My latest for urb.im looks at how civil society actors in Lilongwe are generating their own maps and data to understand urban poverty due to a gap in official statistics. Initiatives include participatory community mapping efforts as well as an open geospatial database. But more could be done.
Our survey looked at both types of housing in the 33 featured settlements, as well as attempted to get a sense of the prevalence of renters vs owners. The findings are outlined below.
The 2008 Population and Housing Census of Malawi divides house types in the country into the following categories:
Permanent – Roof made of iron sheets, tiles, concrete or asbestos, and walls made of burnt bricks, concrete or stones. These include caravans and tinned structures.
Semi-permanent – Lacking construction materials of a permanent structure for wall or roof. These are structures, which are built of non-permanent walls such as sun-dried bricks or non-permanent roofing materials such as thatch.
Traditional – Both thatched roof and mud walls.
We assessed the most prevalent type of housing through observation during a transect walk in each settlement. The majority (52%) of settlements featured a combination of permanent and semi-permanent housing, while housing in 45% of settlements was predominantly semi-permanent. In only one settlement, Sector 7, was housing found to be predominantly permanent; the majority of houses in the settlement were built as part of a home construction project operated by Habitat for Humanity. No settlement featured predominantly traditional type housing.
While homes built using sun-burnt bricks usually made on site represent an easy and affordable means of accessing housing for the urban poor, the practice raises both environmental and safety concerns. Respondents in many settlements stated that semi-permanent houses regularly collapse during the rainy season, which in some cases has resulted in deaths. Use of the open ground for house construction also contributes to soil erosion in the settlements.
On the issue of home ownership, we found that 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. The percentage of renters is estimated to be over 80% in four settlements, Chinsapo, Mchesi, Mwenyekondo, and Mgona. The below figure shows the number of settlements with the indicated percentage of renters:
There are no renters in three of the settlements surveyed, Lundu, Mbangulu, and M’bwetu. All three are categorized as Rural and are located at the fringes of the city. Indeed, data analysis indicates that Rural settlements are on the whole five to eight times less likely to have renters than other types of settlements; for example, settlements categorized as Urban are 8.8 times more likely to have renters than Rural settlements (CI of 3.5 to 24.2, p of < 0.001).
Average monthly rent is 2,725 Malawi kwacha in the settlements where tenants are present. Data analysis shows that average monthly rents are around 2,000 Malawi kwacha higher in settlements defined as planned compared to unplanned settlements (CI of + 500 to + 3000 MKW and p of 0.002).
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.
To get a sense of the level of social capital in the 33 settlements surveyed, we asked respondents about feelings of safety and trust. As the below data shows, while levels of trust are relatively high, the sense of safety in most settlements varies considerably between day- and night-time. In essence, come sundown, you’d better be home.
Respondents were asked to rate how safe they feel in the settlement as well as the extent to which residents trust each other to assess the level of social capital in the settlements. As the below chart indicates, levels of trust are high in the majority (76%) of the settlements – only five settlements indicated low levels of trust. Four out of the five settlements with low trust levels between residents, Mwenyekondo, Mtsiriza, Mtandire, and Tumbwe, are characterized as relatively dense with high a percentage of renters, which may partly account for the lack of trust.
The sense of safety in the settlements surveyed is starkly divided between day- and night-time. While respondents in most settlements stated they felt safe during the day, they also indicated that they felt unsafe during the night. As a result, the sense of safety in 58% of the settlements is moderate. It is of note however that the sense of safety is low in almost a quarter of the settlements surveyed; 58% of settlements also cite crime as a problem.
Eighty-five percent of settlements indicated that they have good relationships with neighbouring settlements. Many respondents highlighted funerals as common occasions when residents in neighbouring settlements come together to support each other.
Forced eviction of the urban poor is common across the world. Urban growth leads to land in cities becoming increasingly scarce and desirable, while the powers that be are in many countries keen to lease or sell it (legally or illegally) to the highest bidder. That’s seldom the urban poor, who instead get squeezed out of the city. As the below data shows, evictions are not yet a major concern in Lilongwe, but the combination of insecure tenure and strong urban growth means that unless action is taken now, they could very well loom in the not too distant future.
In our survey of 33 poor settlements, respondents were asked whether ‘none’, ‘some’, or ‘most’ residents in the settlement have tenure security documentation in the form of either land title deeds or land registration. The majority (53%) of settlements indicated that none of the residents have tenure security documentation, while a quarter indicated that most residents have either land titles or land registration.
Whether or not residents have tenure security documentation is strongly correlated with who is perceived to own the land. Data analysis shows that residents in settlements where land is owned by the City Council are 19.6 times more likely to have tenure security documentation than residents in settlements where land is held customarily (CI of 4.1 to 183.8 and p of 0.003). Similarly, residents in settlements where Chiefs do not allocate or sell land are 7.5 times more likely to have tenure security documentation than residents in settlements where Chiefs allocate or sell land (CI of 2.0 to 33.41 and p of 0.007).
Based on a transect walk around each settlement combined with verification using satellite imagery, it was determined whether a settlement was planned or not. Twenty-seven percent of settlements were determined to be planned, while 9% are partly planned. The majority (64%) of the settlements surveyed are unplanned.
Residents of unplanned settlements are less likely to have tenure security documentation. Data analysis shows that residents in partially planned settlements compared to unplanned ones are on average 14.8 times more likely to have tenure security documentation (CI of 1.9 to 177.3, p of 0.021); the likelihood rises to 25.9 when comparing fully planned settlements to unplanned ones (CI of 5.7 to 156.5, p of < 0.001).
As shown in the below chart, the majority (52%) of settlements report no fear of eviction or actual eviction threats, regardless of the availability of documentation.
Of those under threat of eviction or perceived to be under threat, only two settlements, Chatata and Federation, rated their eviction threat level as ‘high’. 38% of the settlements rated their threat level as ‘moderate’, while 50% rated it as ‘low’. The below pie chart indicates the perceived level of eviction threat:
The majority (69%) of settlements with some level of eviction threat stated that the source of the threat was a rumour. Residents in many settlements recall evictions in the 1970s (some even refused to relocate at the time) and are concerned they may be moved given the current rate of growth of the city. Five settlements have more substantive reasons to fear eviction: Mgona and Area 50 Proper cited railway development as the cause for eviction threats; Chatata cited industrial expansion and previous eviction notices from local authorities; Kaondo cited verbal threats by the authorities; while Federation shared foreclosure notices issued by a local NGO.
Since when have you lived here? is not always an easy question. At least, that’s what we found when trying to get a sense of when the 33 poor settlements we surveyed were first established.
A number of reasons make it challenging to collect data on the age of the settlements. Some of the settlements have been in existence for a long period time, meaning current residents are uncertain of the exact date of settlement. Other settlements have experienced regular turnover of residents, diminishing communal memory.
In the below chart, settlements have been grouped in three main categories, which give a rough reflection on the ages of the settlements surveyed. Of note is that the majority (52%) of settlements were established in the post-1950 era, many as a result of evictions in the 1970s as Lilongwe became the capital of Malawi. A third (11) of the settlements surveyed are over a century old.
Data analysis shows that the age of a settlement increases the likelihood that land in the settlement is managed in a customary fashion (as opposed to by the City Council): having settled before 1900 compared to settling after 1951 increases the likelihood of a settlement having customary land management approximately 13.5 times. This suggests that the age of a settlement could be seen as a proxy for the strength of traditional authority, making older settlements more resistant to land ownership claims by the City Council.
On the topic of land management, respondents were asked who the land the settlement is located on belongs to. Responses were largely divided between land belonging to the City Council (55%) and land being held customarily (42%). Only one settlement (Mgona) indicated differently, stating that the land the settlement is located on is railway land.
It should be highlighted that the responses are based on perception of land ownership; land in some of the settlements who indicated that land is held in a customary fashion may formally belong to the City Council. As such, it is useful to consider how land in the settlements is actually managed, specifically, whether or not Chiefs play a role in allocating land.
Just over half (52%) of the settlements indicated that local Chiefs either allocate or sell land in the settlement. Of the settlements in which Chiefs play a role in land management, ten (59%) fall into the Rural category, six (35%) into the Transitional-2 category and only one falls into the Transitional-1 category. The one Rural settlement that did not indicate that Chiefs sell or allocate land was Kasengere, where respondents stated that no land remained for sale or allocation by Chiefs.
Chiefs, by contrast, do not play a direct land management role in any of the Urban settlements and 80% of Transitional-1 settlements. Chiefs do also not play a land management role in 45% of Transitional-2 settlements.
Nevertheless, Chiefs retain authority in all settlement categories: 90% of settlements indicated that Chiefs ‘always’ witness land transactions. The reason Chiefs do not witness land transactions in three settlements (Chifumbe, M’bwetu, Federation) is because land is not sold in these.
In country where most people give directions based on landmarks, it can be difficult for an outsider to get a sense of what’s where. When it comes to poor settlements in Lilongwe, most people know they exist near so-and-so, but even people working in the settlements are not always clear which administrative area a particular settlement is located in. This of course says a lot about the relevance of (imposed) administrative boundaries for locals, as well as differences in how space is viewed and experienced by locals and outsiders (such as myself). In any case, part of what we wanted to do through our recent research project was to geo-locate the settlements we surveyed, and use that data in our analysis. Here’s what we found:
Poor settlements exist across Lilongwe City. However, as the below map shows, while most of the areas of Lilongwe are home to only one or two poor settlements, some areas stand out as containing more. Areas 25 and 49 are both home to five of the settlements surveyed, while Areas 50 and 55 contain three each. This is of note given that all four Areas, containing a total of 16 settlements (48% of total), are located in the northern part of Lilongwe and border each other.
The congregation of poor settlements in the northern part of the city is reflected in the distribution of settlements across Traditional Authorities (T/A) in Lilongwe. The clear majority (64%) of settlements surveyed is located in T/A Chitukula, which spans Areas 10, 25, 39, 41, 44, 49, 50, 51, and 55. 24% of settlements are located in T/A Tsabango, while only 2% of settlements are located in T/A Malili and T/A Njewa respectively.
There are however notable differences in living standards across the settlements surveyed. While all can be described as ‘poor’, there are variations in access to basic public services as well as land management practices between the settlements. To give an overall sense of the type of settlements surveyed, each settlement was scored on ten characteristics, and categorised as either Urban, Transitional-1, Transitional-2, or Rural. The categories were defined as follows:
Urban – Settlements are planned and residents pay City Rates. Land is managed by the LCC and Chiefs do not allocate land. House types are mixed or permanent, and the majority has access the LWB water, ESCOM electricity, access by tarmac road, and LCC waste collection.
Transitional-1 – Land is managed by the LCC and residents pay City Rates. All settlements are either fully or partly planned. All have access to LWB water and ESCOM electricity (one does not have electricity access).
Transitional-2 – Settlements are unplanned and residents do not pay City Rates. House types are mixed, and some residents have access to tenure security documents. All have access to LWB water and ESCOM electricity.
Rural – Unplanned settlements where Chiefs play a role in land allocation and residents do not have secure tenure nor do they pay City Rates. Very limited access to public services.
The below pie chart shows the frequency of the resulting groups:
The chart indicates that two-thirds of the settlements fall into the Rural or the Transitional-2 category. As the map below shows, Transitional-2 settlements are located throughout the city. Settlements categorized as Rural on the other hand are located in the northern parts of the city; seven are located in adjacent Areas 25, 49, 50, and 55, while three are located in nearby each other in Areas 39, 41, and 44. Only one, Sese, is located in the southern part of the city.
Interestingly, ten of the eleven settlements categorized as Rural are located in T/A Chitukula, implying that there is not only a significant amount of poor settlements in the area, but also that those poor settlements are some of the worst off among those surveyed. Indeed, 71% of settlements in T/A Chitukula fall into categories Rural and Transitional-2, indicating a concentration of poverty in the area.
Only five settlements fall into the Transitional-1 category. Three of these are located close to each other in rapidly gentrifying Area 49. Similarly, only six settlements are classified as Urban. Apart from Mchesi, these were all established after Lilongwe became the capital of Malawi, i.e. post-1970. They are all also located in the vicinity of trading centres, which may account for their better than average access to public services as well as the prevalent formal land management structures.