Filling a vacuum: Efforts to map and enumerate Lilongwe


My latest for 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.

You can read the article here, and join the discussion on visualising poverty around the Global South here.


Completing the clothes drive.


Following a busy two days of picking up and sorting clothes donations for victims of the Malawi floods as part of the #GetInvolved4Diginity campaign, we today handed over the catch to the Malawi Red Cross. The generosity of Lilongwe’s residents, both local and foreign, netted three large cars full of clothing, shoes, toys, and medical supplies. Donations came from embassies of countries near and far, several international organisations, and a number of unaffiliated individuals. On receiving the donations, the Red Cross representative commented that the goods were particularly warmly received as they were coming from individuals, “people like us”. The organisation is now responsible for delivering the goods to those affected. Most likely, the donations will leave the organisation’s office within the week, and be distributed to affected households in the areas of Nsanje and Chikwawa.

Promoting entrepreneurship to combat youth unemployment

Photo courtesy of Chance for Change, a UK-based NGO operating in Malawi.

Photo courtesy of Chance for Change, a UK-based NGO operating in Malawi.

My latest article for looks at youth unemployment in Malawi. With half of the country’s population below 18 and a fifth in the age bracket 15-24, the lack of decent jobs for young people is increasingly a problem. Read the full article here and join the discussion!

#GetInvolved4Dignity – Join the Malawi floods clothes drive

floods image Malawi Floods. Displaced women and children arrive at Sekeni II Camp for flood victims in Chikhwawa District. (Jan. 16, 2015) Photo by Arjan van de Merwe/UNDP licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The recent floods have taken a devastating toll on Malawi. It is the poorest of the poor that are the hardest hit. Families displaced by the floods have lost everything. And they did not have much to lose to begin with. The emergency response is ongoing, and help is reaching those affected. Reports are however coming back of various challenges linked to the fact that many of the displaced have only one set of clothes which has to be washed and hung to dry overnight.

While significant efforts are going into addressing the overall situation, there’s something easy we can all do, as individuals, to help restore the dignity of those affected: donate unused and unwanted clothes to the victims. The Red Cross has also indicated that there is a need for pots and pans.

We are asking development partners, the diplomatic community, UN agencies and NGOs in Lilongwe to join us in a clothes drive.

Please let us know if your embassy or organization would like to be part of the clothes drive. The clothes will be picked up from your office on Monday 17 February or Tuesday 18 February and delivered to the Red Cross. The Red Cross will ensure transportation to affected areas and those in need.

Please get in touch with Nora Lindstrom if you would like to contribute to this effort. Nora can be reached on 099 336 7559 or email: noralindstrom(at)

Please note that the clothes drive is organized as a private initiative and is not a project of the UN or any particular organization.

On homes in Lilongwe.

This post features edited excerpts from my recent report Survey of Urban Poor Settlements in Lilongwe, produced by ActionAid Malawi and the Lilongwe Urban Poor People’s Network.

Semi-permanent housing in Mtandire settlement

Semi-permanent housing in Mtandire settlement

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.

Bricks drying in the sun in Area 23 settlement

Bricks drying in the sun in Area 23 settlement

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).

Rental housing in Area 22

Lilongwe: Ain’t no water where she’s from.

This post features edited excerpts from my recent report Survey of Urban Poor Settlements in Lilongwe, produced by ActionAid Malawi and the Lilongwe Urban Poor People’s Network.

Water for sale from a private tap in Makatani settlement

Water for sale from a private tap in Makatani settlement

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.

Residents in Kasengere settlement regularly resort to using river water, even in the wet season

Residents in Kasengere settlement regularly resort to using river water, even in the wet season

Lilongwe: Fear in the dark.

This post features edited excerpts from my recent report Survey of Urban Poor Settlements in Lilongwe, produced by ActionAid Malawi and the Lilongwe Urban Poor People’s Network.

Residents don't trust each other in the dense settlement of Mwenyekondo

Residents don’t trust each other in the dense settlement of Mwenyekondo

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.

trust level

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.