POC MAG - Out of Space

In the slum of Manila, the world's most densely populated city, life happens whereve you ca find enough room.

Words & Photography Micha Theiner By the middle of the century, it is estimated that the world population will be 9.07 billion, a significant increase from the nearly 7 billion today. Right now, for the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population lives in towns and cities rather than in rural areas and that will rise to seventy per cent by 2050. Megacities, with more than 10 million inhabitants, are springing up across the globe, particularly in developing countries. In 1985, there were only nine megacities; today there are twenty-six. Manila is the most densely populated city in the world. It is just one of sixteen cities that make up Metro Manila – the most populous metropolitan region in the Philippines – and is currently home to around 20 million people; a figure that is rising by a further 250,000 people every year. Rural poverty has caused thousands of Filipinos to migrate to Manila every year from the countryside in search of a better life. However, they find few jobs and often have nowhere to live as the city is running out of space. As a result, thirty-five per cent of the population is living in slums with little access to sanitation, healthcare and education. The traffic congestion and the air pollution is very bad. Altogether, I spent about five weeks in Manila. At first, I met with a few local photojournalists at the Oarhouse Pub – a bar and restaurant in Malate, the bohemian district of Manila – run by former photojournalist Ben Razon. I didn't use any fixers [guides] as most people in Manila speak English. Getting permits to take pictures in certain areas like the Manila North Cemetery (home to 10,000 people), the Quezon City Jail (which detains almost four times the amount of prisoners it should) and the Payatas Disposal Facility (where almost three hundred people were crushed by a landslide of rubbish in 2000), was a slow process, held up by bureaucracy. But I eventually gained all the access I needed. The urban area itself is very overcrowded, with myriads of shantytowns all over Metro Manila, illegally inhabited by the urban poor. These people don't pay rent, and siphon water and electricity from the public system, which often leads to conflict when the land is required by the elite or wealthier parts of society. Demolitions happen on a regular basis and if people refuse to leave their settlements, arson commonly occurs. After a slum burns down, the fire department will usually issue a certificate that describes the cause of fire as an electrical short circuit, or something similar. Spending most of my time in the poorest parts of Manila, I met a lot of amazing, honest and friendly people. Many people living in shantytowns are educated but extremely impoverished due to the lack of jobs and lack of help from the government. There are between three and ten children in the average family, which makes it hard for parents to provide adequate care and attention for every child or even send their children to school. The situation is getting worse every day, as more children are born and more migrants flood to the city in hope of a better life