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Upgrade slums now: Reflections of the Malawian slum Dwellers

By Amalawi - Tue Oct 09, 1:58 pm

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We, the slum dwellers, citizens of this Republic resident and living on the margins in informal settlements of trading centres, towns and cities of Malawi; concerned with our plight, convened from October 3 to October 4, 2012 in Mtandire, Lilongwe, to reflect on our livelihoods and map out a concrete way forward on how to improve our wellbeing.
In this first ever reflective exercise of the urban poor in Malawi, we deliberated on a number of issues we feel are pertinent to our cause and to ending poverty in our respective communities. We therefore wish to share our reflections and resolutions with the Nation as follows:

Slum dwellers across Malawi

Slum dwellers across Malawi

1. Background Information
In Malawi Urbanisation is on the rise and so is urban poverty. The Minister of Lands and Housing
said this on Monday October 1, 2012 at the World Habitat Day in Zomba. Over 70 % of Malawi’s urban dwellers live in informal settlements, which are generally compacted settlements characterised by lack of access to water, poor sanitation, and poor drainage and dilapidated housing conditions, among others.

 

We followed these celebrations on radio. We learnt that we are over 1.7 million Malawians living in these dire conditions in trading centres (e.g. Tambo in Bangula; Bango in Lumbadzi), towns (e.g. Chindozwa at Nkhata Bay Boma; Ntukulamwendo in Salima; Kumbemba in Liwonde) and Cities (e.g. Chikanda in Zomba; Ntopwa in Blantyre; Chinsapo in Lilongwe and Masasa in Mzuzu).
The facts and figures about urban poverty in the country say nothing about how we live in these informal settlements. We also learn that the majority of the people (80 %) in this country live in the rural areas. It is therefore not surprising that our rural counterparts enjoy considerable attention in terms of development programmes and government policy support in general. Poverty has indeed been traditionally thought as a rural phenomenon. However, this view is challenged in this age of urbanisation. Poverty is also deepening in urban centres and at times more rife in the informal settlements where we live without access to water, sanitation, basic infrastructure like schools, clinics, access roads, decent housing and other basic services. In general, there are no resources being put towards planning for the poor people.
If today we are talking about a modest 20 % of Malawians in urban areas and over 1.7 million citizens living in extreme poverty and neglect, what will happen in 2030, when it is said that urban population will overtake rural population by that year? If these conditions remain unimproved- overcrowded classrooms, poor drainage, sanitation and water, poor housing, deplorable waste management- and the 1.7 million grows tenfold in the next 20 years, what will become of Malawi?

 

2. Speaking One Language: Building a Common Front
Part of the reason we have suffered neglect as the urban poor is that we have not been able to speak with one voice. There have been cries in patches from various actors on more specific matters affecting us but such voices seem to have ended nowhere. And now we have consolidated our voices to speak as one through these reflections. Joining our voices and speaking as one, should carry our concerns and solutions further. As they say, Unity is strength. So we have taken opportunity of these reflections, to speak as one. We are from different districts (29), across the country. We speak as concerned Malawian citizens and not a particular grouping with vested interests. We speak to be heard in our oneness.
3. Mismatched Realities and Priorities: Poverty As We Live It
Most people will learn about poverty through figures and literature but we live it. There is no person who likes poverty and we all want to do away with it. The Government too is committed to ending poverty. However, we also note the following:
a. That participation is important to ending poverty: Participation in development is important. We the urban poor need active participants in development. Gratefully, we are consulted before most development activities including formulation of National Budgets through the pre-budget consultative meetings. However, we feel betrayed. Although we are included in these consultative meetings, our needs are rarely taken on board. Participation is no longer there to make us drivers of the change process. We are consulted for the sake of paperwork and to render legitimacy to policy that ‘people participated’ and our role ends there. We are always surprised that projects emanating from such consultations target the same few upper and the middle class. This must change.
b. That there are mismatched realities of poverty: we have our priorities as the urban poor. The capacity to address our priorities depends on availability of resources. However, those that control these resources also have their own priorities and agenda they want to advance. We feel the pinch of this poverty hidden in figures. Unless we have our own resources, we shall never have greater say on our priorities and conditions in our settlements will continue to deteriorate.

c. That ‘development projects’ favour the rich few: we learn that we constitute over 70 % of the urban centres population. Ordinarily, our numbers should determine the level of investments to our settlements. Ironically, over 90 % of the Councils budget is dedicated to providing services to the rich. We have seen new rich neighbourhoods start and develop; we have witnessed them transforming from bushes/forests to settlements with all the necessities- tarmac roads, electricity, reliable water supply and regular waste collection services. Yet our settlements have been there for decades, without these services. We are humans too but living in no humane conditions.

That we only count as voters and not citizens with needs: we follow Parliament sessions with keen interest. Though there is growing urgency to address urban needs to alleviate poverty, there is less discussion on these issues. Urban MPs rarely stand to voice out our needs; provide solutions to our problems nor engage us. We demand serious discussion for solutions to urban poverty from our representatives.

4. Believing In Our Will-Power: Living Our Choices
We believe that we have the power to improve our wellbeing and this is what we want to do. We cannot wait for goodwill to come to us but we can move ourselves closer to it. We have therefore resolved to do the following:

a. That we establish a Slum Upgrading Fund: we have resolved to establish a fund that will benefit all urban poor communities in towns, trading centres and Cities of Malawi. This fund will be capitalised through community contributions, funding partners, Malawians of goodwill; and government contributions. We feel that demonstrating our potency by starting off this fund should help us leverage more resources from other stakeholders and that we will have greater say on our priorities if we have a community driven fund and decisions are taken by ourselves.

b. That Centre for Community Organisation and Development (CCODE) will be the secretariat for this fund. We have chosen CCODE because of its extensive experience in managing community funds and its position on matters affecting the urban poor in the country.

c. That there will be a board made up of Government representatives, slum dwellers, Malawians of goodwill, and civil society organisation that will provide oversight to this Fund

d. That the fund will have four tiers beginning from the communities, district, region to the national level. All informal settlements shall have representatives who will take decisions at district level. These decisions will be carried on to the regional level. The national level representatives drawn from the regions will work closely with CCODE on policy and advocacy of the fund.

e. That any community willing to access development funds from the Fund will have to contribute 10% of their request to unlock funding from the pool.

f. That we will liaise with central, local governments, government agents and other stakeholders to ensure that the funds are repaid into the Fund. Since the fund will finance projects that are supposed to be done by the Government, we expect it to replenish the fund through the various community development financing mechanisms. The core purpose of the Fund will be to prefinance projects that communities want.

g. That the fund will prioritise settlements where people have established their needs; ranked their priorities and made plans.

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