One of the most visible manifestations of urban poverty in developing countries is the proliferation of slums and squatter settlements. In Malawi’s major cities, slums are enduringly visible.
According to the 2008 Mzuzu City Council Draft Profile, the city has 12 slums and over 60 percent of its residents live in these squatters.
Sinya Mkandawire, a tomato seller at Mzuzu Main Market, is one of them. She lives in a two-bedroom, grass-thatched hut in Salisbury Line, a high density wetland declared inhabitable by Mzuzu City Council.
Nonetheless, Mkandawire, a widowed mother of five, decided to settle in the area because rentals are relatively affordable than in medium or low density areas.
“Our area does not have potable water, electricity, enough toilets and good houses. Lack of these basic needs makes our lives hard. But I’m stuck in this area because I cannot afford to live anywhere else,” she says.
Salisbury Line, just like Mchengautuwa, Ching’ambo and Masasa, has deplorable living and environmental conditions characterised by inadequate water supply, poor sanitation and drainage systems, overcrowding and dilapidated houses.
These areas are also prone to natural disasters such as flash floods and water logging, especially after heavy rains as was the case in March this year when 4 600 people were rendered homeless after 919 households were affected.
Block leader for Salisbury Line Aidi Mkandawire says rapid urbanisation is one of the factors contributing to the deplorable living conditions in his area.
“Salisbury Line is overpopulated and more people are joining the location at an alarming rate. This settlement started with three families who migrated from Harare [Zimbabwe] in the 1950s. But now we have about 10 000 residents. This overpopulation has led to a scramble for the few available resources in the area.
“People are settling in marshy areas because there is no more land for settlement. There are not enough toilets for the residents and the few available are crumbling down because of high water levels. We are also exposed to contaminated water since these toilets are close to our wells. Our roads are almost impassable during rainy seasons. We have a lot of problems here,” explains Mkandawire.
The global assessment of slums undertaken by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) in 2003 shows that 924 million or 32 percent of the world’s urban population resides in slums. In the developing world, 43 percent of the urban population lives in slums.
In Malawi, the prevalence of slums is “very high” with over 80 percent above its neighbour, Zambia, which has a percentage between 60 and 79, states the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University (UNU-Wider).
Reasons for slum development are poverty, rapid urbanisation, lack of infrastructure investment and frameworks governing the delivery of planned residential land, according to a 2010 study by UNU-Wider.
To address the challenge of urban poverty, the international community through the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) number seven, agreed to improve the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020. This is to be achieved by addressing housing needs of the urban poor as well as improving access to basic social and health services.
The UN-Habitat is the focal point within the United Nations system for the implementation of this MDG through an initiative called Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme (PSUP).
In Malawi, Mzuzu in particular, this is being done in collaboration with Centre for Community Organisation and Development (Ccode), Mzuzu University, Malawi Homeless People’s Federation, and settlement representatives.
Ccode projects officer Monica Mwalwanda said PSUP’s methodology consists of three phases. The first phase is a rapid participatory urban profiling which explores various themes and proposes interventions for the areas.
The second phase is the development of detailed proposals based on these priorities. The final phase is implementation of those prioritised projects.
“The Government of Malawi agreed to the project and the first phase of the PSUP was launched in 2011. During this phase, urban profiles were developed nationally. For the next phase of the PSUP, Mzuzu was selected as the pilot city and Salisbury Line as the pilot settlement,” said Mwalwanda.
Chairperson for the programme Sydney Jere said they have so far developed a profile of Mzuzu City and Salisbury Line, and they have drafted mapping plans for the settlement.
According to the plans, settlers in Salisbury Line are to have planned road networks, drainage systems, a health facility, a market, a waste management centre, potable water and electricity, among other basic urban needs.
This would be a good step towards improving the ugly face that is urban poverty.