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Informal Settlements and Slums

By: Zoé Solomon


Today, 1 in 7 people live in a slum, and about 1 in every 4 people will live in a slum by 2030. While three-quarters of slum-dwellers live in Asia and Africa, informal housing is an increasing problem across the globe. 


So, what are informal settlements/slums? Well, these two words can be used to refer to the same conditions. They are areas where residents are plagued by:

  • Overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions
  • Insecure tenure or limited land rights (for example, squatting or renting informally)
  • Lack of essential services and infrastructure (like water and toilets)
  • Unregulated housing structures and dangerous geographic/environmental conditions (like living close to toxic landfills or on hazardous slopes) 


The problems of slums go way beyond housing. Slums’ effects include:

  • Health and well-being. Diseases spread quickly, and there is no proper health care.
  • Slums lack law enforcement and are often sites of violence.
  • People living in slums have little voice in politics or government/institutional decisions that affect them. 
  • Slums perpetuate cycles of poverty. Productivity is low, children have trouble staying in school, and the economy is primarily informal, which marginalizes workers. 


“Decent shelter for all can never be guaranteed so long as there is widespread poverty.” 

(Habib, 2009)


To date, there’s been some action by international institutions to highlight the problem of informal settlements and inadequate housing. The UN’s SDG 11-- sustainable cities and communities-- is an example of this. 


In terms of the possibility of taking more concrete action, International Human Rights Law does encompass inadequate housing. It states that all people have the right to “an adequate standard of living,” including living in security, peace, and dignity. Still, despite being a fundamental right, the right to adequate housing is challenging to uphold-- over 1 billion people worldwide face inadequate housing. 


So how can we address this issue? Many governments don’t want to improve these settlements because they don’t want people living there in the first place. Due to insecure tenure, residents don’t want to put money into improving the conditions of a house/community from which they could be evicted, or that could be destroyed at any second. The same goes for NGOs. 


But, there’s still impactful action we can take as individuals. With urbanization and population growth outpacing adequate/affordable housing, our collective effort is urgent.



  • Over 1 billion people worldwide live in slums and informal settlements
  • Slums and informal settlements produce many conditions that violate fundamental human rights
  • Population growth and increased urbanization will make this number worse in the coming years
  • We can take individual actions with global impact to address this issue

To make a monetary donation to Asha to support slum dwellers, click the "Donate" button below.




Habib, E. (2009). The role of government and ngos in slum development: The case of dhaka city. Development in Practice19(2), 259–265. JSTOR.

Informal settlements. (n.d.). GSDRC. Retrieved January 16, 2021, from https://gsdrc.org/topic-guides/urban-governance/key-policy-challenges/informal-settlements/

SDG Goals: Sustainable Cities and Communities . (n.d.). United Nations. Retrieved January 16, 2021, from https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2019/goal-11/

The Right to Adequate Housing . (2014). UN Habitat. https://www.ohchr.org/documents/publications/fs21_rev_1_housing_en.pdf

What is a slum? Definition of a global housing crisis. (n.d.). Habitat for Humanity GB. Retrieved January 16, 2021, from https://www.habitatforhumanity.org.uk/what-we-do/slum-rehabilitation/what-is-a-slum/