WINDHOEK – Pertaining to urban land, which continues to be a serious concern for the government, President Hage Geingob said the situation in informal settlements constitutes a humanitarian crisis, which should be declared an emergency.
“The available statistics are not flattering, with an estimated close to 900 000 Namibians living in informal settlements. Even if the figure was lower by a hundred thousand or more, the sheer scale of informal settlements undermines the dignity of our fellow citizens,” Geingob told Cabinet on Tuesday.
According to the latest data there are 308 informal settlements in Namibia with a staggering 228 000 shacks accommodating about 995 000 people in urban areas.
This was revealed by Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia (SDFN) national facilitator, Edith Mbanga, who explained that close to 40 percent of the Namibia population now lives in shacks in urban areas, especially around Windhoek.
Mbanga made the revelations during the Second National Land Conference, on the topic of Urban and Land for the Urban Poor.
She said in 2008 they counted 235 informal settlements with 135,000 shacks accommodating about 500,000 people through informal settlement profiling in Namibia.
She said urban land delivery failed to meet the needs of people, whether they moved into towns or being born in towns.
Therefore, she noted, households are not able to construct houses, causing high rentals and informal settlement formation.
With the above sad realities, Geingob directed Cabinet and the Minister of Urban and Rural Development Peya Mushelenga to commence the process of drafting an Urbanization and Spatial Development Policy to deal with the macro-level questions.
“This should clearly be communicated, with solid timelines and outcomes,” he said.
Geingob noted the Squatters Proclamation Act threatens those that are tenure-insecure and requires urgent revision.
According to Geingob, a lesson from the piloted Flexible Land Tenure is that the system has not adequately simplified planning.
He says this presents government with an opportunity to revise the Act to make it more responsive.
Further, he said, the Shack Dwellers Federation and Build Together Programme are complementary in the delivery of ultra low-cost housing.
However, he said their impact is undermined by the low rate of release of land by local authorities.
“A directive should be issued to avail land in Windhoek and other jurisdictions where there is capacity to allow their work to proceed in a manner that complements the work of government. I also need a proper audit of the mass housing project,” he remarked.
He said rental stock is sub-standard and overpriced, adding rent control will improve affordability and access to shelter for many young Namibians who have been forced to settle in informal settlements and dilapidated dwellings.
“We should also explore flexible schemes that would allow subsequent purchase as ‘Rent to Own’. I want to hear what the obstacles are in the implementation of rent control. If such policies exist in many parts of the world, why are we struggling to protect the vulnerable?”
Equally, he recognises the plight of students in urban centres who have limited access to accommodation in universities.
Therefore, he said, the government should accelerate the delivery of the student village that is currently in the pipeline with the City of Windhoek as a matter of priority.