Past, present and future perspectives

Unplanned settlements in Southern Africa

The gap between urbanization rates and rates of housing and service provision-together with colonial and post-colonial apartheid development policies-has created a wide range of settlement types with stark inequities in terms of tenure, access to land and shelter, and provision of services. Large informal settlements have developed on the periphery of towns and cities, furthest from economic opportunities, transport networks and urban amenities.

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Housing development project, South Africa

Mark Napier

In general, these informal settlements are characterized by insecure (or illegal) tenure, unstable structures, inadequate water supply and sanitation, lack of waste disposal facilities, and poor electricity supplies. Meagre and overburdened health, education, and social services compound these problems, creating unhealthy living conditions and social problems such as high crime rates, prostitution and drug abuse (e.g. Napier 2000, GJMC 1999, DEA&T 1999). Gauteng, South Africa's most urbanized province has over 24 per cent of its population living in informal settlements (Statistics SA 1998). In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, about 70 per cent of the 3 million residents live in unplanned settlements with marginal access to piped water, sanitation, drainage, or basic social services (UNCHS & UNEP 1997).

Environmental impacts of poor and insufficient housing include uncontrolled urban development in fragile areas such as flood zones, on steep slopes, or in wetlands and other unique natural habitats. This in turn poses a threat to the residents, who are at greater risk of flooding, landslides, and outbreaks of diseases such as cholera or vector-borne diseases such as malaria. For example, in Johannesburg's Alexandra township (South Africa) there were some 3 800 households living on an infill site, and 5 500 households living on the banks of the Jukskei River in 1999 (Alexandra Renewal Project 2001). Unusually heavy rains during December 1999 and January 2000 precipitated flooding of the Jukskei River and 120 households were washed away (Disaster Relief 2000). There have also been recent cases of cholera reported in Alexandra, and there is now a plan to move residents to alternative, more sanitary conditions (Alexandra Renewal Project 2001).

Provision and upgrading of urban infrastructure have thus become priorities for municipalities of the sub-region, and great strides have been made in recent years to improve urban living conditions. These include the award-winning Luanda Sul Self-Financed Urban Infrastructure Program in Angola, which aimed to provide satisfactory shelter for a significant proportion of urban migrants who fled the conflict during the 1980s. Since 1994, 2 210 dwellings have been built by the 16 702 people they now shelter, together with 12 km of power lines, 70 km of clean water pipes, 23 km of drainage, and 290 000 m2 of paved roads (UNCHS 2000). Lesotho's Urban Upgrading Project-through involvement of local authorities and communities-has housed 267 families, of which 134 were female-headed households (UNCHS 2000). In Namibia, a National Housing Policy was approved in 1991 and, together with a National Shelter Strategy, has facilitated production of over 3 400 housing units, improved women's access to shelter, and is assisting an additional 1 300 families per year (UNCHS 2000). South Africa's efforts have included the production of over a million low cost houses in the last six years (Department of Housing 2000) representing an addition of at least 17 per cent to the national stock of formal housing (based on Statistics SA 1998). However, this is still short of the massive backlog, which stood at 5 million units in 1994 (Everatt 1999). Problems of inadequate housing have been fundamentally complicated by lack of access to land and financing. For instance, the housing demand in Zimbabwe now stands at over one million units, from 670 000 units in 1995, with the greatest shortages being experienced in major cities where the annual population growth rate is between 3-6 per cent. The private and public sectors are currently able to produce approximately 18 000 units per year, which is far below the required levels (SARDC 1999).

Box 2g.3 Improving water supply services in Southern Africa

Municipalities and local authorities have identified access to clean water and sanitation as priorities for development, and several local level projects have been established, with funding from national development budgets as well as with the help of international donors. Many countries in the subregion have also reformed their legislation to reflect the right of all citizens to adequate sources of clean water. In Zambia a National Water Supply and Sanitation Council has been established to coordinate supply by local utilities. Following a recent outbreak of cholera,Mozambique received a US$36 million credit from the World Bank to upgrade sanitation and to chlorinate drinking water in the cities of Maputo and Beira.

Source:World Bank 1998

Water supply and sanitation rates in Southern Africa have, on average, improved over the last decade (the United Nations International Drinking Water and Sanitation decade), although millions of urban residents still do not have clean water or adequate sanitation (see Box 2g.3). Access to clean water is highest in urban areas in Botswana (100 per cent) and lowest in Angola (34 per cent) (WHO/UNICEF 2000). Access to sanitation is much higher in general, with Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, having over 95 per cent access in urban areas (WHO/UNICEF 2000). In areas where water supply and sanitation are inadequate (mainly informal settlements), there are higher risks of water-borne diseases such as dysentery, cholera, typhoid, parasitic worms and flukes, as well as skin and eye infections that can be cured by enhanced levels of hygiene. Pools of stagnant water are also ideal breeding habitats for disease vectors such as mosquitoes. Environmental impacts of poor water supply and sanitation include the risk of contamination of groundwater as well as surface water, eutrophication, and changes to biodiversity. For example, the town of Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe), which has a population of more than 3 000, discharges 8 000 m3 of wastewater into the Zambezi River, including raw sewage, because the town's sewage treatment facilities are overloaded and subject to frequent breakdowns (Chenje 2000). Nitrate and phosphate levels in the effluent exceed Zimbabwean standards and may be a contributing factor to the spread of water hyacinth in Lake Kariba which lies downstream. Total coliform counts in the effluent are also high and this poses a health risk to downstream communities and the town's 32 000 annual visitors (Chenje 2000).