Raising awareness of urban poverty on World Cities Day


Justin Mortensen

Convenor of Global Urban Strategy Initiative

Cilincing, North Jakarta

October 31, 2014


Every two months 10 million people are either born in or move to cities; a trend that will continue at least through to 2030. 94% of these people will live in cities in the developing world.

Each morning Sutriawati arrives early at the school where she is a Grade 3 teacher in Cilincing, North Jakarta. Even early in the morning the streets are busy as fishermen head to their boats; small business owners load their wares on motorbikes and children go to school. Sutriawaiti often jumps over rubbish-strewn puddles during her journey.


Sutriawati built 5 toilets for the the school

Cilincing is one of Jakarta’s poorest and most densely populated areas. It has one of the highest concentrations of poverty in North Jakarta. It is a glimpse into a new world that is dawning across the globe – a world of cities.

As the Healthy School representative at SD Pantai Indah Elementary School, Sutriawati knows that a safe and sanitary school environment is essential for creating a place where children are inspired to learn. “Parents complained a lot to the school superintendent about the fact that we only had two toilets for 417 people.”

More than a billion children now live in cities and towns worldwide. Many of them face an urban experience like the students at Sutriawaiti’s school. A world in which they live just over the horizon from the awe-inspiring vitality of ‘the city’, while struggling to meet their basic needs.

Save the Children understands that over the next 15 years this transformation will only speed up. We are responding by increasing the number of projects we run in cities.
Perhaps we can be more assertive here, and say this is the ‘changing face of poverty’ or the ‘urbanisation of poverty’.

Some have asked us why we are focusing on this since ‘real poverty’ is concentrated in rural areas. While there is no doubt that a significant proportion of rural populations face deprivation, we believe that the emerging urban poor represents the changing face of poverty. And that, more importantly, children are the first casualties of urban poverty.

Projects like the Strengthening Education through Awareness and Reading Achievement project in North Jakarta are an example of our commitment. The programme takes a multi-dimensional approach to school safety.

“After I participated in the training from Save the Children, I realised the importance of prioritising the various aspects of the healthy school.” After the training, Sutriawati worked with the superintendent and school management committee to identify funds to “build five toilets, two for boys, two for girls, and one for the teachers”. She also organised the students to help her collect garbage every day before the start of class.


Sutriawati built 5 toilets for the the school

On 31 October 2014 Save the Children is proud to support the first World Cities Day. The theme for this year’s celebration is ‘Leading Urban Transformations’. UN Habitat launched Urban October, a month for raising awareness on urban challenges and opportunities with the public. It is the month for stimulating debates and moving forward commitments. We’re proud to support the urban transformation happening in the more than 300 urban communities we operate in across the world.

Many of the newest and most vulnerable city dwellers aren’t benefiting from the opportunities of the city. We believe that if cities are to transform – the world must ensure that all families are prospering. Everyone deserves access to good schools, health clinics, jobs, sanitation systems, and safe communities.

We have a historic opportunity to harness the potential of cities to reduce poverty. But we cannot ignore the urban poor. Help us raise awareness about the growing number of poor urban families across the globe. Tweet your ideas about how we can harness their energy to transform cities to @citiesforkids @savethechildren or @UNHABITAT using the hashtags #allurbanchildren #worldcitiesday or #transformcities #urbanoctober #HabitatIII.