The World's Largest Slums: Top 5

As the world's population continues to grow, the issue of informal settlements persists. In fact, some of the largest slums in the world are larger than some countries. When we look at the dire conditions in these slums, it serves as a stark reminder of humanity's failure to provide basic living necessities for densely populated areas. Here are the top 10 largest slums in the world today:

1. Orangi Town, Karachi, Pakistan

Located in the northwestern suburbs of Karachi, Pakistan, Orangi Town is the world's largest slum. Established in 1965 as a town under central administration, Orangi has continued to attract people, especially from rural areas. Orangi Town is a diverse community comprising various ethnic groups, including Serkis, Sindhis, Bohras, Ismailis, Punjabis, Muhajirs, Pakhtuns, and Kashmiris. A significant issue in Orangi is the lack of sanitation, but with government intervention limited, most local residents have taken it upon themselves to construct their own toilets. Currently, an estimated 96% of households have access to sanitation facilities.

Although not as infamous for poverty as some other slums worldwide, Orangi Town residents face challenges related to basic amenities and services. Scarcity of clean water is one of the most serious problems in Orangi. The town heavily relies on the unreliable Hub Dam, which has been found to harbor waterborne diseases. Water quality is a major contributor to 40% of deaths in Pakistan and the leading cause of child mortality, with 60% of child deaths attributed to diarrhea.

Orangi Town faces other issues such as overcrowding and strain on healthcare services. However, the community has shown what people can achieve when they come together, notably by establishing a drainage system in the 1980s. Like many slums worldwide, Orangi Town grapples with a housing crisis, with demand for housing three times greater than supply. In numerous places, 8 to 10 people share a two-bedroom household.

Population: 2.4 million

2. Ciudad Neza, Mexico City, Mexico

Ciudad Neza, with a population of 1.2 million, is an informal settlement near Mexico City, developed close to the Distrito Federal. During the mid-20th century migration wave to urban areas, newcomers to Neza constructed makeshift homes from wood and hardboard, lacking electricity, sewage systems, potable water, schools, or paved roads. Makeshift homes are juxtaposed with ramshackle structures, and horse-drawn carts laden with trash pass by shiny old-style cars. Neza is devoid of basic amenities, transportation, and healthcare, making it extremely hazardous, even by Mexican standards.

While the settlement was unplanned, developed informally, it has a strong sense of community, with residents coming together to provide for their needs. Ciudad Neza primarily needs investment in transportation, employment opportunities, and education. Crime and drug-related problems are frequent in Ciudad Neza, but these are also issues occurring throughout Mexico. Ciudad Neza has met the needs of its residents, providing an opportunity for housing. It is considered a self-built city, where the people collectively provided for what they needed.

Population: 1.2 million

3. Dharavi, Mumbai, India

Dharavi, with a population of approximately 1 million people in an area of about 2.1 square kilometers, is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. It is one of the largest slums globally and is often referenced when discussing unsanitary living conditions. Dharavi was established in 1884 during the British colonial period and has expanded in scale ever since, as the colonial authorities expelled factories and residents from the nearby city center. Since then, it has seen incredible population growth as rural Indians have migrated to Dharavi in search of work.

Dharavi has faced numerous epidemics and disasters, including a widespread bubonic plague outbreak in 1896 that claimed more than half of Mumbai's population. Many residents are second-generation inhabitants, with parents who moved there many years ago. According to Lonely Planet, 60% of Mumbai's population lives in slums, with Dharavi being the largest. Dharavi is known for its numerous small-scale industries, producing garments, quality leather goods for export, pottery, and plastics. It is a multi-religious, multicultural, and diverse settlement. Dharavi is considered one of the most literate slums in India, with a literacy rate of 69%.

Dharavi mainly consists of closely packed, makeshift wooden structures. It is the setting for the famous film "Slumdog Millionaire" and is characterized by a lack of sewage and drainage systems. Dharavi, a maze of approximately 5 square kilometers, with narrow lanes, dilapidated buildings, makeshift huts, and open drains. Interestingly, most residents have access to electricity and gas for cooking.

Since the 1950s, proposals for Dharavi's redevelopment have been regularly put forward. However, most of these plans have failed due to a lack of financial backing and/or political support.

Population: 1 million

Top 4: Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya

As we look at the list of the top 10 largest slums in the world, Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya, takes the fourth spot. Kibera is an extremely impoverished suburb of Nairobi, housing nearly 1 million residents within an area of just 2.5 square kilometers. Its history dates back to 1900 when British colonial authorities decided to segregate African people from Europeans in the outskirts of the city. The British also implemented racial segregation within this area, and Kibera became the settlement for Nubian soldiers.

Over the decades, Kibera grew into a sprawling slum, evolving from a small settlement of only 600 residents to a suburb with a million inhabitants.

Kibera is characterized by closely-packed, haphazardly constructed shanties that lack basic amenities such as clean water, electricity, and proper sanitation. Along its narrow streets, you can find countless makeshift dwellings, forming a labyrinth of alleys and lanes. The majority of Kibera's population lives in extreme poverty, earning less than $1 USD per day. The unemployment rate is estimated to be around 80%, with only 20% of the population having access to electricity and adequate sanitation facilities. In addition to poverty, high rates of HIV and AIDS infections affect about 20% of the population.

Education is a significant challenge, and many children in Kibera do not have the opportunity to attend school. Access to healthcare is also limited, and clean drinking water is a dire need. Despite being one of the poorest and most unsanitary districts in Africa, significant investments in education have made Kibera one of the slums with the highest hopes.

Population: 700,000 people

Top 5: Kawangware, Nairobi, Kenya

In the fifth position on our list of the world's largest slums is Kawangware, located in Nairobi, Kenya, between Lavington Estate and Da Goretti. Kawangware is a densely populated and impoverished informal settlement with a population ranging from 200,000 to 650,000 people. It is characterized by a lack of proper planning and limited access to basic services. Many houses have electricity but lack clean water, proper sewage systems, and drainage. Over 65% of adults in Kawangware are underemployed and lack access to education, leading some adolescents to abandon their dreams and turn to prostitution or crime to make ends meet. Many children in the slum do not have the opportunity to attend school.

Extreme poverty is perhaps the most significant issue in Kawangware, where the majority of residents live on less than $2 per day. Government-provided water is not available daily, and clean drinking water is scarce and expensive. Waterborne diseases, respiratory infections, and malaria are common due to the inadequate water and sanitation systems. Some serious health issues are prevalent in Kawangware, including diseases transmitted through water scarcity. Inadequate drainage systems contribute to airborne diseases. Additionally, a significant portion of the population in Kawangware tests positive for HIV.

Education in Kawangware, Kenya, can be expensive, and many families cannot afford it. While primary schools are free in Kenya, corruption is a challenge. High schools are not government-funded. Many families in Kenya are so impoverished that an estimated one in ten children drops out before completing primary school, often working to support their families financially. Approximately 1 in 8 people in Kenya dies before the age of 8 due to a lack of access to adequate healthcare. Roughly 30,000 children are living on the streets of Nairobi.

Population: 650,000 people

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