[Junoir AJA-Afghanistan Report] The crisis of population growth in the slums of Afghanistan

Kabul Slums, Afghanistan

Urban slums describe parts of cities where living conditions are very poor. The number of slum dwellers in the developing world has risen from 767 million in the year 2000 to an estimated 828 million in 2010 according to  UN HABITAT in 2011. This has resulted in a lack of basic services like sanitation, safe water, inadequate housing, sufficient living area, poverty, gender disparities and a high rate of crime and instability. Moreover, most of slum dwellers do not have easy access to education and jobs.

“I don’t know which problem I should talk about – school, unemployment, not having proper housing, food, health – when my children are getting sick and I have to pay for the doctor…. It’s everything,” said Fatima, a woman in her 20s living in Kabul’s Chaman-e-Babrak slum area.

The government has a significant role to prevent future slum growth with comprehensive planning and economic policies. The government through taking population growth into account will be able to improve slum conditions. Bad conditions of health, lack of housing and education are the most fundamental issues that are prevalent among slum people causing many difficulties for living in these areas.

According to United Nations Development Program (UNDP), “ Nearly 75% of the urban population, estimated at close to 5 million, may be living in slums. Afghanistan also has the highest rate of urbanization in Asia, 6% per year, which puts a high burden on the already weak service delivery in urban centres. Only 1 in 3 Afghans in urban areas has access to improved sanitation. In rural areas, only 1 out of 10 Afghans has access to improved sanitation. In rural areas, the focus is on the need for hygiene education and improved latrines; in urban areas there is greater need for increasing access to functioning sewage systems.”

Poor living conditions of slum dwellers have negative effects on their health. People in the slums are really suffering because of lack of safe water, sanitation, nutritional food, housing, and transportation. Long distances between job and their living bases is another challenge. These are all factors which influence the health conditions of the people. In these areas,there is not enough water and sometimes they have to walk miles to fetch safe water.

It is also proved that poor access to sanitation facilities will increase disease and high rates of child mortality. The most common disease that will increase with poor sanitation is diarrhea, which is almost faced to death in developing countries. “Improved sanitation contributes enormously to human health and well-being, especially for girls and women. We know that simple, achievable interventions can reduce the risk of contracting diarrhoeal disease by a third.” (Chan, 2008).

Burning trash as a cheaper fuel is another activity which is mostly done by women. It is very harmful to their health and the environment. Current research indicates burning trash can increase the risk of heart disease, aggravate respiratory ailments such as asthma and cause headaches. The government can consider appropriate policies for improving health conditions of slum dwellers through providing water supply systems such as conducting free health camps and house visits to provide health services to poor people. And also, as many people in the slums do not have awareness about health, hygiene and diseases, conducting awareness campaigns will be helpful to improve the health of the slum people.

Housing is one of the important basic needs for humans, which has a significant impact on people’s lives. However, many slum dwellers are suffering because of a lack of accessibility and in some areas, houses have being built under standard structures and in poor quality, which cannot protect the human life from heavy climate conditions. Another factor that is valuable to be considered is that there is no sufficient living space for household members as one small room is shared by more than 3 people and it is indicative of severe overcrowding and its attention problems, such as lack of privacy, ease of disease transmission especially respiratory infections and increased risk of “negative social behavior patterns” such as domestic violence and child abuse (UN HABITAT, 2011). Government has a crucial role in improving the lives of slum dwellers through providing cheap houses, making serviced land available to the poor, rehabilitation of housing built with low structures that are not safe for living and providing shelter for poor people.

In the slums, people’s accessibility to work opportunities are restricted because of the high rate of spatial inequality, which is a result of the increasing the risk of crime. Some slum residents are working within the slum area and some others go outside of the slum to bring in  income. Within the slum, poor people are involved in lower paying jobs. They are working as vegetable vendors, launderers, barbers, etc. Sometimes they are required to commute outside of the slums.

Literacy and the lack of education for both men and women is the main factor for the high rate of gender disparities in all aspects of development. It is demonstrated that slums are the places with an extremely low rate of literacy and high gender disparity. The lack of the women’s ability in decision making even in their family level, the negative attitude of people regarding women work in all aspects, a lack of awareness about women rights, absence of respect for women as human, negative lifestyle and social behavior are the factors that are raised because of a lack of education and widespread illiteracy in the slum areas. While limited access to an education is a cause of gender inequality in terms of human capital development and quality of life, it also renders women to become less skilled, which has been a barrier for capacity development for women in the labour market (World Bank 2003).

A lack of access to education is another fundamental problem in the slum areas. As slum dwellers are poor, they are not able to pay the cost of education. Education is one of the important rights of children, but because of the cost, children from poor families have to do menial jobs instead of going to school and some of them are the head of the household and have to take care of other members in the family and get money to financially support the family. Education is the factor that influences the future life of humans and it is obvious that education will improve  life styles and will impact the society. In a society with a high rate of educated people and high level of skills and knowledge, the crime will decrease and society will be developed in social, economic and political aspects. According to some resources, the government will consider some school building programs, the offering of free elementary education as well as consider other needs like food and clothing , which will be able to reduce this problem.

Slums develop because of two main reasons: population growth and governance. Rapid population growth in the slums has been accompanied by a housing shortage, insecurity, unsustainable transportation, high unemployment and has caused spatial poverty such as poor living conditions, social exclusion, a lack of social interaction and increasing high rate of crime. Slums are very crowded areas where people from rural areas immigrate to urban areas due to many reasons such as better accessibility to jobs, education, health facilities or other public services, but they are forced to be placed in the slum areas, within a very small living area with difficult conditions and limitations of basic living conditions, services and low standards of living. So, the government is responsible to provide urban services and consider their rights as citizens. The government has to consider some programs or policies for better improvement of the slums and decrease the growth of slums. If the government does not control the population, slums will become the places for crimes and diseases.

By Nahid Fayaz

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