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Habitats Of The Urban Poor In Malaysia: Part II (The Real Living Conditions)

urban poor in Kuala Lumpur

Read Part I of Habitats Of The Urban Poor In Malaysia and find out what urbanisation means and how it has impacted the poor living in urban areas.

Poor Living Conditions And Its Consequences

The first thing that comes to mind, is that most urban poor live in unsanitary places. While this is not untrue, it is important to note that this includes those living on the streets, in the slums, and public housing projects hosted by the government and private organisations. These conditions are not specific to just the homeless, but for any household living in poverty (B40 group). 

The B40 group could be broken into B1 (household income below RM2,500), B2 (RM2,501-RM3,169), B3 (RM3,170-RM3,969) and B4 (RM3,970-RM4,849). [Source: Department of Statistics Malaysia].

Source: Malay Mail | Credit: Choo Choy May

Due to expensive housing, the urban poor are forced to live in affordable housing units that may have inconveniences and other risks associated with safe and healthy living. 

Substandard housing is defined as overcrowded and poorly built houses that lack one or more of the following conditions[1]:

  1. Access to safe water
  2. Access to safe sanitation
  3. Sufficient living area
  4. Durable housing
Source: Leaders Online

Unfortunately, these ‘affordable’ housing units are usually congested, unregulated, overcrowded, near open sewers, and even built-in geographically dangerous areas like riverbanks, and hillsides. These locations are bad because it exposes them to natural disasters such as flooding and landslides[2].

Source: Cili Sos

As a majority of these homes are in unsanitary areas or in bad condition, this opens up a whole host of health problems. Open sewers and stagnant water expose the residents to unhealthy waste[2].

Source: The Star | Credit: Mustafa Ahmad

Infectious diseases could be carried by animals and pests, not to mention human-to-human transmission. The diseases that are common in urban settings include malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, as well as dengue among others[2].

Poor construction on the other hand could lead to what is known as the sick building syndrome. 

The sick building syndrome is described as a group of non-specific symptoms that can include eye, nose or throat irritation, skin problems, headaches, nausea, and other unspecified hypersensitivity reactions.

World Health Centre (2002)

This is the result of the building and finishing materials that are used. Poor ventilation due to bad design is also another cause. This can easily be identified through the lack of windows or air wells, low ceilings, and close proximities with other nearby buildings. Sadly, these characteristics are common in low-cost housings around the world[2].

Source: Free Malaysia Today

Housings with poor sanitation, plumbing or even poor construction lead to residents falling ill to respiratory illnesses, intestinal parasites, and cardiovascular diseases[2]. All these can be transmitted to other residents of the same housing area.

Source: Malay Mail | Credit: Choo Choy May

Most low-cost housing units have only two bedrooms per unit. Yet, most Malaysian families have five members in their households. Having more than two people occupy one room in a household qualifies as overcrowding. A study has found this to be the most cited indicator when describing the housing condition of the urban poor. The lack of space also gives rise to issues related to comfort and privacy[3].

Source: Malay Mail | Credit: Choo Choy May

Studies have found that the housing condition and overcrowding directly affects the development of children in terms of education, health, behaviour and safety.

Physical housing conditions such as cleanliness, pests, heating and cooling problems and even plumbing contribute to mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, feelings of helplessness, sadness and being emotionally upset.

Source: Penang Monthly

Another study carried out over the span of seven years also revealed that overcrowding in early life for children can be linked to health problems such as stomach cancer, respiratory problems, and infectious diseases[3].

A UNICEF study carried out in Kuala Lumpur found that in low-cost housing, 22% of the children below the age of 5 are stunted. They also revealed that 15% are underweight, while another 23% are either obese or overweight[4].

Source: Malay Mail | Credit: Choo Choy May

The surrounding environment plays a part in a healthy living condition. The urban poor mostly resides in places with limited space and no recreational areas.

Source: Markin Malaysia

For example, playgrounds and parks can be enjoyed by the community. A study found that a high percentage of low-income women in Peninsular Malaysia were unsatisfied with their housing quality compared to their rural counterpart[3]. This can be directly attributed to the lack of space available to them and their family.

How do we solve the problem?

The most obvious plan would be to engage in better construction policies that allow for better housing conditions. However, it is revealed that the state of living for urban poor could be related to the state of the economy and urbanisation. Aside from improving the socio-economic situation of the urban poor, there is a need to address the problem of rural depopulation and sudden urbanisation of cities.

Source: New Straits Times

As more people move into cities in search of work, this causes rural depopulation, leading to a drop in the rural labour force. This in turn affects the food supply chain both locally and globally as there is not enough workforce.

The increase in urban population means that the demand for goods and services also increases, leading to the rise in prices for basic resources such as food, consumer goods and even housing[1]; all of which the urban poor struggle to afford.

Although there is no clear and straightforward solution to this in the short term, we can definitely agree that more consideration can be made for rural development to slow the migration and for better urban planning measures to improve the basic living conditions of the urban poor.  

Explore Our Sources:

  1. Herranz, A. (2019). Urban overcrowding and rural depopulation: Are there any solutions to these problems? Tomorrow City. Link.
  2. Kuddus, MA. et al. (2020). Urbanization: a problem for the rich and the poor?. Biomedcentral. Link.
  3. Zainal, NR. et al. (2012). Housing Conditions and Quality of Life of the Urban Poor in Malaysia. Sciencedirect. Link.
  4. UNICEF. (2018). Children Without: A study of urban child poverty and deprivation in low-cost flats in Kuala Lumpur. Link.

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