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A child carries water across an open drain in a village in Ghana; water pollution and poor levels of sanitation frequently lead to a predominance of water-borne diseases in the African region.
Copyright And Credit: Ron Gilling / Still Pictures
The rural poor are particularly vulnerable to stresses, such as extremes of temperature and rainfall (climate variation which results in drought and floods), general financial shortage, and persistent illness and bereavement. They are even more vulnerable to shocks, including famine, floods, epidemics and major changes in markets (Benneh and others, 1996).
About 40 per cent of the region's poor live in urban areas and, depending on the countries and urban settlements, between 15 and 65 per cent of African urban dwellers live in poverty, with little or absolutely no access to social and urban services which constitute decent living conditions (Soumaré and Gérard 2000). Rapid rates of urbanization in Africa can be attributed to the effects of colonialism, rural-to-urban migration, weak rural economies and a poor industrial base which cannot absorb unskilled labour from rural areas. The result of rapid urbanization is the radical transformation of the structure of cities, accompanied by complex social, economic and environmental changes (Rabinovitch 1997). There is strong evidence to suggest that urban environmental hazards-such as biological pathogens and various pollutants-are a major cause of or contributor to urban poverty and, for much of the urban poor population, environmental hazards are the main causes of ill-health, injury and premature death (Satterthwaite 1999).
Poor people, especially in urban areas, often settle in fragile zones with high population densities. This increases the overall impact of exposure to risk under conditions of heightened vulnerability, as the case study in the Box 3.9 illustrates.
Box 3.9 Vulnerability in Manchieyt Nasser, Cairo
The Manchieyt Nasser township, located at the heart of Cairo, developed from a long-standing limestone quarry and dump site-activities which moulded the rugged contours of the site to what is it today. The township now represents the biggest informal squatter settlement in Egypt, with between 350 000 and 500 000 people living on a mountainous site of 7.27 km2.
Most of these people are exposed, on a daily basis, to a plethora of natural and human-made environmental hazards. At the same time, they face the continuous possibility of legal charges for illegal occupation of state-owned land.Most of them lack the choice to reduce their economic and health vulnerability as a result of the environmental hazards.More shanty-town dwellers were moved into the area in 1960 and, in 1972, garbage deposition was relocated to the area.
The infrastructure and social services in the township are scanty and inadequate-and some have become obsolete. The construction of dwellings on environmentally fragile and risky spots has been commonplace. Pollution in the area results from informal manufacturing activities, leaking raw sewage, the open burning of garbage and mounting heaps of solid wastes. The area has also become a refuge for outlaws and illegal practices, due to its virtual inaccessibility to security forces. These changes have only worsened an already bad environmental situation, rendering the inhabitants more and more vulnerable. Thus, the area was the most badly damaged by an earthquake which struck Cairo in October 1992. Today, a considerable number of inhabitants still live in very dangerous spots in the area.
Osama Salem unpublished case study 2001