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The global community has in recent times taken steps towards improving living conditions in shanty towns with realization that the first step to slum or shanty town is failure to adhere to the concept that buildings in urban areas should be strictly be in tune with what is sketched on the paper.
Malawi towns and cities have not been spared from the plague of mushrooming of slum community settlements. This is due to the fact that municipal authorities alleged failure to rigorously enforce usage of structural plans. As a result things on the paper are not mirrored on the ground upon implementation.
With reports from United Nations agency UN- Habitat indicating that worldwide as of 2007urban population of 3.3 billion people is estimated to double by 2050.In African countries like Malawi urban inhabitants are expected to be more than twofold so possibility on creation of more slums in the cities cannot be simply swept under carpet.
Mzuzu the third largest city in the country is also haunted by this scenario mainly with the focus on the concern that its population is steadily on the rise currently at 133,968 from 44,217 in 1987 two years after it was declared a city in 1985.
The architects who had came up with the original structural plan of Mzuzu soon after its declaration into city status would wince in pain upon realizing that what they had envisaged for years to come never saw the light of the day especially in post single party era.
The current scenario in the city has been characterized by illegal constructions and unplanned settlements that has for years gained a firm foothold in most parts of the city.
Further littered by, housing locations with poorly constructed structures or without access road, mounds of garbage near residential areas, electric transmission lines passing on top of houses and houses on top of water pipes.
All these are examples of things that characterize how good work structure planners of the city had envisaged had been put to waste.
But current Mzuzu City Council authorities like many in the global community have now rolled up sleeves to clean up the mess to resolve some of these challenges through a blueprint called Vision 2030.
Through this action plan they have identified challenges hampering the city’s progress and strategies to overcome these challenges.
Among the challenges include, financial, poor coordination between utility service providers and the municipal authority and lack of harmonized authority by stakeholders in land administration.
Unlike in the past where the authorities were coming with plans without involving the public this time, the residents and other stakeholders are being roped in to create the spirit of participation.
Recently, the city authorities agreed to work hand in hand with utility service providers, government officials, and community leaders when they met in Lake Shore town of Nkhatabay.
This encounter was followed up with another indaba that was held in Mzuzu which was in form of a debate that had drawn participation of community leaders and members of Nyika Media Club (a grouping of media practitioners based in the city).
“The development of this city is not a one man show or the council a lone but also need involvement of residents themselves. I believe through our increased interaction we can easily find solutions to challenges that hamper the development of the city, with the council doing the coordination to supplement that,” explained Richard Hara, Chief Executive officer of Mzuzu City Council.
At the discussion, the council spelt out challenges that the city authorities are facing and at the same time raising possible solutions to tackle them with the aim of transforming the status of city which is home to 133,968 inhabitants according to Malawi National Statistics Office figures a better appropriate residential place.
Legally authority of land matters within the city boundaries is government and council responsibility. As such government departments like Lands department and Malawi Housing Corporation work with the city council that provides administrative guidance on land allocation and designation.
At the Mzuzu indaba, it was learnt that what has made the city to have increased cases of unplanned structures and settlements was lack of coordination among stakeholders. Some participants wondered how utility providers were connecting water, electricity in illegal settlements.
But the city authorities claimed that this issue was resolved during Nkhatabay indaba where it was resolved that stakeholders in utility service would not provide water electricity and electricity to communities that have sprung up without the civic authority blessing.
Some participants further alleged that community leaders both indigenous Chiefs and Community (Block) leaders appear to have assumed too much power to the extent of allocating land in areas where they have no jurisdiction. This has resulted in areas the city council designated for particular use, or structures all taken up by illegal settlers.
This has occurred because the council had been slow to demarcate plots and create roads in the designated lands. Therefore the council has been advised to put physical features like beacons to deter would be encroachers.
"The City Council need to be proactive by ensuring that all designated lands have been demarcated, accesses roads created. This is only way encroachment can be prevented. You will see for yourself that all idle land that was meant for other use has all been built up," explained Angela Mpepyeluka, representative of block leaders.
However, the city authorities say all these challenges emanate from lack of resources as such the going is getting tough for the council to implement its development initiatives and other matters.
“We are currently generating K150 million (US$1million) annually but most of it is spent on the salaries of our workforce which has 600 people. And you can see for yourself that this is not enough to enable us take up serious development projects. Operating from such kind of budget is not a healthy development,” Hara explained.
The council, he says the council is also digging deep into its resources to undertake road works which would have been cheaper had it had its own equipment like Concrete-Mixers and Graders. He said private companies (contractors) which the council hires for road projects usually come up with unreasonably high charges.
For instance he says to tarmac a kilometer of the road, contractors charges hang around K100 million and as or grading and gravelling works the cost is around K6 to 10 million per kilometer. This scenario he says deters the Council from implementing such projects.
"This situation puts us off on numerous occasions that most of the times we resort ask the government to bail us out in implementation of projects of such magnitude ," says Hara.
Despite the existence of these challenges, the city authorities say there is light at the end of the tunnel that will put a fix to financial generation purse. For so long Mzuzu city has not been conducting periodic commercial valuation review of building structures from which the city authorities use as guide to calculate city rates fee.
The exercise technically was last done in 1992.Failure to undertake the exercise in every five years has undermined the revenue generation capacity of the council. This has starved all departments of financial resources hence their failure to fulfill their required roles.
He nevertheless, is optimistic that things would ease out if the latest periodic commercial valuation exercise is given a nod for implementation by central government authorities. Under the country’s laws for such exercise to be effected it must be first published in government Gazette before implementation.
The authorization of the exercise would put the council on a sound financial base that would give it an effective financial muscle to carryout ambitious project like public works, to further equip fire brigade section, secure an ambulance, new vehicles for refuse collection.
Meanwhile, the city authorities have disclosed that the city’s airfield will be relocated to Ekwendeni on the outskirts of the city. The location of the airport at the current site has led to barring of high rise buildings construction with the view that erecting such buildings there would endanger aircrafts. This site will then be allocated to investors to construct high rise buildings which will house shops and offices.
"The airport project will be undertaken by the central government. But it has still been captured in our revised strategic plan for Mzuzu. Upon relocating the airport from the current site the land where it is now will be allocated to investors to construct high-rise building. We want the size of buildings to be from seven to eight stories above," he said.
Mzuzu city authorities are determined to ensure that the city develop in accordance with global standards has established partnership with Durban under the initiative of United City Alliance. Through this relationship it is hoped that Mzuzu will benefit in the area of capacity building from her more advanced sister that issues like lapses in implementation of structural plans will be consigned to history.
"Through this partnership we would like to model our city plan on Durban but we will workout in such a way that it suits our needs and situation," said Hara.
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