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A shanty town (also called a slum, squatter settlement, or favela) is a settlement (sometimes illegal or unauthorized) of impoverished people who live in improvised dwellings made from scrap materials: often plywood, corrugated metal, and sheets of plastic. Shanty towns, which are usually built on the periphery of cities, often do not have proper sanitation, electricity, or telephone services.

Shanty towns are mostly found in developing nations, or partially developed nations with an unequal distribution of wealth (or, on occasion, developed countries in a severe recession). In extreme cases, shanty towns have populations approaching that of a city. One billion people, one-sixth of the world's population, now live in shanty towns.


Since construction is informal and unguided by urban planning, there is a near total absence of formal street grids, numbered streets, sanitation networks, electricity, or telephones. Even if these resources are present, they are likely to be disorganized, old or inferior. Shanty towns also tend to lack basic services present in more formally organized settlements, including policing, medical services, and fire fighting. Fires are a particular danger for shanty towns not only for the lack of fire fighting stations and the difficulty fire trucks have traversing the absence of formal street grids, but also because of the close proximity of buildings and flammability of materials used in construction A sweeping fire on the hills of Shek Kip Mei, Hong Kong, in late 1953 left 53,000 squatter dwellers homeless, prompting the colonial government to institute a resettlement estate system.

Stereotypes present shanty towns as inevitably having high rates of crime, suicide, drug use, and disease. However the observer Georg Gerster has noted (with specific reference to the invasões of Brasiliamarker), "squatter settlements [as opposed to slums], despite their unattractive building materials, may also be places of hope, scenes of a counter-culture, with an encouraging potential for change and a strong upward impetus."


Shanty towns are present in a number of countries. The largest shanty town in Asia is the Orangi Township in Karachimarker, Pakistanmarker, while the largest in Africa is Kiberamarker in Nairobimarker, Kenyamarker.

Other countries with shanty towns include South Africa (where they are often called squatter camps) or imijondolo, Australia (mainly in Aboriginal areas), the United Statesmarker, Canadamarker, the Philippinesmarker (often called squatter areas), Venezuelamarker (where they are known as barrios), Brazilmarker (favelas), West Indiesmarker such as Jamaicamarker and Trinidad and Tobagomarker (where they are known as Shanty town), Perumarker (where they are known as pueblos jóvenes), and Haitimarker, where they are referred to as bidonvilles. There are also shanty town population in countries such as Bangladeshmarker and the People's Republic of Chinamarker. In many countries there are now large movements of shanty town residents which often face severe state repression.

For example in South Africa Abahlali baseMjondolo have become a significant political force in the cities of Durbanmarker and Pietermaritzburgmarker and in Brazilmarker the Movement of Workers Without a Roof (MST) is very strong.

Many countries have a name for marginal settlements.

See also

Variations of impoverished settlements

People, organizations and other related articles


  1. downloaded 19th of May 2005.
  2. See the report on shack fires in South Africa by Matt Birkinshaw [1] as well as the wider collection of articles in fires in shanty towns at [2]
  3. Georg Gerster, Flights of Discovery: The Earth from Above, 1978, London: Paddington, p. 116
  4. Dharavi - National Geographic Magazine

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