The two videos above show what life is like in Rocinha, Rio De Janeiro in Brazil. This is a nice case study and you should watch the two videos and make notes.

What are the issues for people living in squatter settlements in poorer parts of the world?

The speed of the urbanisation process in many poorer areas of the world results in squatter settlements (shanty towns) being built and the evolution of an informal sector of the economy. The pace of rural-urban migration is too fast to allow the time needed to build proper houses and for the economy to grow to provide jobs. People find unoccupied areas of land and materials and begin to build their own makeshift shelters. As there are few official jobs available, people create their own employment: selling items; amking and repairing things on a small scale; becoming couriers, cleaners, gardeners; taking in laundry.

The two pictures are of Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

Living in squatter settlements
  • settlements are unplanned so the houses do not have basic infrastructure such as sanitation, piped water, electricity and road access
  • houses are made of any material available nearby - corrugated iron, pieces of board - haphazardly assembled to provide a basic shelter
  • houses have a simple layout that may have a living area separate from a sleeping area
  • parents and large families inhabit a small shack which is often overcrowded and the squatter settlements are very overcrowded
  • there are no toilets, water must be collected from a nearby source - often at a cost - and carried back
  • rubbish is not collected and the area quickly degenerates into a place of flith and disease
  • the inhabitants tend to create poorly paid jobs where the income is unreliable or they work in the less well-paid jobs part of the formal sector
  • quality of life is poor; the housing and environment are largely responsible for this
  • the residents have very little money so cannot improve their homes or enviroments
  • crime is a problem, children often do not go to school, the family lives on top of each other, there is no privacy, disease is rife and life is one of trying to survive from one day to the next
Strategies to improve living conditions
There are two methods used to improve the squatter settlements:

Improvement by residents involves the residents seeking to 'do up' their original shelters. This means replacing flimsy, temporary materials woth more permanent brick and concrete; catching rainwater in a tank on the roof; and obtaining an electricity supply (often illegally by tapping intoa neraby source). Such improvements are slow and individual - not all the problems of poor living conditions can be solved.


Self-help occurs where local authorites support the residents of the squatter settlements in improving their homes. This involves the improvements outlined above, but it is more organised. There is cooperation between residents to work together and remove rubbish. There is also cooperation from local authority, which offers grants, cheap loans and possibly materials to encourage improvements to take place. Standpipes are likely to be provided for access to water supply and sanitation. Collectively, the residents, with help from the local authority, may begin to buidld health centres and schools. Legal ownership of the land is granted to encourage improvements to take place, amrking an acceptance of the housing.

Site and service schemes
Site and service schemes are a more formal way of helping squatter settlements residents. Land is identified for the scheme. The infrastructure is laid in advance of settlement, so that water, sanitation and electricity are properly suppiled in individually marked plots. People then build their homes using whatever materials they can afford at the time. They can add to and improve the structure if finances allow later.
Local authority schemes can take a number of different forms. There may be large-scale improvements made to some squatter settlemnts or new towns may be constructed. In Cairo, new settlements such as 10th of Ramadan City were built to reduce pressure on the city. High-rise blocks of flats were built, together with shops, a primary school and a mosque. Industries were also planned to provide jobs for the new inhabitants.

Key terms

Squatter settlements - areas of cites (usually on the outskirts) that are built by people of any materials they can find on land that does not belong to them. Squatter settlements have different parts of the world (e.g. favela in Brazil, townships in South Africa) and are often known as shanty towns
Informal sector - that part of the economy where jobs are created by people to try to get an income (e.g. taking in washing, mending bikes) and which are not recognised in offical figures.
Self-help - sometimes known as assisted self-help (ASH), this is where local authorities help the squatter settlement residents to improve their homes by offering finance in the form of loans or grants and often installing water and sanitation
Site and service - occur where land is divided into individual plots and water, sanitation, electricity and basic track layout are supplied before any building by residents begins