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Getting urban poverty on the development agenda has been a struggle in the last thirty years. However, with the adoption of the Millennium Declaration in 2000, urban poverty is now being brought to the centre stage of the global development agenda. The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and all the world’s leading development institutions. They range from halting the spread of HIV/AIDS to providing universal education to halving the number of people without access to clean water, all by the target date of 2015. It also includes a target of improving the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020. These goals have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest.
Winning the global fight against poverty, as encapsulated in the MDGs, is heavily dependent on how well cities perform. The MDGs provide an apt framework for linking the opportunities provided by cities - the ‘urban advantage’ - with improved quality of life. In fact, the achievement of the MDGs depends on governments’ capacity to speed up progress in reducing urban poverty and inequality and in reversing current trends in slum formation. Improving the living conditions of slum dwellers (housing, tenure, infrastructure and access to basic services) will automatically have a positive impact on the attainment of most of the MDGs and their related targets. Ultimately, as the developing world becomes more urban and as the locus of poverty shifts to cities, the battle to achieve the MDGs will have to be waged in the world’s slums.
Fortunately, a number of countries have managed to curb the further expansion of slums and to improve the living conditions prevailing there. Uneven as they may have been around the world, efforts to reduce slum conditions have yielded positive results. Between the year 2000 and 2010, a total 227 million people in the developing world will have moved out of slum conditions. This means they have the use of safe water, improved sanitation, durable housing, and secure land tenure.
Asia stood at the forefront of successful efforts to reach the slum target, contributing to 74 percent of the total number of urban residents who no longer suffer from inadequate housing and slum conditions. Significant progress has also been made in North Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. Across Africa, the lives of an estimated 24 million slum dwellers have improved in the last decade, representing 12 per cent of the global effort. In sub-Saharan Africa, though, the total proportion of the urban population living in slums has decreased by only 5 per cent. However, there have been many success stories that demonstrate real possibilities for improvement in the lives of slum dwellers.
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