Streets that lack asphalt, houses without water and electricity and whole communities wanting in proper access to schooling and healthcare— while this might sound like a description of a medieval town this is the reality for hundred millions of people in India. The Indian slums are known as prime examples of the economic theory of the poverty traps. What this theory states is that a certain set of factors such as low level of savings, poor education and/or poor healthcare can cause a self-perpetuating cycle of poverty, which cannot be broken without outside intervention. This means that children born and raised in the slums often have a very small chance of establishing a life better than their parent’s.
Around 1 billion of the world’s urban population is currently living in slums. The Global Report on Human Settlements by the United Nations outlined the main characteristics of slums as a part of a growing effort to improve living conditions in those areas. Firstly, there are often inadequate drinking water supplies. For example, in India 95% of the population residing in the slums only has access to tap water or tubewells. At first, this might seem as optimistic, however it is important to assess the context of the statistic and compare the quality of the tap water in India to the more developed countries such as the United States. Secondly, only less than half of the slums have an underground sewerage system, while in the United States more than 99% of people have access to plumbing facilities. Inadequate sanitation is another major red flag that categorizes numerous slums. There is also the problem of poor education, which stops the children of the less well-off Indian families living in the slums from gaining valuable skills that could provide them with a reliable career path. Many of the classrooms are often poorly equipped and schooling is only provided up to the age of 14.
Of course, not all Indian slums have all of the following qualities and not all slum-dwellers are residing in constant poverty. However, a great majority does and that creates one of the greatest issues of our time.