With drones and satellites, India gets to know its slums

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

About a third of the world’s urban population lives in informal settlements, according to United Nations data. 

These settlements may account for 30 percent to 60 percent of housing in cities, yet they are generally undercounted, resulting in a lack of essential services, which can exacerbate poverty. 

Identifying and monitoring settlements with traditional approaches such as door-to-door surveys is costly and time consuming. As technology gets cheaper, officials from Nairobi to Mumbai are using satellite images and drones instead. 

About 65 million people live in India’s slums, according to census data, which activists say is a low estimate. 

Lack of data can result in tenure insecurity, as only residents of “notified” slums - or those that are formally recognized - can receive property titles. 

Lack of data also leads to poor policy because slums are “not homogenous”, said Anirudh Krishna, a professor at Duke University who led the Bengaluru study. 

Some slums “are more likely to need water and sanitation facilities, while better off slums may require skills and entrepreneurship interventions,” he said. 

“Lack of information on the nature and diversity of informal settlements is an important limitation in developing appropriate policies aimed at improving the lives of the urban poor.” 

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