What are the issues for people living in squatter settlements in poorer parts of the world?

What do I need to know?

Step 1: Read the key terms list below. Make sure that you understand and could give a definition to somebody else.

Step 2: Read the information in Section 1. Answer the exam questions here: 9_5 What are the issues for people living in squatter settlements in poorer parts of the world?

Key terms

Squatter settlements – Usually on the outskirts of cities, Squatter settlements are home to people who have built their houses out of any materials they can find. The land these houses are built on does not belong to them, hence the name ‘ Squatter’. Squatter settlements can be known under many different names such as Shanty Towns, Favela’s and Slums.

Informal sector – Jobs which are not recognised as part of official employment figures. The people undertaking these jobs would not pay tax. Informal sector jobs include ‘odd-job’ tasks such as cleaning and rubbish collection.

Zabbaleen garbage collectors in Mokattam village slum area, Cairo.

Zabbaleen garbage collectors in Mokattam village slum area, Cairo.

Self-help – Local Authorities (councils) help squatter settlement residents to improve their homes and living conditions by offering them loans and grants. These can then be used to install utilities such as water and electricity. This could also be spent on better, more long-term building materials.

Site and service – Squatter settlement land is divided into separate individual plots of land and these plots are provided with basic utilities such as electricity, running water and sanitation. Only when these plots of land have these basic facilities can building begin.

Section 1. What are squatter settlements and what it is like to live in them? – Kibera Case Study

Why are squatter settlements present in many poorer parts or the world?

Rapid urbanisation and rural-urban migration means that there is not enough time to build housing for all residents. Urbanisation is also so rapid that the economy can not grow at the same rate in order to provide jobs. Rural-urban migration continues to occur by people seeking a better life in the city, arriving only to find that the reality is quite different. Often unable to afford to return back to rural areas, people end up staying in squatter settlements on the outskirts of major cities. These squatter settlements originate from people finding unused and unoccupied land and making their own shelters and facilities with whatever they can find. Residents also create their own jobs in the informal sector such as rubbish collection, selling hand-made items, making and repairing things and becoming couriers and cleaners.

Kibera case study – Nairobi, Kenya. Life in a squatter settlement. 

View of Kibera with Nairobi in the background - not just a few houses!

View of Kibera with Nairobi in the background – not just a few houses!

nairobi map

Map showing the location of Nairobi in South Kenya and the locations of slum areas surrounding Nairobi.

Over 60% of Nairobi’s residents live in slums, over 50% of these live in Kibera. This accounts of over 1 million people.  This leaves people with an approximate living space of 1m squared each.

Ant & Dec ComicRelief from Practical Action on Vimeo.


Social issues 

100,000 children living in Kibera are orphans (without either parent). This high number of orphans is due to a high rate of HIV/Aids deaths. This leaves children fending for themselves and as a result of this childhood death rates are also high.

Crime rates are high due to a lack of formal policing.

However, there is a very strong community spirit and residents often work together to help one enough and collaborate on building and facility projects.. Visitors are welcomed into the settlement.

Environmental issues 

Disused railway tracks running between houses in Kibera.

Disused railway tracks running between houses in Kibera.

Homes in kibera are typically made of whatever material the residents can find. This is often mud, corrugated iron sheeting and wood. Houses often have a sewer running between them due to poor or a complete lack of toilets and proper sanitation. Rubbish is everywhere and is not formally collected.

Open sewers and rubbish in Kibera.

Open sewers and rubbish in Kibera.

Section 2: How can Squatter settlements be improved?

Self – help

Self-help involves the residents of squatter settlements improving and ‘doing-up’ their homes. This can be funded through loans and grants given by Local authorities. Importantly, residents are given legal ownership of the land they have squatted on. This means that residents feel that making improvements will be worthwhile.

Home improvements often involve using more long-term building materials such as bricks and concrete, creating water and electricity supplies and building proper sanitation (running water and toilets). Rainwater is often collected and recycled to produce a water supply.

Self-help also often involves residents working together on projects such as rubbish collection. This means that everyone does their bit to make the environment healthier and tidier.

In settlements where self-help has worked particularly well, residents have built health centres and schools together as a community.

Site and service

Site and service schemes involve areas and plots of land being selected and provided with utilities and infrastructure before they can be built on. This means that water, sanitation and electricity are in place before residents can build. Houses are still made from materials that residents can afford or find at the time, but basic facilities are already in place.



Practical Action is a British Charity working in many African, American and Asian countries. They aim to build low cost housing materials for squatter settlement residents.

The United Nations Human Settlement Programme has provided electricity to some parts of Kibera at a very low cost to residents. Similarly, the World Bank also work to improve medical facilities and sanitation in Kibera.

UN-Habitat along with the Kenyan government, plan to rehouse thousands of residents of Kibera in new blocks of flats, with running water, toilets and electricity. Some areas of Kibera also have toilet blocks, shower facilities and electricity supplies as a result of this partnership.