My latest article for urb.im looks at how solar technology could help in providing access to potable water for poor communities in Lilongwe. Regulations may however stand in the way of expansion of the initiative.
Accessing water is a pervasive problem for the poor in Lilongwe. In our survey of 33 settlements, almost half indicated that is a common challenge. This is despite 85% of the settlements surveyed having access to water from the Lilongwe Water Board (LWB). Only five settlements have no access, and they are all typified as Rural, and located nearby each other in Areas 25 and 55 in the city’s north.
The below chart indicates the most common means of accessing water in all communities surveyed. While the most common ways of accessing water are through taps, water kiosks, and wells, rivers are also used for accessing water in 36% of settlements. That residents access water from sources other than LWB taps or water kiosks reflects both a lack of willingness and ability to pay for potable water, as well as challenges accessing LWB water due to a limited number of water kiosks, the cost of a private tap, and low water pressure meaning potable water is not readily available.
Twenty-two of the settlements access water through water kiosks. Excluding Chigwirizano as an outlier , the average cost of 20L of water from a water kiosk in the remaining 21 settlements is 10 Malawi kwacha. Eleven of these settlements have Water Users’ Associations (WUA), cooperative societies where communities establish a legal business entity and register it with the Government to operate all water facilities in a designated area. There is however no statistically significant difference in the cost of water between settlements with and settlements without a WUA.
Conducted over 2014, the survey encompassed 33 settlements in Lilongwe in which LUPPEN is active. The objective of the study was to assess the current level of access to public services and participation in urban governance in the settlements, and complement existing studies by providing up-to-date data on key indicators as well as statistical analysis across settlements.
Overall, the study found that Lilongwe City is failing the residents of its poor settlements. However, the study also revealed heterogeneity among the settlements surveyed, with a handful of settlements displaying more ‘urban’ characteristics and thereby higher living standards, while a third are best described as rural.
SURVEY OF URBAN POOR SETTLEMENTS IN LILONGWE 2014: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
In a rapidly urbanizing world, Malawi remains one of the least urbanized countries in Africa. Nevertheless, it has not escaped the challenges posed by the phenomenon. Malawi’s capital Lilongwe is estimated to be growing at a rate of 4.3% per year, and has even been projected to break the one million population mark as early as 2015.
The benefits of urban citizenship are however not enjoyed equally by Lilongwe’s residents. As many as 76% of residents are estimated to live in sub-standard housing and/or informal settlements. These areas are characterized by lack of access to public services, tenure insecurity, and inadequate housing. A quarter of the city’s residents are also officially estimated to live below the poverty line, with 9% considered ultra-poor.
In mid-2014 the Lilongwe Urban Poor People’s Network (LUPPEN) and ActionAid Malawi conducted a survey of 33 settlements in Lilongwe in which LUPPEN is active. The objective of the study was to assess the current level of access to public services and participation in urban governance in the settlements, and complement existing studies by providing up-to-date data on key indicators as well as statistical analysis across settlements. The survey covered seven key topics: Governance, leadership, and institutions; History and demographics; Land tenure and eviction threats; Access to public services; Settlement assets, security, and social capital; Hazards and risks; and The future.
Overall, the study found that Lilongwe City is failing the residents of its poor settlements. However, the study also revealed heterogeneity among the settlements surveyed, with a handful of settlements displaying more ‘urban’ characteristics and thereby higher living standards, while a third are best described as rural. Roughly half of the settlements are at some level of transition from urban to rural, displaying differing levels of formality and access to public services. To allow for comparisons across groups, each settlement was graded on a ten-point scale and consequently categorized as Rural (33%), Transitional-2 (33%), Transitional-1 (15%) or Urban (18%).
While the study was unable to collect reliable data on settlements’ population sizes, a concentration of poverty in the north of the city was identified. Not only were 64% of settlements surveyed found to be located in northern T/A Chitukula, but 71% of settlements in the Traditional Authority fell into the categories Rural and Transitional-2, implying high informality and limited access to services.
The study also found that city’s poor settlements appear to be growing. Respondents in 82% of the settlements indicated that there has been a substantial increase in the population of their settlement over the past five years, while 18% indicated that there had been a small increase. Not a single settlement stated that the population had either decreased or remained the same.
Residents in the settlements face several challenges. The most common challenge cited by respondents in the settlements surveyed was access to public services (57.5%), followed by economic challenges (28%). Overall, accessing health care was cited a problem in 80% of the settlements surveyed. Access to water remains a challenge in almost half of the settlements, despite there being access to water from the Lilongwe Water Board in 85% of the settlements. Access to finance (or capital) is a challenge in 70% of the settlements, while unemployment is a problem in half of the settlements surveyed.
The survey found that customary land management remains common in Lilongwe. Chiefs play a direct role in land management in roughly half of the settlements by either selling or allocating land. Data analysis found that the age of a settlement increases the likelihood that land in the settlement is managed in a customary fashion. Customary land management is also strongly correlated with residents lacking tenure security documentation.
Similarly, a settlement being unplanned is strongly correlated with lack of tenure security documentation. Transect walks through each settlement surveyed determined that 27% of settlements are planned, while 9% are partly planned. The majority (64%) of the settlements surveyed are unplanned. Despite prevailing tenure insecurity, evictions are currently not a major concern; only five settlements (15%) reported more substantive eviction threats/fears.
Residents are divided between home owners and tenants in 30 of the settlements surveyed. In the majority (64%) of settlements with tenants, over 50% of the population is estimated to rent their homes. Monthly rents for a basic room are around 2,000 Malawi kwacha lower in unplanned settlements compared to planned settlements.
The aim of this report is to let the data speak for itself. On the whole, however, it is clear that residents of Lilongwe’s poor settlements face enduring challenges and indignities in their daily lives. This sounds a warning for the future. The strong population growth experienced by Lilongwe puts pressure on the city’s managers and available resources, and means that the challenges highlighted in this report will grow in magnitude unless prompt and concerted action is taken.
There are two main dimensions for what action is needed. On the one hand, the government must work with residents in existing poor settlements to develop participatory, community-led upgrading processes. On the other, it must at the same time expedite allocation of affordable, serviced land for newcomers, to prevent the development of entrenched problem areas in the city. The bottom line for the city is that only by embracing urbanization and the government taking pro-poor measures to manage urban growth will Lilongwe develop into an equitable city for all.
Malawi’s two main telecoms, Airtel and TNM, are both eagerly advertising their mobile money services in Lilongwe. Not sure who is behind creating TNM’s campaign, but seems they didn’t quite think all their posters through: in a city where temperatures currently hover around 30 degrees Celsius (80-90 Fahrenheit), TNM is urging people use their service to pay the electricity bill to keep the heat on.
My latest for urb.im discusses how the Malawian government’s inability to address the poor living conditions of the majority of Lilongwe’s residents has left a void increasingly filled by civil society actors. Official city development strategies, however, help legitimise their work. Read more here and join the discussion.
The fifth urban_net meeting took place at the ActionAid Malawi office this morning, featuring two presentations. First up was Asayire Kapira from WES Network, speaking about Water Users Associations (WUAs) in Lilongwe. WUAs are cooperative societies where communities establish a legal business entity and register it with the government to operate all water facilities – usually water kiosks – in a designated area. Through its Tilitonse Project, WES Network works with a number of WUAs mainly in Lilongwe’s peri-urban areas, seeking to improve accountability of the WUA model through participatory tools and approaches. While the project has met successes, including establishment of a WUA network and de-politicisation of existing associations, there have also been some challenges. A key challenge has been lack of responsiveness and even resistance by duty bearers, namely the Lilongwe Water Board, to be accountable to their customers. You can download Kapira’s presentation here.
The second presenter was John Chome of UN-Habitat in Malawi, though speaking in his private capacity. Chome delivered a thought-provoking historical presentation on urban planning in Malawi, and the failures of both past and current planning policy to address the challenges of urbanisation (and take advantage of the opportunities). He concluded that urbanisation in Malawi now occurs “outside of planning” and challenged the participants to deliberate on whether current planning in Malawi is addressing the real issues facing the country, and if the appropriate models to address these issues are being used. This lead to a lively discussion on the anti-urban bias at the government level, the need for Lilongwe City Council to take on a leadership role when it comes to city development, and how Lilongwe as a city needs to densify and grow upward, not continue to spread and sprawl. You can access Chome’s presentation here.
The next urban_net meeting will take place on Dec. 4. Join us!
The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) has issued an international standard for cities. Entitled ISO 37120:2014 Sustainable development of communities — Indicators for city services and quality of life, it features 46 performance indicators, mainly on access to public services. Cities are expected to track these, although compliance is not compulsory.
According to proponents, such as Neal Peirce of Citiscope, the implications of the “city ISO” are dramatic. Having set indicators will allow for cities to be compared based on the same objective indictors, “[a]nd just as significant, the people of cities — civic, business organizations, ordinary citizens — will be able to access the same new global standards. This means they can ask city leaders tough questions, stoking debate about their own city’s performance on the basis of verified measures ranging from education to public safety to water and sanitation.”
Sure, better data and strengthened accountability. Sounds good. But what is an international standard?
According to ISO, “[a] standard is a document that provides requirements, specifications, guidelines or characteristics that can be used consistently to ensure that materials, products, processes and services are fit for their purpose.”
So if a city doesn’t rank well on the ISO standards it’s not fit for purpose? Sounds rather odd. I’m also curious about how developing country cities are expected to provide reliable data such as “Assessed value of commercial and industrial properties as a percentage of total assessed value of all properties”, and how much all this data gathering might cost them.
Thankfully there’s a chance I might get some answers: Meeting of the Minds, Citiscope, and the World Council on City Data are hosting a webinar on the topic on Nov. 11. You can register for it here.