Our irrational urban poor

Posted: August 8, 2012 in Floods in Luzon, Irrationality of urban poor, Metro Manila, Monsoon rains, Urban poor



Rescue workers during the latest floods in Metro Manila


First, my felicitations to all rescue personnel (local government employees, police officers, military, firemen, Red Cross staff, etc) and support staff (medical personnel, paramedics, etc) who are laboring to rescue and provide immediate relief to countless flood victims throughout Luzon.


While watching the TV coverage of the rescue work, several media persons repeatedly asked aloud why our poorer brothers choose to live under bridges and other dangerous places such as river banks, estuaries, garbage dumps, and hill slopes.


Urban poor dwellings along an estero (estuary)


Since they live in these hazardous locales, they needed to be rescued and evacuated every now and then.  In short, they are a nuisance.


Flooded urban poor dwellings


The subtext of these questions is that the urban poor are irrational for putting their lives on the line.

Is there some rationality in this irrationality?

To the urban poor, location, location, location (as real estate gurus put it) is key. Urban poor houses may be ugly and substandard but they are in prime locations that enable the urban poor greater access to jobs and other sources of livelihood.  In addition, urban poor houses have access to potable water and electricity.


Urban poor relocation generally fail because they are so far from the jobs available in the heart of the city.  In these relocation sites, they usually have unreliable access to utilities.

Some media persons and local officials also complained loudly: why are the urban poor so hesitant to evacuate, to leave their belongings?

The same rationality applies to explain this apparent madness. Our poorer brethren are of course aware of the threats to their life.  However, they also know that if they lose their meager belongings, it is as if their lives are over. For one, they do not have bank accounts.  They will find it very difficult to rebuild their lives.  They are uncertain about government help.

These reasons explain why even in dangerous situations like rampaging floods, our urban poor brethren still take seemingly irrational risks.

  1. […] Robredo said the relocation will done over a five-year period with a funding of P10 billion. However, Robredo admitted that the government is having difficulty finding relocation areas since the law on relocations require permanent shelters.  These relocation sites must within city limits so that the relocated informal settlers can still be near their means of livelihood.  As we discussed in earlier blog posts, if the relocation sites were too far, the informal settlers will drift back to the city center (See ‘Housing and the urban poor,’ [https://bongmendoza.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/housing-and-the-urban-poor/] and ‘Our irrational urban poor’ [https://bongmendoza.wordpress.com/2012/08/08/our-irrational-urban-poor/]. […]

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