hen we hear the word poverty, what comes to mind are images of Malawians in rural areas struggling with untold misery.
This largely comprises visualisations of the following conditions: high infant mortality rate, poor hospital facilities, food insecurity, poor access to education and poor access to sustainable livelihood opportunities.
Sometimes, we seem to think the land of poverty to be some hard-to-reach setting where an ambulance taking away dying patients or bringing corpses is the only car these Malawians grappling with hunger, disease and financial constraints see once in a long duration.
But if we are true with ourselves, we will appreciate urban areas are not free from poverty.
Right in our urban areas, we have poverty levels which share the decried similar characteristics associated with the rural localities.
Urban poverty can be worse than those what rural dwellers experience.
This poverty is partly aggravated by population growth, and rural to urban migration.
According to the World Bank, the urban poor live with the following challenges: limited access to employment opportunities and income, inadequate and insecure housing and services, violent and unhealthy environments, little or no social protection mechanisms, and limited access to adequate health and education opportunities.
Despite the coinage of the term ‘urban and peri-urban poverty” and decades ago, development interventions predominantly focus on the rural poor.
Many, including decision-makers and policymakers, seem to think anyone living in town is not poor, but those who live in rural areas.
This thinking comes with various challenges. The major challenge is that when development interventions are being developed, they tend to target more communities in rural areas.
An example of such interventions is the case of the ongoing social cash transfer program being implemented by the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare.
The program targets vulnerable households which are ultra-poor and lack the capacity to do work or earn a decent living.
The program, however, is currently being implemented in districts and not the major cities in the country.
There are plans to eventually expand the program to all districts in the country as funding becomes available. This therefore means that the cities will have to wait a little longer before they can start enjoying the economic benefits which are being realized by the other districts from the program.
Further to this, in the same way that the recent drought has affected the country in rural areas, it has also affected the urban dwellers.
When I was young, five or six, together with a group of my friends, we would play around maize mills and collect maize flour that was spilling over from grain miller and we would use this flour for masanje.
Older women were more than happy to do this as we were also in part cleaning the area.
I was, however, saddened recently to witness middle-aged men and women scramble for the maize flour spillages at a local maize mill.
This sight took me back to my childhood games. The reality of urban poverty and the effects of the drought surely hit home at that moment.
Sadly, when interventions are being drawn on the drawing boards, these factors are rarely considered, but this needs to change.
It is, of course, true that the strategies employed in rural areas cannot be the same as those to be employed in urban settings since the context and environment is very different.
But what needs to be done is a change in mindset and an acceptance of the harsh reality of urban poverty and its faces within us.
When developing or designing interventions, let us not forget the urban areas. n