Criticism of lack of support for urban poverty

22 October 2009

The International Development Committee criticises the UK Department for International Development (DFID) for downgrading its support for urban poverty.

The report says that at a time when more and more of the world’s poor are living in urban slums and mega-cities are expanding rapidly, DFID should not down grade its support for urban poverty.

The Committee’s report says that this has profound implications for the effectiveness of DFID’s development assistance when slum upgrading is lagging behind the explosive growth of urban settlements.

Africa is the fastest urbanising region in the world and has the highest proportion of slum dwellers in its cities. Almost all population growth is expected to take place in urban areas and Africa has some of the world’s largest and fastest-growing cities.

The report found that, despite the increased need for support to tackle urban poverty, DFID has reduced the visibility of its urban programmes and its in-house expertise on urban issues has become too fragmented.

The Chairman of the Committee, The Rt Hon Malcolm Bruce MP, said:

"The last five years have seen rapid urbanisation, almost all of which has happened in developing countries. In 2008 we reached the point where there are more people living in cities than in rural areas.

"We are not convinced that DFID is doing enough to help developing countries, and particularly African countries, to address the specific challenges of urban poverty, which include access to basic services such as housing, health, education, transport, employment and water and sanitation.

"There is a risk that, without more help, a number of cities will face a humanitarian crisis in the near future. DFID needs to refocus its attention on the urban poor. This should include publishing a new urban poverty strategy document."

Rapid urbanisation has led to an increase in the number of slums. Many people living in slums work in the informal sector, have inadequate housing and lack security of tenure. They are also much more vulnerable to crime and violence.

The report recommends that upgrading slums and improving the lives of slum dwellers should be given much greater priority by donors and by African governments.

Community-led initiatives, such as the Urban Poor Fund International and the Community-led Infrastructure Finance Facility, have been shown to be particularly effective in addressing urban poverty and deserve increased support from DFID.

The Chairman said:

"Urban poverty is complex and this may have discouraged donors and governments from trying to tackle it. But funding urban poverty measures can be highly cost-effective and it can deliver sustainable benefits to many millions of the world’s poor.

"A modest but targeted increase in financial resources for tackling urban poverty would enable DFID to support other stakeholders to improve living conditions in slums and to ensure that poor people in cities have access to decent services and that they are less vulnerable to crime and violence.

"If we ignore urban poverty, many more people in developing countries are likely to suffer poverty and social exclusion, and this increases the risk of conflict and instability."

The report notes that DFID’s current staffing arrangements do not properly recognise that urban poverty is multi-sectoral. To tackle it effectively, DFID needs to deploy a wide range of professionals, including advisers on social development, climate change and governance. All of DFID’s major country programmes should include expertise on urban issues.

It also recommends making greater use of the expertise which local government in the UK can offer to municipal authorities in developing countries.

The Chairman said:

"UK local government offers an untapped source of expertise on such issues as financial management, governance, accountability, regeneration and ‘green’ urban economies.

"We want DFID to work in partnership with the Department for Communities and Local Government and increase its collaboration with local government organisations to provide support for UK local government staff who wish to share their experience with their counterparts in cities in developing countries, to help them build their capacity to tackle urban poverty."

Image: iStockphoto

More news on: Parliament, government and politics, Communities and families, International affairs, Parliament, Commons news, Parliamentary business, Committee news, Africa, International development, Income and poverty, Central government

Share this page