September 16, 2019

Informal Settlements

Economic and Social Council: United Nations Development Programme

Topic: Informal Settlements

Over the course of human history, cities have always existed as centers of trade and governance. The United Nations Population Division estimates that the number of individuals living in cities has increased from less than 10 percent to over 55 percent of the world’s population in the past 200 years. In some developing nations, the growth of cities has been even more recent and rapid. This is in part due to the rapid movement of economic opportunities from rural areas to cities rapidly outpacing the construction of affordable housing. Additionally, political events and natural disasters create refugees, who often travel to cities when they can no longer remain in their homelands. These factors have resulted in the rise of informal settlements, unplanned, legally unprotected, and often hazardously located settlements, usually on the edges of urban areas. The UN estimates approximately 68 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, and without an alternative housing solution, informal settlements will inevitably continue to grow.

In a 2015 UN conference on Sustainable Housing and Urban Development, an informal settlement was defined as housing in which the residents lack some combination of the following: security of tenure (meaning legally recorded owner- or rentership), access to basic services and city infrastructure, and compliance with city planning or building regulations. By this definition, the conference found that approximately 1.6 billion people lived in informal settlements. UN Sustainable Development Goal 11 is to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. Some cities have attempted “slum upgrading” to improve the quality of housing in these settlements, and some have even created opportunities for residents to officially purchase the land they are living on. Other cities have built new, higher quality housing to replace informal settlements, but this has come with a wide range of its own controversies about how they are paid for, who should be prioritized, what type of housing should be built, and where it should be built. It is important for the United Nations Development Programme to consider how to provide adequate housing, transportation, and infrastructure to those living in informal settlements.

Without action, the world is in danger of failing to meet sustainable development goal number 11 by its target completion goal of 2030, at detriment to the health of over half of the world’s population living in cities. Considering how their own nation is addressing urban growth, delegates should assess how to prevent further growth of inadequate housing, as well as how governments can make informal housing more adequate. The committee should also consider what nations at different levels of development and facing different challenges can do to decrease the number of individuals living in informal settlements. Most importantly, nations ought to respect the humanity of all of the individuals living in informal settlements, regardless of what approach the committee chooses to address this pressing issue.

Useful Links:

UN statistics on Sustainable Development Goal 11

UN-Habitat Statistics on human settlements and explanations for how statistics are calculated

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