12 Countries with the Largest Slum Population in Europe
In this article, we take a look at 12 countries with the largest slum population in Europe. If you would like to skip our detailed analysis of European slums, you can directly go to the 5 Countries with the Largest Slum Population in Europe.

In a previous article, we discussed that slums refer to densely populated and tightly packed urban areas with weak infrastructure and a lack of adequate facilities. They’re usually inhabited by some of the poorest communities within the city. UN’s SDG indicator 11.1.1 monitors this problem by evaluating the ‘proportion of the urban population living in slums, informal settlements, or inadequate housing.’ For further reading into the scope of the definition, you can take a look at 20 Countries with the Largest Slum Population in the World.

Slums in Europe – A Lack of Data

Europe contains some of the world’s richest countries by GDP per capita, but many European countries are populated by slums as well. According to a 2023 report by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), Europe has six types of slums and informal settlements: Refugee camps, settlements inhabited by the Roma people (an ethnic group with a nomadic lifestyle) or other travelers, non-permanent or non-residential buildings, substandard housing, low-density informal sprawl, and high-density informal settlements. The report also indicates that despite the presence of a dedicated SDG indicator, the data on informal settlements in Europe is severely lacking. This is because the focus mostly tends to be on low and middle-income countries rather than the high-income group which includes most of Europe.

However, in 2019, the UN-Habitat reported that across North America and Europe, a total of 0.8 million people lived in slums or informal settlements. This was a much lower value than other regions, such as Asia, where 589 million individuals were living in such housing. The JRC report also established that in 2022, only nine European cities/regions had provided a Voluntary Local Review (VLR) of SDG 11.1.1. A VLR is a local government’s voluntary review of the progress of SDG indicators in its area. Some regions did cover additional topics under this indicator. For example, Barcelona reported on the number of evictions, illegal settlements, and dwellings without water. You can also check out some of the countries with the least access to safe drinking water. Finally, the report also noted that within their literature review, only a quarter of studies had used the term ‘slum’ or ‘informal settlements’; most referred to these regions as ‘deprived settlements or areas’.

SDGs and Corporate Ventures

While SDG 11.1.1 is the indicator that directly links with slum housing, there are other SDGs that broadly cover conditions in slum housing as well, particularly: SDG 1 (No Poverty), SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being), SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), and SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities). While governmental cooperation is essential in achieving these goals, corporate partnerships also play a considerable role in this scenario. Companies such as Nestlé S.A. (SWX:NESN) and Unilever PLC (LON:ULVR) have been contributing to several of these SDGs.

For SDG 1 (No Poverty), Nestlé S.A. (SWX:NESN) announced that it had 10,000 families in its cocoa production income accelerator program at the end of 2023. The program rewards cocoa-producing families for the quality and quantity of their beans, as well as good social practices such as school enrollment for all children, implementation of good agricultural practices, and performance of agroforestry activities to increase climate resilience. The families are rewarded €100 per practice for the first two years, giving them the chance to earn up to €500 per year. The program was piloted in Côte d’Ivoire and then expanded to Ghana. Nestlé S.A. (SWX:NESN) aims to have 160,000 families in the program by the end of 2030. Programs like these manage to incentivize some of the most impoverished citizens within an area, many of whom might be living in slum-like dwellings or informal settlements.
Unilever PLC (LON:ULVR) has been working with the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) since 2014 to eradicate poverty. The two organizations started a joint initiative, TRANSFORM, in 2015 to meet these goals. In 2018, Unilever PLC (LON:ULVR) announced a pledge of £40 million through this partnership in order to help low-income consumers and social enterprises. The goal is to create market solutions that help low-income households meet their needs and access services that improve their livelihoods, health, and well-being. In 2020, the company partnered with the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCOD). Under this venture, £100 million was invested in awareness campaigns, hygiene programs, and the deliverance of products related to COVID-19 in developing countries. Partnerships such as these prove to be especially beneficial for slum populations because, as we have previously discussed, the close quarters make slums highly susceptible to the spread of communicable diseases.

Cañada Real, Spain

Cañada Real in Madrid, Spain, is one of the largest slums in Europe. It is a fifteen-kilometer strip inhabited by almost 8,500 people. Most of these individuals are of Moroccan or Roma descent, as reported by The Guardian in a report from January 15, 2021. El País reports that the initial settlement began in the 1950s and 60s. The slums are divided into six sectors, numbered from one to six. In 2021, the Guardian reported that starting in October 2020, sectors five and six were left without access to electricity. The supplier, Naturgy, mentioned that the company had never cut off supply to the area. Instead, they blamed the loss of power on the substantial electricity surges in the two sectors, which forced the network into a shutdown for safety reasons.

These two sectors are occupied by 4,500 people living in around 1,500 houses. However, only four of these houses are registered electricity users, which means that the rest of the population gets their electricity through illegal tapping of the supply. On November 7, 2022, Euronews reported that the loss of power was still ongoing, with around 200 families having left the area. Euronews also reported that one of the reasons for the loss of electricity were the 140 or so marijuana plantations and narcotic plots in the area, that were pulling massive amounts of power from the grid. The report referred to the region as Europe’s ‘biggest drug supermarket’.

The report also shared a statement from Markel Gorbea, Madrid region’s commissioner for the Cañada Real Galiano. According to Gorbea, electric supply through cables should not return to sector six of the slums. He insisted that no one had cut the supply and that the system had collapsed due to excessive load. On October 27, 2022, the EU’s Social Rights Committee urged the Spanish government to immediately reinstate electricity in the region. Despite these international efforts, the area continues to remain without an electric supply as per the latest report from the Guardian on February 9, 2024, marking almost three and half years of power blackout.

The Roma Settlements

As highlighted by the JRC report, the Roma population makes up a significant portion of Europe’s slum-dwelling population. According to the report, Roma camps and settlements often lack adequate access to safe water. As per a general estimate, one-third of Roma families live without tap water. According to UNICEF data, there are 10-12 million Roma people in Europe, two-thirds of whom live in Central and Eastern European countries. Around the continent, the population faces several problems that are expected of a slum-dwelling community.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Roma children have a four times higher chance of being born underweight. In Serbia, only 19% of Roma children make it to secondary school, as compared to 89% of non-Roma children. In several Balkan countries, 50% of Roma women aged 20-24 get married before they turn 18, whereas the national average rates are around 10%. Lastly, UNICEF also reports that literacy rates for Roma children showed a disparity in at least ten countries in the region. Roma boys had a literacy rate of 80%, whereas girls had a rate of less than 75%; meanwhile, the national average is nearly universal in all these countries.
While not all individuals in the Roma population live within slums and informal settlements, a high proportion do, which is why Roma slums are considered to be some of the largest in the continent. In this context, we have compiled a list of 12 countries with the largest slum populations in Europe, many of whom are inhabited by the Roma.

12 Countries with the Largest Slum Population in Europe
12 Countries with the Largest Slum Population in Europe

Our Methodology

In order to compile this list, we reviewed UN-Habitat’s 2018 dataset for the absolute urban population living within slums, as well as the dataset for the proportion of urban population living in slums. The data is slightly outdated, but we have established that slum-related data is severely lacking in countries within Europe. For further context, we have also added the urban population for each country from the same year, as reported by the World Bank. Insights from the JRC Report have been added for further context. Based on this methodology, here are 12 countries with the largest slum populations in Europe, ranked in ascending order of their urban population living in slums, as of 2018.

Note: There is an apparent miscalculation in Moldova’s urban population reported by the World Bank, as it is lesser than the slum population reported by UN Habitat. Thus, we have utilized Moldova’s UN Habitat statistics to calculate its urban population in order to rectify the data gap.

12 Countries with the Largest Slum Population in Europe

12. Serbia

Total Urban Population (2018): 3,916,682

Urban Population Living in Slums (2018): 177,000

Proportion of Urban Population Living in Slums (2018): 3.6%

The JRC report mapped 500 Roma settlements in Serbia, which made up 20% of the slum-dwelling population. Belgrade, the capital city of Serbia, also houses a significant chunk of the country’s slum population. Serbia is number twelve on our list of European countries with the largest slum populations.

11. Albania

Total Urban Population (2018): 1,728,969

Urban Population Living in Slums (2018): 234,000

Proportion of Urban Population Living in Slums (2018): 13.2%

According to a UNDP report from 2021, the Albanian legislation on social housing has no definition for ‘slums,’ which makes it quite challenging to implement and track the progress of SDG indicator 11.1.1. In 2018, Albania had a slum population of 234,000 individuals.

10. Portugal

Total Urban Population (2018): 6,706,183

Urban Population Living in Slums (2018): 242,000

Proportion of Urban Population Living in Slums (2018): 3.6%

According to a report by The Portugal News, Segundo Torrão is the largest slum in the country’s capital, Lisbon. The houses in the community are illegal, which is why inhabitants have to steal electricity from the street lights. The community’s living conditions caused a huge media uproar in January of 2022, after the community spent seventy hours in a blackout.

9. Greece

Total Urban Population (2018): 8,485,202

Urban Population Living in Slums (2018): 264,000

Proportion of Urban Population Living in Slums (2018): 3%

According to JRC, Greece is one of the countries that face an informal sprawl in Europe. The report managed to map 50 informal settlements in the country that hosted migrant workers. Greece is one of the European countries with the largest slum population, amounting to 264,000 people in 2018.

8. Austria

Total Urban Population (2018): 5,153,759

Urban Population Living in Slums (2018): 311,000

Proportion of Urban Population Living in Slums (2018): 6.1%

According to a Politico report, Vienna in Austria can be commended for its social housing initiatives, considering that 60% of the city’s population currently lives in subsidized housing. However, Austria is still one of the countries with the largest slum populations in Europe as of 2018.

7. Hungary

Total Urban Population (2018): 6,974,963

Urban Population Living in Slums (2018): 940,000

Proportion of Urban Population Living in Slums (2018): 13.6%

Hungary ranks number seventh on our list of countries with the largest slum populations in Europe. In 2014, Yahoo News reported that in the Hungarian city of Miskolc, the local government had voted to demolish 13 areas that were predominantly inhabited by the Roma community. The government claimed that by ridding the city of these slums, the area could be made more livable. Hungary’s example is one of many cases of injustice in slum-dwelling communities worldwide.

6. Moldova

Total Urban Population (2018): 1,723,011 (Approximate)

Urban Population Living in Slums (2018): 1,213,000

Proportion of Urban Population Living in Slums (2018): 70.4%

Moldova has a drastically high proportion of slums, with 70.4% of its urban population living in slum-like dwellings. This makes up 1.2 million people, which is why Moldova ranks sixth on our list of countries with the largest slum population in Europe.


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