What Is A Squatter Settlement?

A squatter camp in South Africa.
A squatter camp in South Africa.

A squatter settlement is a place where the residents don’t have legal rights over the land. A squatter area is composed of numerous buildings that are occupied by people with no legal claim to the land. These residential areas are found in urban localities, and they provide housing to the poorest people in the world. These houses are initially built using poor materials, which are cheap or free, like cardboard, wood, corrugated metal, and plastic sheeting. Squatter settlements are quite common in developing countries with one of the biggest slums in the world found in Pakistan. Squatter settlements are known as Bustees in India, and Favelas in Brazil.

Characteristics Of A Squatter Settlement

Due to its illegal status, squatter settlements lack an adequate supply of various infrastructures. These settlements have poor drainage and roads, sanitation, water supply, market places, and health centers among others. Even though these resources are in some settlements, they are poorly maintained, disorganized, and unreliable. They also lack various essential services that are present in other formal settlements like fire fighting, medical facilities, mail delivery, and policing. These settlements vary in quality, age, and type from the over 40-year-old well-built buildings like the ones in Rochinia, Brazil, to non-permanent pavement structures. Squatter settlements are built on the periphery of numerous cities in some of the world’s poorest nations, near trash damping sites, lagoons, rivers, and railway road tracks. They can also be constructed on marginal unoccupied pieces of land like marshy or swampy land and steep hillsides.

Squatter Settlements In Developed Countries

Even though squatter settlements are not common in developed states, there are numerous European cities with shanty towns. The high number of immigrants has resulted in the growth of shanty towns in the cities situated on the entry points of the EU like Patras and Athens. Canada Real, a low-class settlement in Madrid, is considered to be the largest slum in Europe. Squatter settlements, commonly known as ‘’bairros de lata’’ in Portugal, are occupied by immigrants from their previous colonies. Various American cities like Oakland and Newark have witnessed the construction of tent cities in the past. Other towns like Colonias near the Mexican border resemble shanty towns.

Squatter Settlements In Developing Nations

The largest Asian slum is Orangi in Pakistan. Orangi became quite famous during the 1980s when the locals initiated the Orangi-Pilot Project after being frustrated by lack of development from the government. Slums are known as ‘’bidonvilles’’ in francophone nations like Haiti and Tunisia. Some of the biggest slums in the world are located in Kenya (Mathare and Kibera), South Africa, Brazil, Philippines, Venezuela, Peru, India, and Jamaica among others.

Disadvantages Of Squatter Settlement

Fire is one of the main dangers in these settlements not only because of no fire station, but the lack of a formal street grid makes it hard for the fire trucks to access the squatter settlements. They are fire hazards primarily due to the flammable materials used to build some of these homes and the high density of buildings. These settlements have high rates of diseases, drug use, suicides, and crimes.


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