31 October 2012

Uganda: Kampala Is One Big Slum

Photo: New Vision
Bungalows to be outlawed in Kampala to promote high density 10 storey buildings

YOU live in a slum; yes you do. Deal with it. Given the rate at which people are crowding the city today, the city is turning into one big slum.

According to a report from the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, 49% to 64% of the total urban population live in slums.

"This gives a total of 1.58 million people to 2.1 million people as slum residents in Uganda." This has among other reasons been brought about by the increasing rate at which people are leaving rural areas and coming to work and live in cities.

"Currently, it is estimated that Uganda has approximately six million households living in 4.5 million housing units," says the report.

At national level, the report adds, there is a backlog of about 1.6 million units of which 211,000 units are in the urban areas," The report entitled, A situation Analysis of slums in Uganda and National slum upgrading strategy and action plan combines several surveys and studies on conditions in slums around Kampala.

Results from the 2005/06 National Household Survey indicate that muzigo (tenements), which is the typical housing structure for slum area accounted for 64.3% of the dwelling units in Kampala.

With more people needing to survive very far away from their home towns and having to find work in Kampala, most of Ugandans that cannot afford to buy land and build their own houses end up renting one room or two-room tenements and living there.

In most cases, as several reports have found, most of these dwellings are not well planned and are located in crowded places. Such houses often lack basic necessities such as clean water, proper sanitation and planned structures.

According to the Uganda Population and Housing Census (2002), many of the housing conditions in Uganda are generally substandard. Indeed, the census indicated that more than 70% of the dwelling units were built out of temporary building materials that cannot last for more than three years.

A 2008 slum profiling study carried out in four different slum areas also found out that a considerable number of dwellings (28.5%) within all four sampled slums were temporary while 39.9% of were permanent. A mere 22% were occupied by owners.

This study revealed that majority of people (75%) lived in rented houses.With such alarming findings, slums are not only in Katanga, Kivulu, Kikubamutwe and Kimombasa. Considering the deplorable conditions of many of our household, many of our neighbourhoods can be considered as slums.

What is a slum?

To the ordinary man, a slum means those congested water-logged small dwellings like the ones you find in Bwaise. According to Elieza Wanyala, a slum is a place with a lot of stagnant water and where you have little shabby houses." The most notable slums for him are Bwaise and Wankulukuku.

Ann Nambooze's idea of a slum is more graphic: "very many uncondusive houses packed in one place with cracked walls and faded paint. They usually have lots of kids shouting around and distractions such as bars." Bwaise and Kikumikikumi come to her mind as the most typical slums in Kampala.

According to the ministry report, slums are defined by the following outstanding characteristics: Inadequate access to safe water, inadequate access to sanitation and other infrastructure, insecure residential status, Poor structural quality of housing and overcrowding. "It is an area that attracts a high density of low- income earners and or unemployed persons, with low levels of literacy."

Slums, according to this report are also characterised by high rates/levels of noise, crime, drug abuse, immorality (pornography and prostitution) and alcoholism and high HIV/AIDS prevalence.

It is also an area where houses are in environmentally fragile lands e.g. wetlands considerations. With many of us living in heavily crowded places, chances are that we are connected to a slum in one way or the other.

Even though most areas have access to water, health and education facilities, these are often inadequate to meet the soaring numbers of people. This then causes strain and leads to shortage of much-needed facilities in such circumstances.

Living conditions remain very poor in most of our neighbourhoods. For instance, over 50% of household occupants in Kampala, according to a slum settlement study are hospitalised every three months due to malaria.

Most of the urban enclaves where slums are located, according to the study have poor drainage systems, while most slum settlements are located in flood plains, with big parts of the area under swamps and wetlands.

What does all this mean?

The increase in slummy conditions in cities here is a mirror image of the tensions caused by rapid urban expansion," says Dr. Wilfred Ochan, assistant representative of the United Nations Population Fund in Uganda.

Ochan explains that this expansion occasioned by net migration of people from rural to urban areas and from one city to another has far reaching implications for development.

It could be a blessing if the Government could take advantage of the growing urban population to come up with a housing policy that will ensure decent housing for people as well as their employment, however if not well- managed, the slum conditions will result into disease, unemployment, insecurity and all sorts of problems."

Slums continue to affect all of us; it remains our responsibility to make the most of what is clearly an unpleasant environment.

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