Since the dawn of democracy, informal settlements have increased significantly in urban areas.
It is estimated that up to 75 percent of urban dwellers in Malawi live in slums or informal settlements.
The growth of slums escalated after the onset of multiparty rule in 1994 as a result of opportunistic utterances by politicians’ which gave the impression that there would be no evictions of those occupying the settlements.
Today, these areas have poor storm water drains that are too narrow and shallow to drain huge flows of water.
This exacerbates the risk to flooding.
When it rains heavily, the water ends in people’s homes, damages roads and sometimes spills into schools leading to several economic, social and environmental problems.
A good drainage system is recommended to reduce the damage that usually happens in informal settlements where service roads are developed without planning permission.
Good examples are the 2015 floods that ravaged Ndirande and Chilobwe in Blantyre as well as Salisbury Lines in Mzuzu.
Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) talk about reducing disaster impacts by 2030 by having infrastructures that are inclusive, safe and sustainable for social, environmental and economic development of cities.
In addition, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2015-2030 aims to sustainably reduce disaster losses in all aspects.
Nationally, the new Physical Planning Act (2016), the Local Government Act (1998), National Disaster Risk Management Policy (2015) and the draft National Sanitation Policy supports the improvements of the roads and its drainage system to reduce losses and impacts as well as ensure a healthy and productive population.
For the past years, Masaf IV, through Local Development Fund (LDF), has played a major role in improving health, sanitation and disaster preparedness and management in urban areas.
Local people mobilise themselves on a number of initiatives, including maintenance of access roads and storm drains by removing debris or widening them.
The city benefits socially and environmentally, while the residents gain economically.
Masaf IV is, therefore, an example of incremental upgrading which particularly emphasises on transport infrastructure. Incremental upgrading is preferred to normal upgrading exercise because normal upgrading exercise is usually donor-dependent and expensive. It cannot be sustained using locally generated revenues by local government councils.
We should not always wait for a large upgrading exercise or the upgrading of the roads to tarmac to have good storm water drains but with little resources from Masaf IV and local labour at our disposal. The situation can be improved.
Therefore, serious concentration should be placed on widening and deepening the storm water drains with the supervisory of city engineers so that the drainage systems satisfactorily reduce the risk of flooding. Consequently, this will reduce various environmental, social and economic problems such as increase in travel time and cost as shorter roads might be rendered impassable, illnesses due to damage of sanitary infrastructure and contamination of water sources which the local people are subjected to during heavy downpour. The improvement of the roads and drains might also lead to the thriving of other sectors of economy. Schools, hospitals and bridges may no longer be disrupted during heavy rains and outbreaks of waterborne diseases.
Therefore, councillors and their community development structures ought to use the LDF project to gradually improve their wards and by the end of their term of office a bigger improvement will likely be noticed. n