The issue of urban poverty has come into the limelight recently after a United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) report stirred up a hornet’s nest.
Unicef’s study revealed that children living in low-cost housing or People's Housing Projects (PPRs) in Kuala Lumpur face high rates of poverty and malnutrition compared with the national average.
While the national poverty rate is less than 1%, the Unicef report indicated 99.7% of children in low-cost flats live in relative poverty and 7% in absolute poverty. The study also found that 15% of children below the age of five are underweight while 22% are stunted, almost two times higher compared with the KL average.
It also found that only 50% of five- to six-year-olds attend pre-school compared with the national enrolment of 92% in 2015.
Unicef’s findings are indeed troubling. While KL is a bustling modern me-tropolis with skyscrapers, highways, urban rail systems and swanky shopping malls,
there are large numbers of people, including children, living in relative poverty right in our midst, and often hidden from our view.
These households are usually just above the official urban poverty line, but living in the city with little or no savings and facing the pressure of ever-increasing cost of living. Many families, especially those in low-cost accommodation, are living from hand to mouth.
However, some ministers and Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) have dis-missed Unicef’s report. KL mayor Tan Sri Mohd Amin Nordin Abd Aziz said it was “ridiculous” to compare the situation to that faced in the African nations. He said based on DBKL’s survey in such flats, some residents had improved their situation and could afford “the better things in life”.
It appears that some officials are rather touchy about the issue of urban poverty in the heart of the country’s capital.
Instead of being in a state of denial, the authorities and policymakers need to acknowledge the scale of the problem and come up with effective strategies to tackle the root of the issue.