Urban Life

Urban Life

Urban life in Honduras, as in many developing countries, highlights the contrasts between the life-styles of the rich and the poor. For the wealthy and powerful elite, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula offer blocks of elegant apparel shops and jewelry stores. Tall office buildings provide headquarters for business and professional people. Comfortable homes shelter well-to-do families; a good education and family contacts secure promising future careers for their children.

For the vast majority of Tegucigalpa's urban population, however, living conditions are dismal. Migrants to Tegucigalpa initially settled in the slums of the center city. When these became inadequate to house the numbers arriving, the migrants began to invade land on the periphery of the city. A majority of these barrio residents live in cuarterķas (rows) of connected rooms. Some cuarterķas face the street, while others are arranged in double rows facing each other across a block-long alley, barely wide enough for a person to walk through. Usually windowless, the substandard rooms are generally constructed of wood, with dirt floors. The average household contains about seven persons, who attend to all functions of daily living in the single room, although sometimes a small kitchen stands in the rear covered by the overhang of the tile roof. For those living in the rooms facing an alley, the narrow passageway between buildings serves both as a sewage and waste disposal area and as a courtyard for as many as 150 persons.

The major survival tactic for some of this population seems to lie in the large and extended families that deliberately cluster together into a single room, sharing a roof, a kitchen, and their incomes. Both relatives and unrelated individuals may be involved in such a network of social, psychological, and economic support. Others, however, have not been so fortunate. Given migratory labor, high unemployment, and income insecurity, male-female relationships often are unstable. Fathers frequently desert their families, leaving the care and support of children entirely to mothers who struggle to earn enough for survival. Some children are abandoned to live on the streets, particularly if the mother has become sick, has died, or has been unable to find work.

The diet of lower-sector urban dwellers when they can afford to buy what they need is somewhat better than that of their rural counterparts. In times of economic hardship, however, urban families, who must pay for all the food they consume, most likely reduce or alter their food consumption habits. Speaking of a potentially better diet in urban areas can, therefore, be misleading. When urban families have the cash to purchase basic foods, their per capita daily average consumption of calories, protein, and carbohydrates are all likely to be higher than the average in rural settings. However, the consumption of calories, and carbohydrates in particular, still falls significantly below the minimum daily recommended allowance. Other foods sold mainly in city markets, especially meat such as poultry, are consumed primarily by the middle- and upper-class population and do not benefit the lower class.

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