Editor's Comment

Halting slums long overdue

THE directive by Vice-President Inonge Wina for the Ministry of Local Government to stop the mushrooming of unplanned settlements is not only welcome but long overdue.
For many years now, we have, as a country, witnessed rapid mushrooming of unplanned settlements in our cities and towns.
Our cities and towns are currently flecked by unplanned settlements or slums which are but a semblance of residential areas.
These are areas characterised by substandard shacks with little or no basic services such as sanitation, potable water and electricity.
Despite lack of, or inadequate, infrastructure and social services, these slums are overcrowded and mostly situated in unhealthy and hazardous locations with insecure tenure and social exclusion.
Lusaka alone houses roughly about 35 informal settlements.
These are residential areas which sprang up without the blessing and planning of local authorities.
Like in many other developing countries, urbanisation has been largely blamed for the high rate of unplanned settlements in Zambia.
It is a normal trend in developing countries for people to shift from rural to urban areas in search of a better life.
The rapid population growth rate, which stands at 2.8 percent per annum, has compounded the situation even further.
This is because with rapid population growth comes high demand for housing, and those left out in the scramble tend to find refuge in the slums.
While years or even decades back it may have seemed like a convenient immediate solution to allow people to live in these substandard structures, the tragedies we are experiencing today are a wake-up call to make things right.
From the onset of the rainy season, it has been disaster after disaster. The media has been dominated by reports of houses collapsing after heavy downpours across the country.
The latest was the Kabwe incident where 367 houses collapsed due to heavy rains and poor drainage systems, leaving many families homeless.
All these disasters point to the fact that structures in these slums are too weak to stand any amount of pressure.
The Vice-President is therefore on point to call for a halt to these mushrooming unplanned settlements.
This is because if a solution is not found now, the country will continue experiencing disasters like the one in Kabwe where 367 houses collapsed.
Such disasters also come with cost implications because Government must fend for homeless families as well-provide alternative housing before finding a permanent solution.
We expect the Ministry of Local Government and other stakeholders to hit the ground running and start working towards finding lasting solutions.
The local authorities need to put in place measures that will stop further mushrooming of slums across the country.  One such measure is ensuring that they stop any illegal construction before it gets out of hand.
The local authorities also have a daunting task of upgrading already existing slums into dignified residential areas. This would have been avoided if the construction was stopped in the first place.
It is worth mentioning that Government has already laid the foundation in this regard as evidenced by the enactment of the Urban and Regional Planning Act Number 3 of 2015, which recognises the rights of people in unplanned settlements. The law also allows for provision of public spaces, allocation of streets and access to emergency social services in slums.
Government has also developed a slum upgrading strategy which will guide municipalities on how to upgrade existing unplanned settlements with basic infrastructure facilities.
It is also our hope that Government will expedite the review of the 1996 national housing policy to allow for public private partnership in housing development.
We are however happy that Government is not sitting idly by but working to provide decent and affordable housing for citizens.
Recently Minister of Housing and Infrastructure Development Ronald Chitotela announced that Government has come up with a policy called ‘Urban Renewal’ to help build high quality and standard housing infrastructure in places like Kuku and Misisi townships in Lusaka.
It is indisputable that there is political will towards providing decent accommodation for the poor.
It is therefore incumbent upon all local planning authorities and other stakeholders to ensure efficient and effective implementation of policies and programmes aimed at putting an end to the squalor in cities and towns.

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