What Causes Urban Poverty?


Poverty tends to be associated with the rural population, yet rapid urbanisation, while driving economic growth and acting as a catalyst to reduce rural poverty, has led to an increase in the number of urban poor, with most economies and over half of their population living in urban areas.

There are several causes leading to urban poverty. One of which is the rise of rural-urban migration, as those from rural areas move to big cities to secure better employment and earn higher income.

This, however, depends on their level of education and skills, for urban areas do not usually have a lot of job opportunities for those that lack certain skills or with low level of education.

Even if there are, there is a likelihood that the income they gain from less lucrative occupations might not be able to support city living, given the lack of affordable housing, groceries or transportation.

Living on a low income also reduces the urban poor’s access to quality education and skills training, consequently depriving them of various economic opportunities, especially a more secure source of income through better jobs or businesses, that can only be attainable through better education.

In many countries, the urban poor live in informal settlements such as slums or areas that generally provide inadequate living conditions.

According to the International Institute for Environment and Development, about one billion urban poor can be found in these settlements, most of whom are affected by problems including:

  • Poor quality or overcrowded housing
  • Risk of forceful eviction
  • Lack of safe, readily available water supply
  • Poor access to proper sanitation, drainage and solid waste collection
  • Lack of access to government services such as healthcare, education and security
  • High exposure to disasters with increasing level of risks due to climate change

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