer to what maybe defines urban poverty. Terra Urban would like to hear your opinion and experience in working or even being a spectator to urban poverty issues



4 thoughts on “Urban poverty: its challenges and characteristics

  1. Jorge Carrillo April 11, 2013 at 9:14 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Reading Development.

  2. […] a recent article on Terraurban, you read the debate of Urban and Rural Poverty at Urban poverty: its challenges and characteristics. With decentralisation celebrating a ‘two decade anniversary’, another interesting perspective […]

  3. […] Urban poverty reduction requires different kinds of approaches, because it is different from rural poverty in many respects: the urban poor are affected by the highly monetized nature of urban living, which forces them to spend far more on accommodation, food, transport and other services than the rural poor; unlike rural poverty, urban poverty is characterized by the regulatory exclusion of the poor from the benefits of urban development. Moreover, the nature of urban communities is distinct and urban poverty is not easily addressed by the community-based approaches developed for rural poverty reduction. (Read more at https://terraurban.wordpress.com/2013/04/09/urban-poverty-its-challenges-and-characteristics/) […]

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