By Sherwood Ross
The world's exploding slum population is expected to double to two billion souls within a generation --- a festering sore that traces back to the British Empire as well as to the post-World War II policies of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, according to the just published "Planet of Slums"(Verso) by Mike Davis.
Bombay, with 10-million or more squatters and tenement dwellers, holds first place among slum-filled metropolitan areas, followed by Mexico City and Dhaka, with about 9-million each, then Lagos, Cairo, Karachi, Kinshasa-Brazzaville, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, and Delhi, each with six to eight million, Davis writes.
As partners-in-aggression with the U.S., the British are also responsible for the spread of disease in Iraq. "In Baghdad's giant slum of Sadr City, hepatitis and typhoid epidemics rage out of control," according to Davis.
"American bombing wrecked already overloaded water and sewerage infrastructures, and as a result raw sewage seeps into the household water supply," the author charges. "Two years after the U.S. invasion the system remains broken, and the naked eye can discern filaments of human excrement in the tap water."
Amitabh Pal, the magazine's managing editor, in part blames the free market restructuring imposed on developing nations by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. "These institutions require cuts in public spending on health and sanitation. By ushering in multinational corporations, their policies end up throwing peasants off the land and into the city. And they impoverish urban residents by slashing public sector employment and subsidies on food and fuel. The IMF and World Bank call this 'structural adjustment,'" Pal writes.
Author Davis notes that the 1980s, when IMF and World Bank used the leverage of debt to restructure Third World economies, were the years "when slums became an implacable future not just for poor rural migrants, but also for millions of traditional urbanites displaced or immiserated by the violence of adjustment."
In Brazil, slums in Rio and elsewhere controlled by gangs have become so dangerous police fear to enter them. Many governments have just given up attempting to fix their slums, Davis writes.
"The idea of an interventionist state strongly committed to social housing and job development seems either a hallucination or a bad joke, because governments long ago abdicated any serious effort to combat slums and redress urban marginality," the author charges.
Most nations, the U.S. included, have few holistic approaches to ending slum housing. There never seems to be enough education and training for the poor, or decent wages to enable them to rent affordable housing.
Slums continue to spread faster than society's ability to cope with them. One way to slow this trend might be to lower the birth rate. Tragically, the Bush Administration which is in a position to do this, "has launched a global war on condoms," preferring to urge abstinence instead, according to Planned Parenthood.
Domestically, there's $500-billion a year to spend on war but not enough money to house Americans in need, edcuate our children, provide decent mass transit, medical care, or college educations for the working poor.
Bush and his cronies, the same gang that turned Iraq into a charnel house, have scant interest in reducing the number of poor people either in this country or abroad. After all, the poor represent both an abundant supply of cheap labor and military recruits. #
(Sherwood Ross is a reporter who formerly worked as a press aide to the mayor of the City of Chicago. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org).