Namibia is urbanising rapidly, as people from the rural areas move into the towns and cities in search of economic opportunities. This presents major development challenges to local municipalities, however.
The municipalities of urban areas are, however, unable to provide sufficient land or housing for these migrants who are often too poor to buy houses. Our research conducted in the towns of Otjiwarongo, Gobabis and Oshakati suggest that in these medium sized urban centres alone, annual demand for low cost urban land is in the range of 300-600 plots per year. In Windhoek, the demand is more than 3000 plots per year.
Currently there is almost no formal market of legal urban plots for the urban poor, with the informal settlement land & housing market filling the gap. These settlements grow rapidly and haphazardly, resulting in dense blocks of houses that have no access to basic services such as sewage, water or electricity. Municipalities struggle to supply such services to these settlements due to the lack of urban planning required to allow for pipelines, poles, etc. between houses. Because residents do not have legal tenure over the land they occupy, they usually build temporary homesteads (shacks) rather than invest in brick or block houses. This situation is reflected in the growth of urban shacks compare to permanent block or brick houses in Namibia’s towns and cities.
The market for the provision of affordable land for the urban poor is considerable. The provision of housing, rather than land, is too slow and unaffordable for the poorest urban residents. If urban expansion is to be brought under control, and informal growth to be transformed into formal growth, this demand must be met. Currently, no urban policy, program, guidelines or model come close to providing an effective solution.
Preventing informal settlement growth requires the provision of affordable legal urban land in physically planned settlements. If rural in-migrants are provided access to legal and physically organized land, such settlements can be upgraded over time and become an integral part of the urban fabric.