Informal Settlements in Namibia

As all southern African countries, Namibia is undergoing a major transition from a mainly rural based towards a mainly urban based society. This transition is most visible by rapid urban growth, especially of informal settlements at the towns’ peripheries. While the national population growth rate is approximately 1.41 % (2011 census), informal settlement growth is between 8-15% per year, depending on the town (DWN 2017, forthcoming). Namibia’s towns currently have some 120.000 informal houses and this number is likely to double over the coming 15 years if this trend is not addressed in a most urgent manner. The economic, social and environmental costs of this urban planning and housing crises are huge for Namibia as a country and as a society, as it will entrench poverty and inequality over generations to come.

Contemporary government policy, programs and legislation are mostly inadequate and ineffective in dealing with this situation, as testified by the continuous growth of informal settlements. National government housing support programs have to date only made a marginal contribution to alleviate this pressure. While often termed as programs to support the urban poor, they have effectively provided housing solutions for the lower middle income segment of the population.

Preliminary research results (DWN 2017) suggest that a big percentage of residents in informal settlements do have the means to construct permanent structures (if only incrementally over a certain period of time), but are not allowed to do so by legislation. In settlements that are not legally established (and that includes almost all informal settlements), current legislation does not allow the construction of houses with ‘permanent’ building materials such as bricks and mortar. For informal settlements to be legally established, they need first to be physically restructured, a process that that is extremely time consuming and costly. While such restructuring and upgrading of existing informal settlements is an urgent task, a simultaneous and even bigger priority is arguably the prevention of continuous uncontrolled and unstructured informal settlement growth.