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Student blog: Slumming It

Student blog: Slumming It

A few weeks ago in geography we watched a documentary about a slum in Mumbai.  Before I watched this video I had the impressions that slums were dirty and unsanitary – foul places to live. This may be the case in some slums, which for the most part are unclean and crowded. But they have another side that we do not always get to see on TV, and this is what I am going to share with you now.

Some slums are newly established, but some slums have been in place for around 25 years or more.  It is in these bigger slums that you find dense communities. In the bigger slums, even though on the outside the shacks are very much "home made", the ones in centre of the slum are brick built. They may still be small but they are more habitable than the shacks on the outside and they are also a better place to live. Some of these slums even have their own high street with fully functioning shop of every variety. Some people never leave the slum but do all their shopping and their daily business within the slum.

As well as being built in a physical sense, the slums have also built up a sense of community. Everything is done communally; they do their washing together, they wash themselves together. One of the things that has built this community is that everybody lives almost on top of each other.  In some houses three generations live together and there can be up to 12 people living in them. This is how the communities in the slums develop and this is what makes them not just humongous piles of rubbish.

When people live close together they naturally bond.  Some people would argue is something we have lost in the UK. Generations are separated and people live far apart from each other. We live our own solitary lives.  If we are courteous, we briefly wave to our neighbours now and again. But we would not imagine washing our clothes with them, let alone having a shower with them. Maybe we are poorer for it?

It may be some people’s opinion that slums are unsanitary places, where disease and ill health is rife, and they are right. These people – most people – wouldn’t want to live there.  In slums, the sewage runs in open pipes along the narrow streets and the fresh water runs right alongside it.  This means that the water gets easily infected and causes disease, and then the disease spreads easily because of the cramped conditions.    

But what would we do without slums? There is no way we can build enough houses to accommodate all the people that live there. Many are happy living there and moving all those people would cause its own kind of enormous disturbance. Slums normally build up in an area where they are needed, so taking them away would leave lots of people in need with nowhere to go.

So slums? Are they necessary? They may be unclean, unsanitary places but they meet a community’s needs, a community that depends on each other to survive. They house thousands of people that have nowhere else to go, and they deal with the problem of mass urban migration (people moving from the country side to the city) when people are looking for jobs but have nowhere to live.  Perhaps they are just a necessary evil?  

What do you think?

By Anna Pennant

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