Earlier this week UNICEF released it’s annual State of the World’s Children (SOWC) report. The focus was on children in urban areas because at this point almost half of the world’s children live in cities or towns. The most shocking aspect of the report was the finding that urban-dwelling children are not necessarily better off than their rural counterparts, and in some occasions children who grow up in rural areas may actually have an advantage.
Traditionally we think of cities as centers of opportunity and possibility. Schools tend to be better and more available in cities, health care is more widespread in urban settings, job opportunities are more abundant, infrastructure tends to be better, housing seems more available, but as the report shows proximity to these things does not necessarily guarantee availability. Because statistics tend to be made of averages, the large income of some cancels out the low income of many, and can mask issues of extreme poverty and marginalization in cities. These averages also deprive low income areas of services like medical centers and schools because their numbers are so easily neutralized in math and overlooked in planning committees.
The poor in urban areas often face challenges that are unique from their rural counterparts. The most significant of which is overcrowding. In rural communities there is space to spread out. In cities, the poor are usually confined to slums or equally unsafe tenement housing. With overcrowding comes increased sanitation issues, and infection diseases spread easily and rapidly. Children in these crowded slums and tenements are at a higher risk for illness, and even though there may be a hospital nearby, families are still typically unable to afford the services. In some cases, evem cultural issues prevent families from seeking medical help because they believe they are not entitled to these services.
The SOWC report aims to change the way we gather information from urban environments and provide services to the poor in cities and towns. Their goal is shape policies and actions in order to make cities places where all children can fulfill their rights and grow up to be healthy, contributing adults. This is a massive undertaking – especially at the rate cities are growing – and will require cooperation from governments, local officials, international groups, and NGOs. The report is a fascinating read, and has changed the way I look cities. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in global development, children’s rights, or just the state of brothers and sisters around the world. I feel it’s important to be aware the struggles or others, and this SOWC report is a good opportunity to learn something new.