Despite Namibia having a population of less than three million people, the demand for farmland, residential and business land has increased exponentially. This year, being a year of regional and local authority elections, there will be promises by political parties to deliver affordable residential land.
The provision of serviced residential land has eluded many local authorities – and in recent years, the result has been the proliferation of shacks in informal settings. The increased demand for urban land has been driven by multiple factors, including, among many others, high rates of urbanisation, increased rural-urban migration, urban population growth and serious challenges in the provision of housing post-independence.
Availing land to the masses, because Namibia is sparsely populated, seems to have over the years been problematic. In Zambezi region, specifically Katima Mulilo, where there is also an increase in population, multitudes of residents have not yet been allocated residential land with basic services, namely the provision of water and electricity and proper road infrastructure.
This has led to desperate residents demarcating pieces of land, where they have erected corrugated iron-zinc shacks that are without any basic provisions. In Kavango region, there are often news reports of residents fencing off tracts of land in communal areas – and this has been a source of conflict, pitting villagers against those being perceived as land grabbers.
One of the reasons the coastal region has become the epicentre of the high occurrence of coronavirus is because many people live in “matchbox” homes near one another.
In the context of urban disease frequency, it should be noted that even before the outbreak of coronavirus, there have been numerous cases of Hepatitis E in Windhoek informal settlements. Hepatitis E is attributed to poor living conditions, characterised by overcrowding and lack of resources, thereby hindering practices of basic hygiene.
When residents live in such proximity, it is, undoubtedly, a recipe for disaster; disease and poverty interact and collude in such urban settlements, which have become fertile ground for pandemics. Poor sanitation and open defecation, prevalent under these poorly-resourced areas, are partly to blame for the high occurrence of Hepatitis E and other diseases. It is, therefore, imperative to tackle heads-on the mushrooming of informal settlements. We should, therefore, formulate sound, well-articulated laws that will enable local authorities to demarcate and transparently allocate land to low-income groups to remedy their conditions.
If the current laws and by-laws have not served their purpose, it is high time they are repelled and replaced. In what could be regarded as ineptitude on the part of local authorities, they should speedily avail land, as this exercise seems to have been hijacked by greedy officials, who want to maintain the status quo and continue appeasing their cronies at the expense of land-hungry masses.
Providing residential land should not be rocket science because our country is sparsely populated – with wide unoccupied spaces. This is doable!