Analyzing problems and opportunities to determine a path to better housing for the urban poor
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© Mtafu A. Zeleza Manda, CCODE
Cities in Malawi, now one of the most rapidly urbanizing countries in the world, are ill-equipped to deal with the growing number of people flooding its urban centres. Newcomers, including a growing number of refugees, are forced to live in informal and overcrowded settlements characterized by inadequate housing, hazardous health conditions, a serious lack of water supply and sanitation facilities, and limited access to health, education, security and other public services.
The Malawi Homeless People’s Federation (MHPF) emerged from the regrouping of community savings groups active in slum areas of the capital city Lilongwe in early 2003. The Malawi Federation are now active in every informal settlement in Lilongwe and Blantyre, with a total membership of nearly 30,000 people. Besides organizing and managing group savings schemes, which operate on a daily basis in slum communities with the aim of improving living conditions, the Malawian Federation has taken the lead in settlement upgrading by identifying problems and actively pursuing partnerships and solutions. The Centre for Community Organization and Development (CCODE), an NGO that initially helped to link community groups in urban Malawi, supports the Federation by linking it to policy makers, planners and managers in government and local authorities.
In their diagnosis and analysis of Lilongwe’s housing problems, community group members felt that the best entry point for the poor to reach out to policy makers and planners was through organization and collective action led by CCODE and the Federation. With CCODE’s support, the Federation approached the Lilongwe City Assembly to request land for housing in August of 2004. The Assembly offered the Federation a parcel of land with 99 plots. The number of Federation members in Lilongwe at the time was approximately 400. Therefore, 99 plots were not sufficient. A proposal was made to the City of Lilongwe to allow the Federation members reduce the plot sizes so that they would be as small as possible to accommodate more homes, but also to reduce costs of rates in future. After negotiations, the idea was accepted, the plot sizes were reduced and 222 plots were created.
Due to the success of this initial process and community-managed construction of houses since, Lilongwe City Assembly is today interested in offering more land to the Federation. In Blantyre, the city has offered to assist the Federation in conducting a citywide slum enumeration of about 17 slum communities. City authorities are also finalizing land allocation procedures to the Federation with the Ministry of Lands.In collaboration with local officials, Lilongwe water board and the private sector, MHPF continues to work to improve and simplify access to clean water and sanitation, identified by Federation members as one of the most pressing issues in urban Malawi. In addition, in July of 2005, CCODE and MHPF signed a memorandum of understanding with the Blantyre City Assembly for the incorporation of MHPF into the city’s upgrading strategies within the ongoing UN-HABITAT initiative that aims to make Blantyre a ‘City Without Slums’ over the next decade.
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