It had rained all day, and the storm canal running alongside the squatters colony of Tanah Abong Brongkaran had turned to a chocolate sea of mud. A dozen shanties perched along its bank had slipped into the canal and been swept downstream.

On the footpaths, the water mingled with mud, raw sewage and garbage, producing an ugly concoction that oozed over the shoes. Tiny children wallowed underfoot.

Prostitutes lined the streets, gossiping in groups of three to five, playing cards and calling to passersby: "Do you want it? Do you want it? My body for your pleasure."

Some 200,000 people live in Tanah Abong Brongkaran, which roughly translated means "place of the demolished red earth." Their homes are tiny, rickety shacks - seldom bigger than a large box - constructed of cardboard, plastic dropcloths and bits of bamboo.

"Most of us are here for the same reason," said Slukari, a 30 year-old unemployed father of two who like many Indonesians uses only one name. "There's not enough food to eat in our villages."

The city is the promosed land, the place of milk and honey, for the Third World's rural poor. Each year, millions of them uproot their homes and families to head for Karachi, Manila, Bogota and dozens of other urban centres, swelling them past the breaking point and reshaping the world's population picture.

Mexico City, in fewer than 25 years, is expected to become the world's largest city as result of such movement with a mindbogglin population that could exceed 30 million. Sao Paulo is thouht likely to be close behind with a population of 26 million - triple the current size of Paris, according to a 1977 report by the Population Reference Bureau.

Some cities, with population's already over 10 million, are expected to double in size in the next 10 years. Lagos, already unmanageable with a population of 2.1 million, may quadruple in size by the year 2000.

Half of the new urban dwellers will come from farms and villages, according to the report. Most will be unskilled and dirt poor. They will likely find an uncertain future in the city.

"Conditions in the city are worse in many cases than the places the people come from," says Dr. Carlos Tejade, director of the Institute of Nutrition it of Central America and Panama. "Cities have found it impossible to provide them even minimal services.

"It is a real dilemma for the cities," he adds. "Once you improve conditions what happens? *More people come because they see conditions have improved. It is a vicious cycle."

Part of the problem is that incomes in the cities generally run well above those in the countryside. In Jakarta, the wage level is twice that of the rest of the country. Even in Tazania, where the government has put major empahsis on rural development, the gap between urban and rural incomes has not narrowed in recent years.

So the people keep coming, mushrooming unemployment rolls.

Rahmal Masih brought his wife and six children to Karachi, Pakistan, two years ago from a small village in that country's North West Frontier Provence.

"When I first came, I couldn't find work anywhere," he says. "Everywhere I was told: 'No vacancies. No jobs.'"

The job 40-year-old Masih finally found turns the stomach. He's a sewer cleaner. With several dozen other men, he spends each day standing thigh-deep in an open 15-foot-wide ditch, scraping raw sewage sludge off the bottom with a small shovel and his bare hands.

The job pays less than 25 cents a day.

"Work like this is always available," Masih says.

Masih and 300 million other Third World city-dwellers are squatters. They lived in illegible squaffers colonies and shantytowns - filthy rat-infested places that lack even the most basic public services.

Only one person in five Jakarta, for instance, has piped water; only one in 44 has electricity.

"Those with political and economic clout are the first in line" for services like running water and heat, the Population Reference Bureau report says, "Public funds are invested in roads for the cars of the rich, and in universities for their offspring."

Despite their numbers, residents of squatters colonies like Tanah Abong Brongkaran have no political power.

Periodcally, the government attempts to clean out the area. It tears sown some of the shacks, and herds the residents off to other squatters colonies either in Jakarta or outside the city.

The people keep coming back.

Moharjir, 45, is one of them . I found him sitting on a bench in front of his house a 5-by-10-foot box constructed of cast-off lumber, grass mats and a few pieces of beaver board.

"We're going to live like this - desperately poor - for the rest of our lives," he said. "We are at the mercy of the government here. We can be booted out at any time. And more people are coming in every day."

Moharjir has lived in the colony since 1962. He is a Professional scavenger. He, his wife and three children make their living collecting scraps of iron, bottles, bits of plastic, cigarette butts and discarded paper which they then resell.

"We take turns going out looking for things," he said as his family gathered around. "All together we can bring in from 800 to 1,200 rupiah for food. But there never is quite enough for everyone."

Moharjir and his family (which includes a grandchild) used to have a bigger house on the otherside of the storm canal, but it was torn down in one of the government's clean up campaigns.He received about $375 in compensation, which he used to buy a small piece of land outside the city.

"But there was nothing on the land and nothing to build a house from," he said. "So we drifted back here."

It is hard to imagine why. Nowhere else in Southeast Asia, veteran observers say, do so many people live under such wretch conditions.

There is no electricity, sewers or running water. People bathe, wash their clothes and defecate in the storm canal.

Disease, as a result, is rampant. Three of Moharjir's children died before they reached five years of age.

The same problems - as well as the same smells and hopelessness - can be found in squatters colocnies around the world. Streets are used as public urinals. Garbage piles up in the narrow alleys. Unemployment hovers around 30 per cent.

The feeling is prevalent in many of these squatters colonies that life has gotten worse, not better, in recent years. I met with 25 men in a small home in Frontier Colony, one of four "unauthorized" settlements that run togetrher on the outskirts of Karachi.

The men were all labor organizers and community leaders, the Frontier Colony's version of the best and the brightest.

Only two of the men had jobs. The rest had been thrown out of work by mass layoffs in the textile industry.

The tale of Saeed Jan, who like most colony residents grew up in a rural village in northwestern Pakistan, was typical. in 1971, the textile plant where he worked employed 5,000 labourers. Today, there are jobs for only 125.

Mohammed Taj, a medical doctor who has lived and worked in the colony for 10 years, made a house-to'house survey of much of the area recently. Projecting the figures he had collected, he told me that about 100,000 of the 400,000 squatters living there were not working, and hadn't been for three years.

"Seventy-five per cent of them suffer from dysentery, diarrhea or malaria," he said as he sat cross-legged on the barren cement floor of this home. "And there are too many tuberclosis cases coming up right now.

"From 1968 to 1972, I recorded 500 cases of tuberclosis a year in this area," Taj sais. "The last three years, there've been 1,500 cases a year. This year, there'll be more."

Even though the problem of untreated disease is greater in rural than urban areas, the crowded, unsanitary comditions and contaminated water supplies in the slums of Third World cities breed severe health dangers.

Millions of children suffer from chronic diarrhea and upper respiratory ailments. Whooping cough, measles and cholera often prove fatal.

The infant mortality rate is high. In rural areas, mothers breast feed their babies. But when families move to the city, mothers often have to work and are no longer able to breast feed. Their babies are thus deprived of valuable nutrients.

Malnutrition is common. It contributes to a vicious cycle of disease and poverty.

"If a child has malnutrition, infectious disease become worse," says Dr. Tejade.

The result, he adds, is "long-term growth retardation, poor mental development and a reduction in physical activity."

"All of these factors," Tejade says, "make learning more difficult, and make the malnourished individual more prone to contract other disease."

But for all its problems and conflicts, the city continues to be irresistible beacon for millions of the Third World's poor. In part it's economics. In part, it's the same mix of bright lights and hope for a better life that led to the graeat urban migration in the United States after World War II.

At dusk, I came across Syamsudden behind the counter of his tiny sidewalk coffeeshop - a flimsy structure o f plastic cloth and bamboo.

The shop has a strategic, i f illegal, location on a bridge overlooking Jakarta's Tanah Abong Brongkaran. It is placed there so Syamsuddin can take advantage of the nighttime traffic generated by the nearby prostitutes. To stay there, he pays police $7 a month in "security money."

On a good night, he takes in $4 or $5. There's enough to support his wife and six children, but not much more.

Syamsuddn is a frustrated man who sees little hope of significant change in his life. He owns some land about 40 miles south of Jakarta, where he keeps rice paddies, and goes there several times a month.

But he has no intention of moving back there. He hates rural life.

"It's not the same there," Syamsudden says. "It's dead. Everything closes up at 7 p.m. It's like living alone in the jungle.

"Here, you have everything."