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Measuring urban poverty from all angles


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Planeta Futuro - El País

David Soler Crespo

researcher NCID junior of the University of Navarra's Institute for Culture and Society

An older man in a white shirt and cap walks past some white-painted wooden boards that read "hot shower: 10 shillings". On the perpendicular street, clothes hang hanging next to an electricity pole from which a tangle of wires snake their way to some of the nearby sheet metal houses. In Nairobi's Mathare slum, the lack of public services is at agenda for the more than 200,000 people who live there, according to the official census data , although there are estimates that there could be as many as 500,000. This is one of the most congested areas in the entire Kenyan capital, with as many as 69,000 people living in one square kilometer.

Urban poverty in sub-Saharan Africa is among the highest in the world. In 2010, 61.7% of urban dwellers lived in substandard housing and, although the figure has declined, in 2019, 47% still resided in houses without adequate space and sanitation. However, this figure is not confined to Africa. As of today, the majority of people around the world already live in cities and by 2050 the figure is expected to rise to 68% of the world's population. This increase has slowed the decline in the number of people living in slums: 23.5% live in slums globally, but this issue rises to 43% in Bolivia, 55% in Bangladesh and even 95% in South Sudan, the country with the highest rate of urban slum dwellers.

Rapid global urbanization makes it urgent to promote policies that strive for urban planning to contain the growth of poverty in overcrowded and neglected neighborhoods. To do this, it is important to know what we mean and to have a complete picture of what makes a district slum.

Traditionally, public agencies, academic institutions and private companies have relied on the socioeconomic data provided by the population census. This quantitative measure has served as a basis for identifying poverty and carrying out public policies, but this analysis is incomplete for several reasons. On the one hand, in many countries in development censuses are unreliable and, where they are, the years that pass between one and the next mean that they quickly become outdated. On the other hand, this approach focuses on poverty at the household level and not at the neighborhood level. The UN-Habitat measures define marginal housing with factors such as whether one has a latrine, the size of the house, or household income, but do not measure poverty by area or neighborhood. This leaves out other important factors such as proximity to open spaces for children to play, transportation links to other parts of the city, the effects of pollution, or trees and green spaces.

A group of eight European, North American and African urban planners have joined forces to create a multidimensional framework of reference letter to measure urban poverty more accurately. Among them is the Spanish Ángela Abascal, a researcher at the Navarra Center for International Development: "Reviewing the scientific literature and NGO material, we realized that there is no comprehensive approach for urban poverty," says the University of Navarra urban planner.

The framework identifies a total of 67 indicators across nine domains to measure poverty including, in addition to housing, pollution, governance and services available to each neighborhood, among others. The goal is to define different types of general measurements that define deprived urban areas around the world whether in Nigeria, Peru or Pakistan. "The important thing is to create an adaptable model for any place so that all the dimensions that make a place marginalized are considered," says Peter Elias, researcher at the University of Lagos and one of the authors of the study.

New technologies offer an opportunity to collect all these data with satellite images, smart phones and GPS that can provide a multidimensional and more adequate picture of urban poverty. But beyond how to achieve this, it is just as important to engage with local people to learn about their specific problems. "We have conducted workshops with local community members, NGOs and governments to create an index that is transferable to different contexts." high school The initial workshops were held in three African cities: Lagos, Accra and Nairobi, and the framework is already being implemented in Mexico together with the National Statistics and Geography Institute (INEGI), and in northern Nigeria, where it is intended to be used to measure the effects of the coronavirus crisis and internal displacement due to violence.

Beyond knowing that a neighborhood is marginal, it is important to know what makes it so. The approach focused on monetary terms does not reflect a global vision of what generates poverty. Without a complete picture there can be no effective public response to reduce inequality. In a context of rapid urbanization in countries in development, it is vital to have the right tools to be able to carry out urban planning that fits the reality and helps to make the cities of the future livable.