Where Are 10 of the Most Shocking Slums in Latin America?
In Latin America, informal settlements known as “slums” have emerged across the region, providing low-quality shelter to more than 117 million people who live in shocking levels of poverty. The immensity of cities such as Mexico City, Buenos Aires, and Lima generates overcrowded living conditions without access to electricity or clean water. People living in Latin American slums also suffer from poor nutrition and a lack of access to proper health care.
This population includes the poor, the homeless, and vulnerable indigenous groups without access to education. After they migrate to cities to find more opportunities for work and a better quality of life, they’re often forced by low economic means to find shelter in these slums.
In recent years, many cities in Latin America have seen a rapid rate of urbanization. When poor people move from the countryside to the city in large numbers, often there aren’t enough resources to support everyone. That’s why people resort to building inexpensive, illegal housing to survive, and these places have expanded to become the informal settlements the world knows as “slums.”
Where are the 10 most shocking slums in Latin America?
Read on to find out along with interesting facts about Latin American slums and their origins.
Facts About Latin American Slums
Slum neighborhoods in Latin America are consistently located outside major cities, including (but not limited to) Bogotá, Lima, Mexico City, and Guatemala City. While many slums may differ in how they look, they have in common a set of basic facts (some of which are surprisingly positive).
Disease Spreads Quickly in These Areas
Latin American slums unfortunately are a breeding ground for different diseases due to the lack of proper sanitation. Illnesses develop fast and spread quickly which is why COVID-19 and tuberculosis have been difficult to combat in these territories.
Gangs Constantly Threaten Inhabitants’ Safety
Because there is no central authority in these urban slums, they are susceptible to drugs, violence, and gangs. Many drug lords originate from slums and threaten the safety of the communities living there.
Tight-Knitted Communities Form Within the Slum
Many people living in slums say that they like where they are from due to the communities that have formed within these housing situations and how they pull through together.
Tourists Continue to Agitate Slum Dwellers
“Slum tourism” refers to when travelers visit impoverished populations to see the areas. This can have a negative effect on the slum communities. It promotes the wealth gap by separating the rich from the poor, which can be triggering for many people living in the slums.
Nonprofit Organizations Rally to Support These Areas
Many nonprofit organizations, such as TECHO, aim to improve infrastructure and housing for people living in Latin American slums.
Slums Give Rise to Entrepreneurship
Even though Latin American slums are a source of extreme poverty and hardship, they’re also a birthplace for entrepreneurs. Because so many people struggle to survive, some of those people try to create businesses from the resources that they have. It’s a good reminder of how little we need to get creative and find better alternatives.
10 Most Shocking Slums in Latin America
As slums continue to grow, governments are working to develop upgrades that could improve living conditions.
Here is a list of some of the largest Latin American slums.
1. Villas Miseria – Argentina
La Villa Miséria means “the village of misery.” It describes the precarious conditions in which immigrants from different parts of the country found themselves in when they arrived to the city and had nowhere to go.
This slum originated in the 1930s. Residents include not only people from Argentina but also foreigners from other parts of South America.
There are 640 of these villages around Buenos Aires, and they harbor about 700,000 people. According to the Population Reference Bureau, 33% of the Argentine population lives in Villas Miseria.
2. Población Callampa – Chile
These settlements are named after la callampa, a mushroom that suddenly appears and reproduces quickly in any environment. They first emerged in Santiago, Chile in the 1960s and continued to rapidly grow into the 1980s.
They are considered uninhabitable and are called campamentos (camps). According to TECHO, this area contains about 450 settlements that are home to 8,000 families.
3. Ciudadelas – Bolivia
About 50% of the urban population in Bolivia live in ciudadelas (slum cities). In La Paz, Bolivia, the Law of Harmonious and Strategically Planned Human Urban Settlements passed to establish public policy in these areas and help as many people in need as possible.
In 2005, the World Bank financed several projects in Bolivia to help with the extreme poverty found in these communities.
4. Pueblo Joven – Perú
In the 1940s, there was a significant migration from rural areas towards the city of Lima looking for a better quality of life and more job opportunities. Many of the people were mestizo (mixed race) or indigenous. There have been many unsuccessful attempts to make residents return to their places of origin. About 36% of the urban population of Lima lives in these small settlements.
5. Cinturón de Miséria – México
Cinturón de Miseria means “belt of misery,” and it is an informal outer zone surrounding Mexico City.
Cartolandia comes from the words for “cardboard” and “land” in Spanish. These were the materials used to build el Cinturón de Miseria. Cartolandia is located on the edge of the state of Mexico. La bestia, a cargo train that takes people north and to the U.S., crosses through this area.
This colony materialized 20 years ago, and it’s home to around 600 people. Because of the amount of people crossing through, it is dangerous. About 18% of the urban Mexican population lives in these belts.
6. Barrios Bajos – Colombia
Los barrios bajos means “low neighborhoods,” and it refers to the settlements located in Colombia, which are also known as comunas.
In recent years, the barrios bajos of Medellin have been known to be innovative in terms of mobility. Comuna 13 in Medellin is home to about 135,000 people, which is 18% of the urban population in Colombia.
7. Barrio Malo – Dominican Republic
Barrio Malo means “bad neighborhood,” and this housing has been marginalized by society and lacks basic sanitation. They don’t have water or electricity, and violence has been a major problem in el Barrio Malo in the Dominican Republic.
In 2012, abusive measures of control were taken by the National Police to manage the control of drugs in the country. After complaints from residents, the police made a formal announcement saying that they would begin a campaign to protect them from drug-related crimes.
About 18% of the urban population of the Dominican Republic lives here.
8. Llega y Pon – Cuba
Llega y pon means “arrive and put.” About a decade ago, the Cuban government tried to remove residents and make them go back home, but they obviously did not succeed. The residents were so tough that they are even supplied with water and electricity—some also have access to healthcare and education even though living there is still considered illegal.
Residents are called los palestinos (Palestinians) because they live like refugees. There’s not much data as to what percentage of people live there because Cuba doesn’t share that information with the world.
9. Champerío – El Salvador
Champerío is a nahuatl word (an indigenous language from the Mayans) that means “house.” This turned into champa which means “shack.” These champerios or champas are built with vertical wooden columns with a roof of palm leaves and branches.
This is a community made of champas. About 47% of the population of El Salvador is considered poor. Champeríos are found throughout the country, but they’re more commonly found closer to the cities.
10. La Limonada – Guatemala
The poorest neighborhood in Guatemala City is called La Limonada which means “lemonade.” It is home to about 60,000 Guatemalans and it is one of the biggest slum settlements on the continent.
In 2012, the World Bank tried to launch the recuperation of human settlements, but it is still a major problem with huge communities without resources. It’s a work in progress, and it will take an incredible effort to change the circumstances.
About 43% of Guatemala’s urban population lives in these settlements (los asentamientos).
Live Abroad and Help People in Need
Now that you’ve read about the different slums in Latin America, what do you think? What could be a long-term solution?
If you choose to move to a Spanish-speaking country, it’ll open doors for you to start a business, work there, and help those in need. Many incredible volunteer programs exist in Latin America.
Learning Spanish empowers you to make your travels more enjoyable, meaningful, and maybe even altruistic. Get involved in supporting the conditions of informal settlements—practice Spanish to empower your ability to make a lasting impact! Organizations like TECHO, CARE, and ECLAC can use your help. To get inspired to travel to Latin America to volunteer, sign up for a free class and enhance your Spanish skills starting now!
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