At five in the morning, when fog covers the streets and the cold pinches hard, Mercedes Marcahuachi is already on her feet ready to go to work in Pachacútec, the most populated area of the municipality of Ventanilla, in the province of Callao, known for being home to Peru's largest seaport.
The Padre Carlos Mugica neighborhood looks like another city within the Argentine capital, which most people usually see from up above as they drive past on the freeway but have never visited. It is a shantytown in the heart of Buenos Aires, of enormous vitality and where women are organizing to confront the various forms of violence that affect them.
Camps made up of thousands of tents and shacks have mushroomed in Chile due to the failure of housing policies and official subsidies for the sector, aggravated by the rise in poverty, the covid-19 pandemic and the massive influx of immigrants.
The Brazilian megalopolis of São Paulo recorded 932 flooded premises on Feb. 10, 2020. The Mexican city of Tula de Allende was under water for 48 hours in September 2021. In Lima it almost never rains, but the rivers in the Peruvian capital overflowed in 2017 and left several outlying municipalities covered with mud.
Solar panels shine on the rooftop terraces of 10 neat buildings with perfectly straight lines and of uniform height, an image of modernity that contrasts with the precariously-built dwellings with unplastered concrete block walls just a few metres away, with rooms added in a disorderly manner, surrounded by a tangle of electric cables.
"We are the people who are excluded from the system," says Rafael Rivero, sitting in his apartment in a new social housing complex next to one of the largest slums in Buenos Aires. The contrast sums up the complexity of the social reality in the Argentine capital.
Between the dimly-lit, narrow alleyways of Villa 21, only 30 minutes by bus from the centre of the Argentine capital, more than 50,000 people live in poverty. It was there that La Garganta Poderosa (which means powerful throat), the magazine that gave a voice to the "villeros" or slum-dwellers and whose members today feel threatened, emerged in 2010.
For the inhabitants of “Bajo Autopista” (Under the Freeway), a slum built under an expressway in the Argentine capital, “they” are the people who live in areas with everything that is denied to “us” – a simple definition of social inclusion and a metaphor for urban inequality.
Néstor Colman, 69, remembers the river overflowing its banks nine times in Bañado Sur, the poor neighourhood in the Paraguayan capital where he was born and has lived all his life. “A record,” he jokes.
Children have been poisoned by lead in Villa Inflamable, a shantytown on the south side of the capital of Argentina. Resettling their families involves a socioenvironmental process as complex as the sanitation works in one of the most polluted river basins in the world.
Slums are a curse and blessing in fast urbanising Africa. They have challenged Africa's progress towards better living and working spaces but they also provide shelter for the swelling populations seeking a life in cities.
It’s called the urban survival gap – fuelled by the growing inequality between rich and poor in both developing and developed countries – and it literally determines whether millions of infants will live or die before their fifth birthday.
Despite being one of the world's fastest expanding economies, projected to clock seven-percent GDP growth in 2017, India – a nation of 1.2 billion – is trailing behind on many vital social development indices while also hosting one-fourth of the world's poor.
David Kamau is a small-scale maize farmer in Nyeri, Central Kenya, some 153 kms from the capital Nairobi. He recently diversified into carrot farming but is still not making a profit.
People living in cities already outnumber those in rural areas and the trend does not appear to be reversing, according to UN-Habitat, the Nairobi-based agency for human settlements, which has warned that planning is crucial to achieve sustainable urban growth.
Shaukat Ali, a shopkeeper originally hailing from Miramshah in the Northern Waziristan Agency of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), looks exhausted as he sits outside a makeshift shelter with his family of 10.
Rapid migration to cities and towns, driven by scarce public services and jobs in rural areas, is producing a profound social shift in Pacific Island countries, where agrarian life has dominated for generations. But the urban dream remains elusive as a severe lack of housing forces many into sprawling, poorly-serviced informal settlements.
By now, the tale has become almost mundane: first the rains remain elusive, refusing to quench the parched earth. Then, without warning, they fall in such torrents that they leave scores dead, hundreds injured, and thousands homeless, plus a heavy bill in accrued damages.
With over 20,000 international participants, a triple summit wrapping up today in Singapore is generating an abundance of ideas on sustainable cities.
For some 250,000 shantytown-dwellers in the Honduran capital, fear of dying or losing their home due to a landslide or other weather-related event has been reduced, thanks to a global warming mitigation plan that has carried out small infrastructure works in 180 ecologically and socially vulnerable neighbourhoods.
In a shanty tucked inside Dharavi, described as Asia’s largest slum settlement, a little piece of theatre unfolds. Several young boys are heckled as they pretend to go vegetable shopping - and calling them names are young girls. The boys are embarrassed.