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Local Agenda 21

IURBAN SOCIETY : urban livelihoods & vulnerability

The documents gathered in this section illustrate initiatives sustaining urban livelihoods: including new approaches to poverty reduction though social mobilisation, new schemes for directly addressing poverty and vulnerability through social organisation, and more effective forms of access to support infrastructures and services.

quick links

local level city level
  international level websites

local level

Perlman, Janice E. (2002) - The Metamorphosis of Marginality: The Favelas of Rio de Janeiro: 1969-2002 - The Mega-Cities Project [pdf]

This presentation is based on preliminary findings from a re-study of the people and communities described in my 1976 book, The Myth of Marginality: Urban Poverty and Politics in Rio de Janeiro. The original research involved living in three communities and interviewing 200 randomly selected residents and 50 leaders from each. The first community, Catacumba, in the up-scale residential South Zone was forcibly removed in 1970 and the residents relocated in public housing projects (conjuntos) around the city. The second, Nova Brasilia, in the industrial North Zone, is part of the now notorious
Complexo de Alemao, which is one of the last areas untouched by the widespread upgrading project, Favela-Bairro. In the third site, Duque de Caxias, in the peripheral Fluminense lowlands, half of the interviewees were favelados and half owners of small unserviced
lots in the poorest areas of the municipality.

Shelters Associates (1997) - The Forgotten People - A report on a survey of pavement dwellers in Pune [pdf]

Pavement dwellers in Pune are amongst the poorest of the city’s population. They are not just poor in comparison to the rest of the urban population, but were also the poorest families in their native villages. Most of them come from the drought prone areas of Maharashtra, were landless and they worked as agricultural labourers over there.

city level

Devas, Nick & David Korboe (2000) - "City governance and poverty: the case of Kumasi" - Environment & Urbanization, Vol 12 No 1 April 2000 - IIED [pdf]

Ghana - This paper discusses the factors that influence the scale and nature of poverty in Kumasi, with a special focus on the role of city government and other governmental bodies. It reviews critically the impact of city government’s policies on the livelihoods of poorer groups and their access to essential services, and notes the limited impact of democratization and decentralization on improving the performance of government agencies, particularly in relation to the urban poor. It also discusses what factors have helped to limit the scale and extent of poverty, including the role of traditional land allocation systems, donor involvement and supportive ethnic networks.

Maxwell, Daniel; Carol Levin, Margaret Armar-Klemesu, Marie Ruel, Saul Morris, Clement AhiadekeUrban (2000) - Livelihoods and Food and Nutrition Security in Greater Accra - IFPRI [pdf]

Ghana - This report examines the nature of urban poverty and how it relates to food insecurity and malnutrition in Accra, Ghana. By exploring the major determinants of food security and nutritional status, it develops indicators that are appropriate in an urban context, identifies vulnerable groups within the city, and suggests policies and programs to improve the lives of the urban poor.

Rahman, Sanzidur (2001) - SHAHAR Project History: Learning from experience in urban programming - CARE Bangladesh in collaboration with IFPRI [pdf]

Bangladesh - SHAHAR (Supporting Households Activities for Hygiene, Assets and Revenue), a component of the Integrated Food Security Program (IFSP) of CARE-Bangladesh, was launched in mid-1999 with recruitment of staff being the first activity following the inception of the project. Since then, two-and-a - half years have elapsed, and various lessons have been learned in the process of implementing such an integrated and innovative program. This program was based on the Household Livelihood Security (HLS) framework and was intended to improve the plight of the urban poor in selected secondary cities of Bangladesh.

Razafindrakoto, Mireille, François Roubaud (2001) - Les multiples facettes de la pauvreté dans un pays en développement : Le cas de la capitale malgache - DIAL [pdf]

Madagascar -This study is based on a comparison of different approaches to poverty and puts a new light on its nature and scale. Such comparisons are rarely made in developing countries, but were possible due to the rich database available for the Madagascan capital. Alongside the traditional definition on income-based criteria, the study confronts different concepts of poverty: firstly, based on objective criteria (material living conditions, human capital, social exclusion), and secondly, on subjective assessments of households (overall impression, satisfaction of so-called “essential” needs, wealth), rarely taken into account in studies on poor countries. The article examines whether there is an easily identifiable hard core of poor people that must be reduced or whether, on the contrary, there are different forms of poverty that only partly cut across one another and which require specific policies. The different approaches have few results in common, hence highlighting the multifaceted nature of poverty. Each type of approach also finds different profiles to characterise the poor population groups. These results imply that poverty reduction strategies cannot be based on a single instrument, or cover a single domain, but must use a range of measures to address all the different aspects involved.

international level

Chambers, Robert (1995) - Poverty and livelihoods: whose reality counts? - Environment & Urbanization, Vol. 7 No. 1, April 1995 - IIED [pdf]

This paper explores how professionals’ universal, reductionist and standardized views of poverty differ from those of the poor themselves. Poverty line thinking concerned with income-poverty and employment thinking concerned with jobs, project Northern concerns on the South, where the realities of the poor are local, diverse, often complex and dynamic. Examples illustrate how poor people’s criteria differ from those assumed for them by professionals. The paper also discusses neglected dimensions of deprivation including vulnerability,
seasonality, powerlessness and humiliation. In the new understandings of poverty, wealth as an objective is replaced by wellbeing and “employment” in jobs by livelihood. The final sections argue for altruism and reversals to enable poor people to analyze and articulate their own needs, and they conclude with the implications for policy and practice of putting first the priorities of the poor.

Garett, James L. (2000) - 2020 Vision; Achieving Urban Food and Nutrition Security in the Developing World Overview - IFPRI [pdf]

To lift the poor from poverty, programs and policies should concentrate on creating jobs and on increasing the capacity of the poor to find and hold more-secure, higher-paying jobs or to expand their own businesses and generate new jobs. Governments, communities, and the private sector should cooperate to provide the elements for private sector success, much of which depends on a capable, if not extensive, government. At the same time, targeted income or food programs and more general social security and unemployment programs will continue to be necessary to provide for those who are left behind or who cannot work, including the elderly and the sick. Programs may also need to address issues of land and housing security, as secure tenure helps ensure that the poor do not lose their investments in tangible assets or in social networks.

Khosla, Romi; Sikandar Hasan, Jane Samuels & Budhi Mulyawan (2002) - Removing Unfreedoms: Citizens as Agents of Change - DPU / DFID / UN-Habitat [pdf]

This paper argues that in the light of the work of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, there is a need not only to modify current policy frameworks that deal with development, but also to share them across the globe. Such a shift would enable the national governments and sponsors to consider that the wider overarching goals of human development are those that provide individual citizens with ever expanding opportunities for freedoms. There is a need to
let citizens live the life of their choice. It argues that an objective that enables human beings to lead the life that they value is higher than one that enables them to be merely less poor and more efficient producers of wealth.

Meikle, Sheilah; Tamsin Ramasut & Julian Walker (2001) - Sustainable Urban Livelihoods: Concepts and Implications for Policy - DPU Working Paper N° 112 [pdf]

How poverty is understood determines the way policy makers and planners respond to it. A sustainable livelihoods approach (SLA) adopts a distinctive perspective on the understanding of poverty and how to intervene to improve the conditions of the poor. A sustainable livelihoods approach to poverty eradication is one that acknowledges that poverty is a condition of insecurity rather than only a lack of wealth. Broadly a ‘sustainable livelihood’ (SL) is a means of living which is resilient to shocks and stresses, and which does not adversely affect the environment.

Minujin, Alberto, Jan Vandemoortele & Enrique Delamonica (2002) - Economic growth, poverty and children - Environment & Urbanization, Vol 14 No 2, October 2002 -IIED [pdf]

This paper discusses the different dimensions of poverty, with a
particular focus on non-monetary aspects, and describes the limitations and inaccuracies inherent in the US$ 1 a day poverty line now widely used in crosscountry comparisons. It highlights how little attention is given to the aspects of poverty that most affect children and explains why addressing these issues is an effective approach to poverty reduction. The authors discuss why economic growth
during the 1990s failed to produce the hoped-for decline in the incidence of poverty in most nations and report, for example, on the existence of disparities as well as on the advantages of extending provision of basic services to all. Whilst on the one hand, economic growth has not necessarily reduced the incidence of (monetary and
non-monetary) poverty, on the other, reductions in poverty have been achieved in some cases without waiting for economic growth. Countries with comparable per capita incomes, for instance, can show considerable variation in under-five mortality rates.

Mitlin, Diana & David Satterthwaite (n.d) - How the scale and nature of urban poverty are under-estimated – the limitations of the US$ 1 a day poverty line - IIED [pdf]

If the term poverty it taken to mean human needs that are not met, then most of the estimates for the scale of urban poverty in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean appear too low. World Bank estimates for 1988 suggested that there were 330 million "poor" people living in urban areas (World Bank 1991) which implied that more than three-quarters of the urban population in low and middle income nations were not "poor" on that date. The 1999/2000 World Development Report (World Bank 1999) suggested that there were 495 million urban poor by the year 2000 in low and middle income nations which implies that three quarters of the urban population are not poor.

Moser, Caroline O.N. (1995) - Urban social policy and
poverty reduction - Environment & Urbanization, Vol. 7 No. 1, April 1995 - IIED [pdf]

The paper describes the differences in the ways that social and economic policy perceive poverty and its underlying causes, and thus differences in how they define it, measure it and institute mechanisms to reduce it. It also highlights the many dimensions of poverty that economic policy ignores and considers the constraints that limit the effectiveness of current poverty reduction strategies.

Patel, Sheela (n.d) - Addressing urban poverty: increasing incomes, reducing costs and securing representation - SPARC [pdf]

The paper considers the effectiveness of different strategies used by development agencies in urban areas to reduce poverty, including the relative merits of income generation and housing and neighbourhood improvement. Drawing on the findings of recent case studies, it suggests that the advantages of housing and neighbourhood improvements may have been under-estimated, including their capacity to strengthen social networks and to reduce living costs.

Razafindrakoto, Mireille & François Roubaud (2001) - Pauvreté et récession dans les métropoles africaines et malgaches : Eléments de diagnostic - DIAL [pdf]

In a concern to go further than a simple static report and to address poverty in its immense complexity, this study analyses its evolution over a period of time in relation to the macro-economic and social dynamics at work in Africa. On the basis of a certain number of elements of analysis, illustrated by specific examples and backed up by figures, the document takes stock of the situation in the main African cities and assesses the impact of the recessionary trend on the populations’ standards of living. The first part of the study
proposes an overall assessment focussed on two major trends: the prolonged recession and the rapid urbanisation of sub-Saharan Africa countries. It is quite clear that it is the towns that have paid the heaviest price in terms of the impoverishment of their populations. The second part deals specifically with the evolution, scale and characteristics of poverty in urban areas. The third part is aimed at understanding the process that has led certain households into a state of utter destitution. The study explores in detail the mechanisms that came into play in the African context as a result of the economic depression, and takes a close look in particular at the way in which the decline of the labour market affected the town-dwellers’ living conditions and how they were helpless due to the scale of the shocks.

Sharma, Kalpana (2000) - Governing our cities: Will people power work? - Panos Institute [pdf]

Cities cannot be successful – economically, politically or culturally – if the divisions between rich and poor continue to widen, if the poor are disenfranchised and have no rights to their land and if they have no voice or form of self-organisation. The solution to sustainable development in cities is for poor people to be allowed to assert their own rights, and increasingly to organise themselves to provide their own services and infrastructure. Successful systems of urban governance depend on people power. This consensus is not simply that of a fringe group of radicals, but the analysis that emerged five years ago in Istanbul at the meeting of 171 governments for Habitat II, the City Summit (the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements).

Wratten, Ellen (1995) - Conceptualizing Urban Poverty - Environment & Urbanization, Vol.7 No1, April 1995 - IIED [pdf]

This paper explores three issues. It first examines how, and by whom, poverty has been defined and measured, contrasting conventional economic and participatory approaches. Secondly, it questions the extent to which “urban poverty” differs conceptually from poverty in general. How far is analysis of the urban-rural divide helpful in understanding the underlying causes of poverty? Finally, the paper reviews the principal ways in which urban poverty has been understood in South and North, and the policy prescriptions which flow from such an understanding. It concludes by identifying the linkages between alternative definitions, different urban anti poverty policy approaches, and the choice of measuremement techniques.

web sites



Documents highlighting DFID's published work in support of livelihoods and vulnerability in urban areas:

Ashong, Korsi (2001) - Livelihoods of the Poor in Ghana - DFID [pdf]

The purpose of this desk review is to present an overview of definitions, trends and characteristics of poverty and ‘the poor’ in Ghana as a context for the specific circumstances of the peri-urban poor in Kumasi, Ashanti Region. The review is an integral part of DFID Research Project R7854 (Phase II), aiming to consolidate and create new knowledge to fill critical gaps in the existing understanding of the natural resource systems and livelihood strategies of the peri-urban urban dwellers in Kumasi, Ghana.

Beall, Jo and Nazneen Kanji (1999) - Households, Livelihoods and Urban Poverty - DFID Economic & Social Research (ESCOR) [pdf]

This background paper considers how people in low-income urban households pursue secure livelihoods. Livelihoods are understood not only in terms of income earning but a much wider range of activities, such as gaining and retaining access to resources and opportunities, dealing with risk, negotiating social relationships within the household and managing social networks and institutions within communities and the city. A focus on the livelihood initiatives of urban households and communities
serves to highlight the importance of human capabilities and agency. This focus is not meant to obscure the vulnerabilities of people in poverty, or to over-emphasise the options available to them in their efforts to earn incomes, create liveable environments and develop positive social relationships.

de Haan, Arjan; Michael Drinkwater, Carole Rakodi & Karen Westley (2002) - Methods for understanding urban poverty and livelihoods - DFID [pdf]

A livelihoods approach places households and their members at the centre of analysis and decision making, with the implication that household-centred methods of analysis must play a central role in developing an understanding of livelihood strategies and in programme and project planning and evaluation1. Knowledge is needed about the situation of and strategies adopted by poor households, in relation to both their characteristics and external opportunities and constraints. The methodological approach in such data collection and analysis is first, contextual and, second participatory.

Loughhead, Susan; Onkar Mittal & Geof Wood (2001) - Urban Poverty and Vulnerability in India: DFID's experiences from
a social policy perspective
- DFID [pdf]

This particular report aims to bridge the information gap between the rich and diverse information held at field level in India and the policy statements in DFID's urban strategy documents. It provides an opportunity to share these experiences with a broad range of people, who were not so closely involved with the process, and to explain the basis upon which we concluded that all urban programmes must take account of vulnerability in an urban context. It also
demonstrates how we believe these ideas can be
translated into practical work on the ground.

"Rooftop Gardening in St-Petersburg" (2001) - Wakely, Patrick; Nicholas You (2001) – Implementing the Habitat Agenda: In Search of Urban Sustainability - DPU [pdf]

Russia - Even the most unusual vacant spaces in cities can be put to innovative uses, giving local people the means to develop additional sources of income, or to improve their living conditions. The rooftop gardening initiative in St Petersburg is one example of how people have been able to use idle space to supplement their diets and livelihoods.

Satterthwaite, David (n.d) - Reducing Urban Poverty; Some Lessons from Experience - DFID / IIED [pdf]

This paper draws on seven case studies that document the experiences of initiatives that sought to reduce urban poverty. The documentation of these cases was funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). The case studies were chosen to reflect diversity in terms of:
1 the nations and cities in which they are located;
2 the basis on which they are funded (ranging from those that rely on demand from low-income households or draw on community or local resources to those drawing on funding from national governments and international agencies); and
3 the organizations involved in their formulation and implementation (see Table 1). As will be described in more detail later, they were also chosen to reflect diversity in those aspects of poverty they sought to address.

Sevanatha (2002) - Poverty Profile City of Colombo: Urban Poverty Reduction through Community Empowerment - DFID / UNDP / UN-Habitat [pdf]

Preparation of a Poverty Profile for City of Colombo
is one of the major outputs of the DFID funded and UMP /UN-HABITAT executed Urban Poverty Reduction Project which is in operation in Colombo during the period 2001 – 2003. The subject area of poverty reduction has always been a national concern in Sri Lanka. However, the present project is being the first ever city level effort to identify the issues and strategies to reduce urban poverty in Colombo.


2003 Development Planning Unit | Sikandar Hasan | Anna Soave | Khanh Tran-Thanh || Tina Simon