North & South America
By 2030, about 3 billion people–or 40 per cent of the world’s population according to UN Habitat, will need better housing and greater access to social services such as water and sanitation. However, in some cities, as many as 80 per cent of the population lives in slums. 55 million new slum dwellers have been added since 2000. To date, over 110 million are living in Latin America and the Caribbean. Latin America and the Caribbean will require 42 million and 52 million new dwellings.
Inequality has spread both in North and South America. In the United States, a larger share of economic growth (measured in household income) has benefited the top one per cent of earners, while the average income for the bottom 90 per cent has remained dormant, relative to inflation at $31,000.
The World Alliance of Cities Against Poverty seeks to highlight stories from cities in the Americas that are working to reduce income and social inequalities, such as San Francisco and Porto Alegre, Brazil. These are best practices that are being applied to neighboring cities across the two continents.
Municipalities can help reduce one of the root causes of poverty and social exclusion by actively supporting citizens who are suffering from long-term unemployment and who find it increasingly difficult to reinsert themselves in the labour market. There is much to learn from the experience of San Francisco that has designed an effective package of measures that combine training, lifting daily life obstacles to training and job search, subsidising work experience, and passing legislation to bring the private sector on board.
Mauá has introduced innovative policies that aim at improving the basic educational standards and health conditions of its poorest citizens. Both programmes have placed great emphasis on training local residents to play an active role in assessing local needs as well as in providing services. The involvement of citizens living in the poorest neighbourhoods, who acknowledge the cultural values of the area, and have easier access to needed information, has been essential in ensuring the success of the policies implemented.
Limited economic power is often accompanied by limited political power. Families with sparse financial resources may find it difficult to make their voices heard, and the poor are frequently underrepresented in the political process. This disparity in public sector participation tends to be reflected in the decisions made by national and local authorities, which often do not promote the interests of the marginalized.
São Paulo, one of the largest cities in Brazil has, like most cities of developing countries, a considerable number of slums scattered around its city area. A significant proportion of the poor people of the city live in these areas, and often have no access to fresh water, sewage services or electricity. In the early 1980’s, the State government of São Paulo realized that it was impossible to eradicate the city’s numerous slums. Instead, they chose to supply public services to these areas in order to improve living conditions. One of the means to achieve that was to provide electricity to slum-settlements.