Tag Archives: slums

Dumping grounds fast becoming residential areas – but without the clean-up

By Nina Lex, Timothy Banda, Arthur Cola Mvuta, and Glitter Ndovi

A garbage filled river outside Blantyre’s main market. Photo by Nina Lex.

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.

Malawi’s urban squeeze

Ndirande is one of the densest neighbourhoods in Malawi, where urban population growth is expected to double by 2020. Photo by Angela Pereira.

Walking around Blantyre, one of Malawi’s largest cities, is a relaxing endeavour. You can traverse its downtown core in only 30 minutes, recognizing the same faces daily, finding public transportation quickly, and facing a minimum of jostling and hassling.

Blantyre’s sleepy vibe is understandable given 80 per cent of Malawians live outside city boundaries. But the country’s status as one of the world’s least urbanized countries is changing rapidly.

The United Nations Human Settlement Program (UN-Habitat) reports that Malawi’s annual urbanization rate of 5.2 per cent is now one of the highest in the world—but its cities aren’t ready to house the masses at their doorstep.

So what’s pushing Malawians from their villages?

John Chome, habitat program manager for the United Nations Development Program in Malawi, blames growing competition for fertile land, increasing environmental fragility and limited rural jobs.

“When people move, they move to better their lives,” says Chome. “And they think that better life is to be found when they find a job with a better income.”

Francis Kamanga, 21, moved to Blantyre with his family when he was a child.

“I was so excited,” he says. “We had heard beautiful news from our neighbours about the city.”

Kamanga’s family relocated in the mid-1990s among a trickle of rural migrants; but now it is a full-blown flood, with urban population growth rates expected to almost double by 2020. UN-Habitat predicts 21,000 new homes will be needed every year until then to meet the demand.

But cities are already facing a critical shortage of acceptable housing. According to UN-Habitat, close to 90 per cent of urban Malawians already live in slum conditions and 80 per cent can’t afford to access decent housing. Plus, public institutions that provide land and housing can’t keep up with current need.

“Slums are beginning to grow,” says Chome. “People end up living with their relatives leading to overcrowding, or living in shacks in unplanned areas.”

Kamanga and his family stay in Blantyre’s Ndirande township, a high-density, unplanned area, with a population of about 150,000.

“One has to look deep into his pockets to find a house here,” says Kamanga, “and if you do find one, it is very small and dilapidated.”

Mtafu Manda, director of an urban planning consultancy, suggests government should enact a comprehensive urban planning strategy and provide housing loans with flexible repayment rules to the urban poor.

But even if there are enough affordable and acceptable houses to go around, Manda says city councils lack the resources to provide them with water and sanitation services.

As recently as 2008, Ndirande residents faced cholera outbreaks due to poor sanitation.

But politicians tend to focus efforts on potential voters—the majority of which are still in rural areas.

Chome says Malawi’s leaders must embrace an urban future as something that could be good for the country’s development.  He says many African governments made the mistake of focusing on rural development to stem migration but “people have continued to vote with their feet to go into town.”

And despite the challenges he faces in Ndirande, Kamanga says his family’s decision to migrate was a good one. “If I was still in the village, I probably wouldn’t have my education and I wouldn’t be where I am.”