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Visions of Life among India’s Urban Poor

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Ujariaon Slum in Lucknow

Visions of Life among India’s Urban Poor

India is making great progress economically and in many other ways, but among its more than one billion people there are still many millions who are desperately poor. In hopes of a better life, many have flocked to the cities, where they struggle under very harsh conditions.

During my recent trip to India, I visited Ujariaon, a slum in Lucknow. That experience will stay with me for a long time. Despite very tough lives, people there have great strength and determination, and they’re optimistic about the future.

The photographs in this gallery were made by Prashant Panjiar, a photojournalist who has worked extensively on issues of social concern. He has been documenting the work of the foundation since 2004 and has accompanied me on many of my learning trips in India and Africa.

Families Live in Makeshift Shelters | The Blog of Bill Gates

Dharavi, in Mumbai, is Asia’s largest slum.

The 2001 census in India found that slums existed in 640 towns spread over 26 states and union territories.

Unsanitary Conditions in a slum in Govandi, Mumbai | The Blog of Bill Gates

Slum conditions are highly unsanitary, as seen in this slum in Govandi, Mumbai.

Infant Mortality Rates are 1.8 Times Higher in Slums | The Blog of Bill Gates

A slum in Maheshtala municipality, a suburb of Kolkata in the South 24 Parganas district.

Infant mortality rates are 1.8 times higher in slums.

A Community Well in Patna, Bihar | The Blog of Bill Gates

Residents use a community well in the Kamla Nehru Nagar slum in Patna, Bihar.

More than two thirds of slum residents lack access to safe drinking water on their premises—a major health problem.

Absence of Available Latrines is a Major Health Problem | The Blog of Bill Gates

A few mobile toilets are all that is available for a slum community in the Pitampura locality of New Delhi.

Another major health problem is the lack of available latrines. It is estimated that over one third of slum households have no access to bathroom facilities, promoting open defecation, which in turn leads to the spread of fecal-oral disease and parasitic infestation.

Slumdwellers Live in and Around Major Pipelines | The Blog of Bill Gates

Slum dwellers have no choice but to live amidst industrial and environmental hazards and even raw sewage. Yet they flock to cities for a chance at a better life.

People Live in Slums Illegally with No Police Protection | The Blog of Bill Gates

A woman sits on the edge of the roof of her home in an illegal slum colony on the bank of the Ganges river in Jajmau, Kanpur’s leather industry area.

People living in the makeshift shelters in slums don’t have rights to the land they’re on, so their homes could be knocked down at any time, and meanwhile they can’t rely on the police for protection as their mere presence is technically illegal.

Ragpickers at the City Dump in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh | The Blog of Bill Gates

Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh.

As in Ujariaon where I visited, poor people in Kanpur eke out a living by picking through garbage at the local dump—an activity that is central to the livelihoods of poor people who live in the urban slums of India and other developing countries.

Zohra Khatun Lives in the Ujariaon Slum with Her Family | The Blog of Bill Gates

In the Ujariaon slum in Lucknow I visited the home of Zohra Khatun and her family. Despite living in such adverse circumstances her resolve to better her family’s life was inspiring.

A Child Studies in the Street | The Blog of Bill Gates

Patna, Bihar.

It’s impressive how much parents in India are concerned that their kids should get a good education. Many poor families set aside money to send their children to school and see education as a way to improve their children’s future.

Users of a Community Toilet Exclusively for Women | The Blog of Bill Gates

A toilet exclusively for use by women is owned and managed by the community in a slum colony in Bhawanipeth, Pune.

The people of India show great determination to improve their communities and their living conditions.

A Woman Sells Fish Door-to-Door | The Blog of Bill Gates

Patna, Bihar.

This woman sells fish door to door in the Kamla Nehru Nagar slum. Like her, many slum dwellers are enterepreneurs operating small businesses. Despite extreme poverty, India’s slums have vibrant economies of their own.

Slums are Havens for Poor Migrants from Rural Areas | The Blog of Bill Gates

Poor migrants from rural areas flock to the slums hoping to find work. The informal economy of India’s cities is estimated to be larger than the formal economy, accounting for around 60 percent of the GDP and more than 92 percent of the workforce.

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