By Nina Lex, Timothy Banda, Arthur Cola Mvuta, and Glitter Ndovi
As Malawi becomes one of the world’s fastest urbanizing countries, more and more Malawians are being pushed off their land and forced to live in areas used as dumping sites, known as “kuntaya”.
Although one of the least urbanized nations in Africa and with a population of just 13 million, the United Nations forecasts that by 2050 this number will double, forcing many rural dwellers into urban settlements in search of better economical opportunities.
Only 20 per cent of the national population lives in urban areas; however, since 1998, the urban population has increased by 63 per cent. The government has attempted to set up small towns, such as the informal settlement of Misesa located between Limbe and Blantyre, to divert rural-urban migrants away from major cities. But these areas have grown into slums, according to a report by Mtafu Zeleza Manda, an expert in urbanization who helped establish the Malawi Urban Forum and the Malawi Award for Human Settlements.
According to Manda’s report, poor access to water and sanitation means that dumping areas and slums pose numerous health concerns for residents, as they become a breeding place for pests and disease.
A survey done by the Ministry of Health shows that these areas are at high risk for diarrhea, especially in the rainy season because drinking water is often contaminated by garbage.
Water and sanitation in urban areas in Malawi, where over 60 per cent of the population lives in informal settlements – also known as squatter settlements or slums – falls under the public health department. However, government agencies are reluctant to provide basic services to informal settlements because they feel that this would encourage their development or growth.
According to the Blantyre City Council public relations officer, Luzana Khanga, dumping sites are located away from areas where people live so they can be easily monitored.
“We are trying as much as we can to help the people living in these areas, because cleaner conditions where people live will decrease cases of diseases in hospitals, thereby reducing the money spent on buying drugs,” says Khanga.
Khanga claims that people move into these areas illegally putting themselves in danger because of toxic garbage and water-borne disease. However, residents of these areas argue that they have been forced to move to dumping zones because of a shortage of land to settle on.
Students also miss school because of poor sanitation in schools. According to The Nation newspaper, in the Mchesi area of the country’s capital city, Lilongwe, two schools remained without toilets for five years, causing student to use the nearby woods, which subsequently led to a high drop-out rate among female pupils.
Only 10 per cent of Blantyre’s, Malawi’s commercial center, population live in homes connected to sewers lines. While only 8 per cent of Lilongwe’s population is connected to sewers, the country’s third largest city, Mzuzu, has no sewer lines.
In 2008, the then Foreign Affairs Minister Joyce Banda said that Malawi had already surpassed the Millennium Development Goals target related to water and sanitation, which had aimed to provide 74 per cent of Malawian with access to safe drinking water by 2015. As of 2006, 75 per cent of Malawi already had access to clean water.
“At this rate our projection is that by 2015 about 94 percent of the population will have access to sustainable water sources,” Banda said.
However, contained within his report, Manda argues that Malawi has a long way to go in order to meet the MDG definition: to halve the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.