Spring 2015: Urbanization and Inequities

Pathways for slums in the 21st century - GRAD700R Section 000-SEM (1489)

Robert Breiman, Global Health Institute and Karen Andes, Hubert Department of Global Health

As the world rapidly urbanizes – in Africa at a rate of 7 percent per year – newcomers land in impoverished informal settlements, where population is dense, and infrastructure and government services are lacking. Most residents, when able to find employment, work as casual laborers with low income, no benefits, and little job security. Housing is also often informal and crowded, with residents sleeping, cooking and eating in one small space. The lack of sanitation and clean water, combined with air pollution and insecurity, leads to substantial disease burden and challenges for public health solutions. People living in slums, especially in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather and geologic events, like heat, floods, droughts, tornados, cyclones, and earthquakes. Slum populations are overwhelmingly made up of young people who have limited access to nutrition, secondary education, health services and ultimately to opportunities to achieve their full potential and ability to contribute to society, ultimately becoming disengaged. Slum residents, including youth, are often marginalized politically and socially; consequently, slums can be havens for drug use and crime. As a result, urban life becomes a vicious cycle—it is nearly impossible for residents to improve their lives and well-being; as more people stream into slums, social, economic, political and health inequities grow and become more formidable and solutions become both more urgent to implement, and more difficult to identify.

There may be no clearer demonstration of emerging social injustice and disparities and their link to health than the conditions of urban slums in the 21st century. The survival of the planet will require solutions that are necessarily multidisciplinary and multilevel, and involve residents themselves. The course will look at strategies that engage the business and investment communities, encourage entrepreneurial endeavors, raise societal, legal and political consciousness regarding inequities and dangers they pose, apply conventional and novel public health strategies, and search for innovative engineering and informatics solutions to weave together a critical fabric to address what is perhaps the most compelling problem of our time.