A shanty town (also called a squatter settlement) is a slum settlement (sometimes illegal or unauthorized) of impoverished people who live in improvised dwellings made from scrap materials: often plywood, corrugated metal and sheets of plastic. Shanty towns, which are usually built on the periphery of cities, often do not have proper sanitation, electricity, or telephone services.

Shanty towns are mostly found in developing nations, or partially developed nations with an unequal distribution of wealth (or, on occasion, developed countries in a severe recession). In extreme cases, shanty towns have populations approaching that of a city. As of 2005, one billion people, one-sixth of the world's population, live in shanty towns.[1]


Since construction is informal and unguided by urban planning, there is a near total absence of formal street grids, numbered streets, sanitation networks, electricity, or telephones. Even if these resources are present, they are likely to be disorganized, old or inferior. Shanty towns also tend to lack basic services present in more formally organized settlements, including policing, medical services and fire fighting. Fires are a particular danger for shanty towns not only for the lack of fire fighting stations and the difficulty fire trucks have traversing the absence of formal street grids,[2] but also because of the close proximity of buildings and flammability of materials used in construction[3] A sweeping fire on the hills of Shek Kip Mei, Hong Kong, in late 1953 left 53,000 squatter dwellers homeless, prompting the colonial government to institute a resettlement estate system.

Shanty towns have high rates of crime, suicide, drug use and disease. However the observer Georg Gerster has noted (with specific reference to the invasões of Brasilia), "squatter settlements [as opposed to slums], despite their unattractive building materials, may also be places of hope, scenes of a counter-culture, with an encouraging potential for change and a strong upward impetus."[4]


Cite Soleil Haiti

Cité Soleil, Haiti, 2002

Shanty towns are present in a number of countries. The largest shanty town in Asia is the Orangi Township, in Karachi, Pakistan which surpassed Dharavi in Mumbai, India[5][6] while the largest in Africa is Khayelitsha in Cape Town, South Africa.

Other countries with shanty towns include India, South Africa (where they are often called squatter camps) or imijondolo, the Philippines (often called squatter areas), Venezuela (where they are known as barrios), Brazil (favelas), West Indies such as Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago (where they are known as Shanty town), Mexico (where they are known as "lost cities" and "irregular settlements"), Peru (where they are known as "young towns"), and Haiti, where they are referred to as bidonvilles. There are also shanty town population in countries such as Bangladesh[7] and the People's Republic of China.[8][9][10]

Regional namesEdit

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