Urban Poverty in Asia

Publication | September 2014

In several Asian economies, the numbers of the urban poor have risen over the 1990–2008 period; they may face increasing urban poverty with some urban scholars labeling it as “urbanization of poverty.”

Unlike rural poverty, urban poverty is complex and multidimensional—extending beyond the deficiency of income or consumption, where its many dimensions relate to the vulnerability of the poor on account of their inadequate access to land and housing, physical infrastructure and services, economic and livelihood sources, health and education facilities, social security networks, and voice and empowerment.

In most of developing Asia, urbanization has been accompanied by slums and shelter deprivation, informality, worsening of the living conditions, and increasing risks due to climate change and exclusionary urban forms. According to the UN-HABITAT, Asia has 60% of the world’s total slum population, and many more live in slum-like conditions in areas that are officially designated as nonslums. Working poverty and informality are high in Asian cities and towns. Recent years have witnessed, almost universally, increasing urban inequalities and stagnating consumption shares of lower-percentile households, with Hong Kong, China registering one of the highest Gini-coefficients observed in any other part of the developing and developed world.

About this report

This paper on Urban Poverty in Asia looks at the different dimensions of poverty in Asia, both income and nonincome, its two main regions, including a brief account of who and what class of people are affected most by poverty and deprivation. This paper analyzes the effect of recent urbanization and gross domestic product (GDP) growth trends—which distinguish Asia from other regions—on poverty. It also simultaneously explores other factors that may have affected poverty levels in Asia, delves into the key features of urban poverty in selected Asian economies, and looks at public policy responses and initiatives taken to address issues on access of the urban poor to services, livelihood, shelter, and social security systems.

The paper concludes that Asia is in the midst of urban poverty and deprivation challenges that are evolving with the processes of growth and urbanization—the PRC being a case in point. The welfare of the millions of urban poor will depend on how Asia, where many of its cities represent the new global frontier, and the world prepare for the inevitable growth of urbanization, and how this phenomenon of urbanization is managed and taken forward. The report served as a background study for the International Policy Workshop on Urban Poverty and Inclusive Cities in Asia, organized by the Asian Development Bank and the International Poverty Reduction Center held on 24–25 June 2013 in Suqian, Jiangsu Province, the People’s Republic of China.


  • Introduction
  • Nature and Dimensions of Urban Poverty
  • Moving beyond the Income-Consumption Poverty: Inequalities, Shelter, Services, and Livelihoods
  • Who Are the Urban Poor—Women, Children, Youth, Minority Groups?
  • Poverty and City Size
  • Exploring the Link among Urbanization, Income (GDP), and Urban Poverty
  • Public Policy Responses to Urban Poverty: Selected Asian Economies
  • Asia’s Urban Poverty and What It May Mean for the People’s Republic of China and ADB
  • Annex Tables
  • Bibliography

Additional Details

  • Poverty
  • Urban development
  • Bangladesh
  • Cambodia
  • China, People's Republic of
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Pakistan
  • Philippines
  • Viet Nam
  • RPT146730-2
  • 978-92-9254-663-2 (print)
  • 978-92-9254-664-9 (electronic)

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