For a smug Westerner like me this book is a punch in the face. Britain is currently, September 2022, obsessed by massive increases in energy bills. I too whine and demand support from the government to maintain my entitlements. Clearly, I can’t ‘live’ without a supply of cheap(ish) energy to power my numerous appliances. The energy debate, has become existential: the end of the world is nigh. After reading this book my energy worries have been reframed as a pampered triviality.
One chapter’s sub-heading is Living in Shit. An offensive phrase. which dramatically and succinctly sums up the actuality of slum dwelling for a minimum of two billion people.
“The megacity of Kinshasa, with a population fast approaching 10 million, has no waterborne sewage system at all.”1
“…less than 10 percent of homes in Metro Manila are connected to the sewer systems.”2
A study of 22 slums in India found 9 with no latrine facilities at all; in another 10, there were just 19 latrines for 102,000 people.3
“….in Bombay women have to relieve themselves “between two and five each morning, because it’s the only time they get privacy.”4
Wringing hands and blaming the victim is popular amongst westerners…”If only they were like me they’d by OK.” But the Davis critique points the finger not at God, or the irreducible stupidity of slum dwellers. He points the finger at the IMF5 and the World Bank who enforced ideological economics on countries escaping from the yoke of colonial rule. Slum dwellers are suffering because of the West’s economic policies, Western banks and Western electorates.
This book is a must read even if it’s challenging. In fact, especially because it’s challenging.
1 Davis, Mike. Planet of Slums (p. 139). Verso. Kindle Edition.
3 ibid pp 139-40
4 ibid p141
5 IMF = International Monetary Fund