Targeting the Urban Poor

Without inclusive growth, that includes the poor, the rich cannot survive in a city. Thank you for appreciating the development and environment combination of the blog. Your time is precious and I appreciate you making it available to comment on the Blog.

There is a dominant tendency on our part to think that poor living in the cities are a homogenous lot with same problems and therefore need uniform solution in the form of anti poverty programmes. JNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission) is an example of inclusive growth for the poor in the cities. Although in all honesty, while it does make efforts toward targeting heritage cities and look for unique needs of different cities, it does not take into account the needs of different slum settlements within a city.

My own experience indicates, as those of us who have worked in different slums within a city may have noticed, that each slum is unique and different slums have different priorities. Some slums have small informal but thriving business. Therefore for them earning a livelihood is not a concern, but schools for their children is an issue or medical help for the sick is top priority since they do not have an access to it. In some other slums located next to a flowing nullah or open drainage, sanitation and water may not be that big an issue as is access to electricity and therefore a means to earn livelihood. Yet another slum may have everything but getting loans at low interest rates for short durations like a day or two for running their small businesses may be a problem.

Thus if we define ability to earn livelihood as human capital, ability to have adequate infrastructure as physical capital, access to school and health services as social capital and access to short term loans as financial capital, we can list the ranking of these capital deprivations. This would allow us to have specific interventions relevant to the slum instead of the current generic interventions for poverty alleviation. The Journal “Habitat International” Vol 33 Issue 4 October 2009 has an article “Matching Deprivation mapping to Urban Governance in three Indian Mega Cities” (pp 365-377,  Authors: Isa S A Baud, Karin Pfeffer Namperumal Sidharan and Navtej Nainan). It talks of new ways to map poverty in  three Indian mega cities, including Delhi, based on ward level data. It uses four criteria of social capital, physical capital, human capital and financial capital to create an index to differentiate between ward level slums. Census data at ward level is used.

An ideal inclusive growth strategy for the poor in the cities would be that each one gets services that they want rather than what they need as determined by someone else.  What is missing for the poor households is freedom to choose freely and being acknowledged that they can make smart and responsibly choices for themselves and their future. The paper is an attempt towards this ideal.


Environmental anthropologist by training, been in the field for over 20 years, Gialome (pseudonym) is mainly concerned with the impacts of infrastructure and technology projects on local communities.

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