My latest article for urb.im 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Heated debate over an upcoming subsidy for cement and iron sheets is raging in Malawi. Put forward in the new government’s 2014-2015 budget, the MK7billion ($18.4million) programme is, according to the government, aimed at supporting low income Malawians achieve decent and affordable housing. Critics, of which there are many, are not convinced. They have argued that it’s poverty, not availability of materials that is the problem, adding that other subsidy programmes, such as the Farm Input Subsidy Program (FISP), have not been properly managed and therefore have not always benefited the most needy. Furthermore, the low number of intended beneficiaries, around 15,000 families or 80 houses per constituency in Malawi, has been faulted for being a drop in the ocean in a country where 80% of residents are estimated to live in sub-standard housing, as well as a drain on public funds.
There’s no doubt that something needs to be done on the housing front in Malawi. And while the quality of housing certainly is an issue – homes built using sun-burnt bricks are known to collapse during the rainy season – my own research (forthcoming) in Lilongwe’s poor settlements suggests this is considered less of a problem than some of the other features of what is defined as adequate housing. Specifically, at least residents in Lilongwe’s urban areas seem to consider their lack of access to key public services such as potable water, education, and health care as far bigger challenges than the quality of their housing.
So should the government subsidise cement and iron sheets? They will, no matter what, but I definitely don’t think they should. The (now ruling) DPP party’s election promise to put subsidies in place was all about gaining votes, while implementation of the subsidy reveals a populism that betrays a lack of appreciation of the real situation. Sure, the majority of Malawians live in sub-standard housing. Sure, that’s a problem. Are cement and iron subsidies for 15,000 families – one percent of the population by a generous estimate – the solution? No.
Much more forward-thinking solutions would include reverting to developing sites-and-services schemes in the country’s urban areas, promoting better techniques for making durable sun-burnt bricks, improving access to finance among the poor, and strengthening tenure security to give people the confidence to invest in their homes.
And all of the above does not even touch upon how hot and loud roofs made from iron sheets can be, and the multitude of environmental concerns associated with cement.
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!