Malaysia is one of the most urbanised countries of East Asia, behind Japan, South Korea and Singapore. Our rate of urbanisation is set to increase from 76.6% in 2020 to 88% by 2050. 
Yet, at the speed we are going, not all of the city dwellers are on the same train. The plight of the urban poor, miskin bandar, remains one of the most detrimental impacts of rapid urbanisation.
Here are 10 things you should know about the impacts of urbanisation:
#1: The promise of a better life brought many rural dwellers to flock to the cities but many are working in “blue-collared jobs” with smaller returns due to lower educational attainments .
- Often they are not in a position to demand higher wages. The higher living cost leaves many juggling multiple jobs to survive in the city, like Irwan.
#2: It’s not a sweet home to many as the existing Program Perumahan Rakyat (PPR) flats sometimes do not meet suitable living standards with a space as small as 400sq feet, leaving families residing in cramped conditions.
- Some are left homeless due to the high rental cost and they seek refuge in unpleasant places such as under the bridge or sleeping on cold cardboard at night.
- The homeless are often helped by changemakers (organisations) in the form of food provisions or shelter for the night.
#3: Going to bed hungry is a familiar feeling to urban poor households in Kuala Lumpur as 52% of households living in low-cost flats in Kuala Lumpur do not even have enough money for food .
- 97% of urban poor households find preparing healthy meals for their families is too costly in 2018.
- On the ground, we have kitchen heroes cooking up a storm nourishing urban poor communities one meal at a time such as The Lost Food Project, Food Aid Foundation and Kechara Soup Kitchen.
#4: Schooling is lower on the priority list despite it being a ticket to escape poverty as 2% of those within the age of 7 to 17 years old are out of school.
- The PDPR (online) classes conducted during the pandemic have only exacerbated the issue, with 61% of urban poor households conveying that their children were losing interest in schools and 78% were simply unable to stay focused.
#5: One thing that is true about mental health issues is that it doesn’t discriminate against its victims, however, it hits people in poverty the hardest.
- At the height of the pandemic in 2020, 30% of households reported symptoms of depression and a year on, 1 in 5 heads of households were found to be depressed.
- The children in the community did not escape its claws, as 1 in 2 parents believed that their children’s mental health was affected during the prolonged Movement Control Order.
#6: Self-medication is prevalent and many rely on over-the-counter (OTC) drugs such as Paracetamol to tackle their health issues.
- Paracetamol is both affordable (costing as low as RM 6 for a strip of 20 tablets) and accessible in pharmacies, sundry shops and stalls. It provides them with quicker relief as opposed to queuing up at government hospitals or clinics for a consult.
#7: Escaping reality with a temporary high is common amongst the urban poor. Drugs and alcohol, contrary to contemporary belief, are less expensive and less restrictive to obtain.
#8: Female-led households faced severe income turbulence that led to a RM30 (1%) decrease in income in 2021 compared to 2019, unemployment and fewer hours of work.
- Many have taken on odd jobs to increase their earnings such as selling food like Sarawasthy and offering cleaning services due to the absence of social safety nets that could safeguard them.
#9: Period poverty is a persistent issue amongst urban poor women and some resorted to paper, old newspapers, kain batik or other absorbent materials. Sadly, some women even use their child’s diapers in place of sanitary pads.
- In addition to the government’s budget 2022 allocation to curb period poverty, we have existing changemakers such as Athena Empowers, Bulan Sisters and Soroptimist Puberty Organising Toolkit (SPOT) Malaysia tackling the issue of period poverty.
#10: Handouts to solve issues of urban poverty should be a thing of the past, what needs to happen is providing assistance that paves new livelihood and creates a permanent source of income.
- Research by James Raj put forth suggestions to help those in poverty, such as upskilling, opening up communal kitchens and empowering entrepreneurship. 
Explore our sources:
- A. Hakim. (2020). Bye- Bye Kampung? Malaysia is Leading the Urbanisation Race in East Asia. The Rakyat Post. Link.
- Mohamad Shukor Mat Lazim. (2020). Household Expenditure Survey Report. Evolution of Migration for Urban and Rural. Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM). Link.
- S. N. Z. Miscon & S. S. A. Hamid, (2018). ‘Make available more job opportunities for urban poor’. New Straits Times. Link.
- Portal Rasmi Jabatan Perumahan Negara. (2021). Program Perumahan Rakyat. Link.
- Unicef. (2018). Child Without. Link.
- UNICEF. (2018). Children Without: A study or urban child poverty and deprivation in low cost flats in Kuala Lumpur. Link.
- UNICEF. (2021). Families on the Edge: Issue 4: Two-Steps Forward, One Step Back: The New Normal for Malaysia’s Urban Poor? Link.
- Official Portal of Pharmaceutical Services. Consumer Price Guide. Ministry of Health Malaysia. Link.
- Wiki Impact. (2020). The Myth Of Being Too Poor To Afford Drugs. Link
- Wiki Impact (2021). Social Safety Nets: Not Many Urban Poor Protected During The Pandemic. Link
- M. Iskandar. (2021). Period poverty adds to challenges facing women in urban areas. New Straits Times. Link.
- I. Arif. (2021). Fresh strategies needed to help the new poor. Free Malaysia Today. Link.