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.
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.
The fourth urban_net meeting took place today at the ActionAid office in Lilongwe, featuring three presentations. First up was Harun Aubi Juma, a Masters student at Chancellor College, presenting a political economy analysis of (lack of) land reform in Malawi. Juma outlined how land reform was initially initiated at the start of multi-party democracy in 1994, but that since has stalled and while the Land Bill was passed last year, it is still to be enacted. “Land reform in Malawi is caught in competing objectives between the state and private sector on one hand and local communities on the other,” he argued, noting how the poor are the losers in this scenario and how the scarcity of land in rural areas pushes people to migrate to urban areas, resulting in the profileration of unplanned settlements.
The second presentation, by CCODE intern Eleonore Dupre, featured research findings on community mobilisation and participation in community projects in Kauma, a large poor settlement in Lilongwe. Key findings included that poverty and the need to make a living can trump participation in community development projects, and that when individuals participate, the motivation for doing so often centres on the individual benefit gained from the project, such as a daily allowance, as opposed to the common benefit. Dupre also found that there was a general lack of awareness of many development projects, as well as that newcomers to the settlement often felt excluded. Nevertheless, respondents indicated an overall sense of well-being.
The final presentation, by ActionAid and LUPPEN Advisor Nora Lindstrom, looked at waste management in poor areas of Lilongwe. Lindstrom showed how the city’s poor settlements are significantly under-served by municipal waste collection services, leading to harmful practices such as burning and dumping waste. She noted that part of the reason for this lies in that the City Council does not have adequate resources to manage waste in the city, which in turn has led to the proliferation of (illegal) private waste management services who collect waste for a fee from the city’s wealthier residents and subsequently appear to dump it in poor communities. Composting, if done properly, was highlighted as an effective waste management strategy given that over 70% of waste in Lilongwe is estimated to be organic.
The next urban_net meeting will take place on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2014 – join us!