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Regional themes > Human security Last update: 2020-11-27  

Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE)

Human rights and slum-upgrading
General introduction and compilation of case studies

Malcolm Langford, Leslie Quitzow and Virginia Roaf

Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE)


SARPN acknowledges the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) as a source of this document:
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Over a billion people throughout the world live in slums, which UN-Habitat define as featuring lack of durable housing, insufficient living area, lack of access to clean water, inadequate sanitation and insecure tenure.

Slum upgrading, as opposed to slum redevelopment or slum clearance, is now widely acknowledged as one of the more effective means of improving the housing conditions of the poor and has been hailed as a ‘linchpin’ of any urban poverty strategy. It has been defined by the Cities Alliance as consisting of ‘physical, social, economic, organisational and environmental improvements undertaken cooperatively and locally among citizens, community groups, businesses and local authorities’1. The improvement of slums is now a Millennium Development Goal, a though the target of reaching 100 million slum dwellers seems very low. Slum-upgrading can also go beyond mere physical improvements and promote changes in policy at a city-wide or even national level, recognising that slums are not isolated problems, but indicative of an entire urban system that is not functioning and must therefore be addressed through city-wide planning processes.

From a human rights perspective, slum upgrading can help realise the right to adequate housing and other human rights. Existing housing stock and access to services can be improved, which means that excessive reliance is not placed upon investments in new low-income housing. Slum upgrading can also provide protection from forced evictions through better tenure security. However, slum upgrading programmes can have adverse implications for human rights if they are poorly designed or implemented.

This brochure provides a brief analysis of selected slum upgrading processes from different parts of the world, placing special emphasis on the various human rights issues involved. It addresses all the different local stakeholder groups, from affected community members to potential and existing decision-makers.

The case studies provide a range of ideas and measures that have positively influenced the development of low-income settlements in the past in order to provide inspiration for current and future projects in the field. One example of a poorly designed programme has also been included to highlight the difficulties that slum upgrading projects can encounter. Though slum-upgrading processes are certainly too complex to be replicated unchanged from one settlement to another, a comparison of basic phenomena and strategies, for example concerning tenure, community participation, financing mechanisms, organisational structures and engagement with municipal authorities can provide valuable information and be a source of encouragement.

  1. Cities Alliance, Cities Without Slums: Action Plan for Moving Slum Upgrading to Scale (The World Bank and the UN Centre For Human Settlements (UNCHS) (Habitat), Special Summary Edition, 1999), p. 4, The Cities Alliance is a “global alliance of cities and their development partners committed to improve the living conditions of the urban poor through action”. It was launched in 1999 by the World Bank and UN-Habitat.

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