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Girls carry sacks in a charcoal factory at a slum in Manila April 12, 2011. According to a national survey conducted in March, some 20.5 percent of the country have claimed to have gone hungry at least once in the past three months. REUTERS/Erik de Castro
BANGKOK (AlertNet) – Children growing up in the poorest urban areas in the Philippines are increasingly worse off than those in rural regions and face greater risks from natural disasters, exploitation and HIV, the United Nations’ children agency UNICEF warns.
In a report launched on Tuesday, The State of the World’s Children 2012: Children in an Urban World, UNICEF says rapid global urbanisation means the traditional image of poverty is no longer represented by a child in a rural village.
In the Philipppines, hundreds of thousands of impoverished urban children are growing up in squalor, deprived of education and healthcare.
Almost half the country’s population – 46 million people including 18 million children under the age of 18 – are now living in towns and cities, making the Philippines one of the most urbanised populations in Southeast Asia, UNICEF said.
By 2030 it is projected three out of four people in the Philippines could be living in urban areas.
Despite the perception that cities are “engines of growth,” many of these children live in unsafe and insecure houses and lack access to schooling, water and sanitation, UNICEF said.
“UNICEF is very concerned about children living in the poorest, urban areas because research shows that they suffer from multiple deprivations, and are increasingly worse off than those living in rural poor settings,” Dr. Abdul Alim, deputy representative of UNICEF in Philippines told AlertNet.
“Urban poverty can trap children in a downward spiral of poverty and squalor, leading to sickness, neglect and risk of exploitation,” he added.
POOR IN BOTH URBAN AND RURAL AREAS
In Metro Manila, the most populated area with more than 11.5 million people, an estimated 1.7 million children live in slums.
UNICEF said 54 percent of people living in these informal settlements have no access to safe water and 51 percent no access to toilets, worse than any other urban or rural areas.
While children born in urban areas in the Philippines have slightly better chances of surviving than those in rural areas (20 deaths per 1,000 live births in urban areas compared to 35 in rural areas), they fare worse in some ways.
For example, poor urban children are less likely to be breastfed than those in rural regions (83 percent versus 92 percent), UNICEF said, increasing the risk of malnutrition. Those who are breastfed are also likely to be nursed for a shorter time in urban areas (seven months versus 17 months), the agency added.
MULTIPLE RISKS FOR URBAN KIDS
While rural and urban poverty can both be very detrimental to children, those in urban areas face specific risks, said Alim.
“There can be the additional threats of HIV, lack of access to education, threat of natural disasters and risk of violence, trafficking and exploitation,” he added.
The Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries wehn it comes to disasters and climate change. Urban areas along the coast often bear the brunt of the typhoons which hammer the country every year.
Poorer urban families are particularly at risk as they usually live in flimsy homes on the worst land. Many are on unstable slopes or low-lying areas prone to flooding.
Typhoon Sendong which struck northern Mindanao last year and Typhoon Ketsana which slammed into Manila in 2009 both had a devastating effect on poor urban families and slum dwellers.
The Philippines is also one of a handful of countries where HIV infection rates are showing a marked increase, according to a 2010 review.
The prevalence of HIV remains higher in urban areas – more than 50 percent of all infections in 2011 were registered in Metro Manila – and one out of three newly reported cases is in young people aged between 15-24, UNICEF said.