20% of Latin America lives in slums

BOGOTA • Some 113 million people across Latin America - or nearly one in five people - live in sprawling slums which are fuelling inequality and social exclusion, and they look likely to expand rapidly as government policies fail to tackle an explosion in informal housing, according to a study released yesterday.

"State policies on housing - even those enshrined in the region's Constitutions - have not been able to respond to the rise of urban populations," the study said.

Mass migration from rural to urban areas from the 1950s means 80 per cent of Latin America's population of around 600 million now live in cities - a higher number than in any other region in the world.

The study examined housing legislation and policy in 11 countries, including Latin America's largest economies - Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Argentina. It found most countries had laws and Constitutions that recognised the right to adequate housing, but huge gaps remained in ensuring poor families got access to homes, housing credit and secure land-tenure rights.

Across the continent, poor neighbourhoods crammed with shacks built using bricks, scrap metal and wood, and often perched precariously on hillsides, are a common feature of the urban landscape.

"The housing market hasn't been able to cover the needs of marginalised populations in informal settlements, which has produced social exclusion and a segregation of the rich and poor," said Mr Luis Bonilla of Techo, a non-governmental organisation tackling poverty in slums, which commissioned the study.

Insecure land tenure and the lack of formal property deeds mean millions risk eviction from their homes both in slums and elsewhere to make way for development projects, the report said. "Forced eviction seems to be a daily reality for hundreds of communities in Latin America," it added.

The study was produced by lawyers from seven international legal firms, technology company Hewlett-Packard and Techo, and was facilitated by TrustLaw, the pro-bono service of the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The global challenge to provide adequate housing is highlighted in the United Nations new Sustainable Development Goals, which will replace the Millennium Development Goals this year. One of the goals is to "upgrade slums" and ensure everyone has access to adequate, safe and affordable housing with basic services such as water.

About 50 million new homes are needed to address the region's housing shortage, according to the United Nations.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2015, with the headline '20% of Latin America lives in slums'. Subscribe