Sat, Mar 03, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Zimbabwe’s slums grow as hard-up public seeks cheap housing

With unemployment at more than 80 percent, illegal settlements are expanding in every city and rampant corruption is hampering efforts to find a solution

By Andrew Mambondiyani  /  Thomson Reuters Foundation, MUTARE, Zimbabwe

As dark clouds began to build on the horizon, Tarisai Nyakunu Zimunya, a single mother of three, looked worried. The fragile structure she calls home would struggle to withstand a drizzle, let alone a storm.

Zimunya is one of thousands of people living in expanding illegal settlements in Zimbabwe’s eastern city of Mutare, one of the nation’s largest, with a population of about 187,000, according to a 2012 census.

Like her, many live in squalid conditions.

“With the rainy season coming, it is going to be difficult for me and my family. I cannot afford to pay rent for a better house, so I have no option, but to live [here],” Zimunya said.

The daily quest for clean water and firewood is an unceasing nightmare for the residents of Mutare’s slums.

“We get water from a deep well a few kilometers away,” the 37-year-old said. “The water is not all that clean, but we have no choice.”

And without electricity — and gas stoves unaffordable — the women must head to the nearby mountains to forage for firewood. It adds hours to their working day.

“But the wood is becoming scarce and we are now traveling long distances to get it. It’s not safe, but that is the only way for us to survive,” said Zimunya, who ekes a living by selling vegetables to support her children, who range from three to nine years old.

NATIONAL CRISIS

Zimunya’s story is repeated across Zimbabwe, which remains in the grip of a deep economic crisis. Unemployment is at more than 80 percent; as a result, illegal settlements are growing in every major city, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions said.

However, those settlements lack running water, sewerage, paved roads and electricity. Health experts fear that when the rainy season comes in November, they will become havens for disease.

World Bank figures showed about one-third of Zimbabwe’s 16 million people live in urban areas, and that its urban population is growing about 2 percent annually.

Statistics from the UN’s Millennium Development Goals database from 2014 show that one in four of the country’s urban residents, or about 1.25 million people, live in slums.

Experts said that figure is likely higher.

It is women like Zimunya who bear the brunt of the burden, as they are forced to fetch water from tainted sources, gather firewood for cooking and try to dispose of household waste.

Their position is unlikely to improve soon. Government figures showed a housing shortfall of more than 1.3 million units, with the capital, Harare, needing 500,000 homes.

In the decades that former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe was in power, government spending ballooned. However, more than 90 percent of the budget went to civil servant salaries, which left little for investment needed to boost growth or for social spending.

When he presented the budget in December last year, Zimbabwean Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Patrick Chinamasa said that many people had spent years waiting for affordable accommodation, adding that the government must prioritize spending on housing.

Chinamasa, who acknowledged housing was “a basic human right,” allocated US$182 million to support an array of strategies to improve housing.

He said the government would work with housing cooperatives and had developed financing strategies with the Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe and Urban Development Corp to provide low-cost serviced land for development.

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