Five Forgotten Slums of the World

Five Forgotten Slums of the World
Photo Credit: AP/達志影像
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Living in the slums of the most developed cities in the world seems unimaginable, but it’s part of reality.


You might remember PSY, the Korean singer that became famous overnight with his hit “Gangnam Style”. The song depicts the lavish lifestyles of the wealthy in the Gangnam district and introduces you to the most high-end region of Seoul.

But buried between the skyscrapers and luxury of Gangnam is more than just luxury cars and red wine. One of Korea’s most famous slums, Guryong Village, is hidden inside the extravagance. It is ironic, but the only existing slum in Seoul sits within the most prosperous and respectable region of all Korea.

Guryong Village. Photo Credit: Reuters

In Guryong Village, people live inside shabby huts and many of them don’t have individual toilets or bathrooms. A lot of people burn coal for heat. The area is home to more than two thousand people, most of who are senior citizens or ailing and have lived here since the 1980s. Today these people can only live on a monthly subsidy of 200,000 South Korean Won distributed by the government. (An instant noodle cup costs around 800 to 1,500 South Korean Won.)

Many of the people who live in Guryong Village are ailing or senior citizens. Photo Credit: Reuters

Fortunately, local officials and residents reached an agreement last year. They plan to start removing the huts this summer and provide financial aid for housing to improve living conditions.

But will the new project solve the problem completely? Or is the government merely using city planning to conceal the impact urbanization has on social structure? After all, the existence of Guryong Village within the Gangnam district hints at the gravity of the gap between the rich and poor in Korea. There are statistics that show the number of elderly Koreans living in poverty ranks the highest in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).


Harukas, the tallest skyscraper in Japan, completed construction last year in Osaka and has become the city’s latest attraction. For the past fifty years, the people who have contributed most to Osaka’s modern construction come from the cheap labor force in Kamagasaki. But since Japan’s economic distress in the 1990s, Kamagasaki has become the most well known slum in the country.

Kamagasaki is where temporary workers, the unemployed and homeless gather. They live in provisional lodgings made out of wooden planks and cardboard boxes. Though Kamagasaki appears to be somewhat orderly in photos, the presence of the homeless is a reality that can’t be ignored. Violence and criminal offense is everywhere and gang riots often occur. These turn the area into a huge social problem for Osaka. When the movie, Fragile, went to Kamagasaki to do some takes, the government asked them to delete the scenes in order to maintain a false appearance.

The homeless in Kamagasaki is a reality the local government needs to face. Photo Credit: AP
Photo Credit: AP

El Gallinero is only 15 kilometers away from the capital of Spain, Madrid, but it seems like a third-world country. There’s no running water in El Gallinero, nor are there basic sanitary facilities such as restrooms. This is home to over three hundred Romani and simple huts are their shelters.

Though the government has issued removal orders more than once and forced the demolishment of these “illegal” buildings, it hasn’t proposed a plan to let the locals become a part of the Spanish society. In fact, most of the Romani reside in various slums in Europe. The European Commission reports, one-fourth of the citizens from countries in the European Union feel uncomfortable having the Romani as neighbors. But does it mean that criminal activities, drug use and other social problems won’t take place if the Romani are driven out to city borders?

El Gallinero is only 15 kilometers away from Madrid, but it there is a huge difference between the two places. Photo Credit: Reuters
Photo Credit: Reuters
Photo Credit: AP
The government has failed to propose a solution to ease the tension between the Romani and the Spanish society. Photo Credit: AP
The U.S.

Some of the homeless in the U.S. choose to live in tents. Outside of downtown St. Louis, the biggest city in Missouri, is the largest camping site in the area. When the government was preparing to demolish the tents for sanitary and safety reasons, it promised to provide aid to the residents.

But a lot of these people would rather live in the tents than in shelters. One of the main reasons is freedom. For example, they can avoid a curfew. Nevertheless, the main problem probably doesn’t lie in the shelters but in the high price of housing.

Being homeless offers more freedom than the burden of high housing costs. Photo Credit: AP
Photo Credit: AP
Hong Kong

Retaining the title of the international financial center of Asia, Hong Kong has sky-high housing prices. Therefore, those living in poverty stay in prison-like caged homes and still have to pay a monthly rent of HK$1,800 Hong Kong dollars. This amount is more than half of the social security assistance the government provides.

Even if you have the financial ability to pay the rent, you still have to tolerate vile living environments, for example, bad ventilation and scorching temperatures. People have even passed out because of the heat.

Usually more than ten people live inside a single caged home, so there’s no privacy. The space is also very narrow, with barely enough room for an adult to stretch out his or her legs. Even a coffin has more space.

Though caged homes are officially called “bedspace apartments” by the Hong Kong government, it can’t change the fact there are still nearly two hundred thousand underprivileged people living in caged homes, subdivided units, cubicles and even industrial buildings.

The size of a coffin is probably bigger than a caged home. Photo Credit: Reuters
Photo Credit: Reuters
Photo Credit: AP

Each city has a glamorous side, but also a dark one. The living situation of the poor has always been an awkward issue for every local government, especially when they form a small community within the most thriving cities in the world. Then, the slums seem even more out of place and ironic.

The reconstruction and demolishment of slums in cities of high land value inevitably lead to issues that concern the benefit of development. In some places, exiling the poor might slightly ease up public security and sanitary problems, but the social structure issues that shaped the poor, such as the gap between the rich and poor, social mobility and racial discrimination, can’t be solved overnight.

If the government keeps on turning a blind eye toward these issues or if they only see the poor as political consumers, then the problem of the underprivileged will still remain unsolved, even in the most developed cities in the world.

Translated by Olivia Yang

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