Most Beautiful and Devastating Snapshots of Slums

  PortoNovo KajaNazimudeen
  karma level 243155



One billion people – a sixth of the world’s population – now live in slums, and it is predicted that the number of slum dwellers will double within the next quarter of a century. Such statistics are as staggering as they are sobering. Yet beneath the shacks and lean-tos of corrugated metal, plywood and plastic sheets, communities thrive and individuals meet the daily challenges their lives throw up at them.

UN-Habitat defines slums as overcrowded urban settlements with poor living conditions, whose residents lack adequate access to safe water, sanitation, and other basic infrastructure. A slum is characterised by substandard housing, squalor, and insecure residential status for tenants. Slums often exist off official city grids and municipal maps , and are in a constant state of transition – like fast-evolving living organisms.

Dharavi, Mumbai, India

Photo by Jonas Bendiksen


Photo by Jonas Bendiksen

“15 people live in this house. It’s too many people… but we are all family… When the rain comes… the whole house fills with water. We can’t call anyone and we just sit like that through all the night. The gutter water gets into the house – even sewage. The house stinks… One day we eat, other days we sleep hungry but just don’t tell anybody… If we tell people about our house will anyone believe us?”


Photo by lecercle


Photo by lecercle

An astonishing two-thirds of Mumbai’s densely crowded population live in its numerous slums; Dharavi is the city’s best known, home to as many as 1 million residents. Sanitation is a major problem here due to the dearth of toilets and public water supply, and contagious diseases have spread as a result. Matters are made worse by flooding during the annual monsoon.

Piles of rubbish, open sewers and ramshackle shanty homes make up the landscape – a landscape often hard to make out, with the shacks so tightly packed they block out the light. Yet for all its dirt and squalor, some of Dharavi’s better-planned homes are ingeniously designed. And beyond the putrid smells and the stronger smell of stigma, the slum is a haven for many people.


Photo by lecercle


Photo by lecercle

The one square mile community is a brimming economy, where both native residents and migrant workers separated from their families toil day and night to make ends meet – or work their way out of poverty. Alongside traditional sweatshop industries like pottery and textiles , there is a growing recycling trade, where all kinds of waste from other parts of the city are processed.

Despite all this, Dharavi looks destined to be destroyed within 10 years. The area on which it stands is earmarked for demolition and development, and the slum is to be razed to the ground. Prime location for offices and apartments Dharavi may be, but it is also home for countless people and filled with memories. In the words of one inhabitant: “Dharavi is heaven for me”.

Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya

Photo by Jonas Bendiksen

“I am staying in this 10 by 10-foot house in Kibera with my 5 children… On my walls there are some daily newspapers that we have been reading… I put these newspapers up to decorate my house. It makes the house look beautiful and it allows me to see everything – like cockroaches… It is OK but there are no proper windows so there is not enough ventilation. Although we are comfortable, there is risk. We pray to God that we are not going to be attacked by disease or suffocated”


Photo by subcomondata


Photo by subcomondata

Home to as many as 1.2 million people – a quarter of the population of Kenya’s capital – Kibera’s residents squash into an area smaller than New York’s Central Park. Yet, rented for as little as $7 a month, the close-lying claustrophobic shacks are places of solace to many residents, in spite of the widespread social problems.

With no paved roads, Kibera is a slum literally built on refuse and trash. Its residents use the working train track that cuts through the area as a pedestrian thoroughfare. As well as being heavily polluted by soot and dust, open sewers run among the shacks, causing contamination of the area with faeces. Such poor sanitation makes disease a constant threat. It is furthermore estimated that almost half a million Kenyans with HIV may live in Kibera.


Photo by Chrissy Olson


Photo by Chrissy Olson

Not formally recognised by the authorities, Kibera is excluded from official urban plans and is all but bereft of public services such as public water, healthcare and schools . According to the UN, one in five children living in Kibera will die before their fifth birthday.

Violence and beatings trouble those trying to build better lives in the ghetto – and crime has even affected recent efforts to upgrade the slum. Building materials cannot be left unattended because they might be stolen. Kibera is a self-policed, self-organised enclave where police fear to set foot.


Photo by Chrissy Olson

Jakarta, Indonesia

Photo by Jonas Bendiksen

“We are all scavengers here. We live under the bridge, about 40 of us. I came here 7 years ago when there were no lights, no electricity. Now it is much better. I brought in my friends, cousins, nephews and neighbours. We are all here together with one common goal. We want to work, so we can eat… Most people think trash is disgusting. We don’t say no to it as long as we can feed our families.”


Photo by Jonathan McIntosh


Photo by Jonathan McIntosh

The population of the sprawling metropolis that is Jakarta has exploded over the last 50 years, and large proportions of its more than 13 million residents live in myriad pockets of poverty scattered throughout the city. The slum dwellers live in outspread settlements found below clamouring highway overpasses, skirting train tracks, and perched beside riverbanks and drainage canals.


Photo by Jonathan McIntosh


Photo by Jonathan McIntosh

The people must deal with incredibly cramped living conditions, regular harassment and evictions by police, fires that can quickly set settlements ablaze, and the severe flooding Jakarta is prone to. Many of the poorer neighbourhoods lie near storm drains filled with trash that offer little shelter during the annual monsoon, and families are frequently forced to flee their homes until the water subsides. Drainage, sanitation and access to clean water are huge problems that carry the risk of diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and cholera.


Photo by Jonathan McIntosh

Hope and dignity nevertheless prevail among the people huddled together beneath the bridges and in the hastily hammered together self-built homes. The recycling of metals, plastics and other scrap is one form of work the slum dwellers have turned to put food in the mouths of their families and help support their children’s education . Scavenged materials are also used to furnish the homes – be it pieces of wood for furniture or stickers that serve as wallpaper.

For more beautiful yet devastating images of slums and stories told by the people who live there, visit The Places We Live .







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