HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsLet’s unite in fighting urban poverty

Let’s unite in fighting urban poverty


Urban poverty can best be described as the inability of the urban populace to meet the minimum living standards requirements.

Poverty is the lack of access to basic requirements like shelter, food, decent education, clothes and information.

Most Third World countries’ urban dwellers are surviving on less than US$1 per day. Long ago, urban areas were known for prosperity.

They were engines for development and employment creation due to their wide industrial base. The standards of living were high in urban areas as compared to rural areas.

Rural areas were marginal and poverty was prevalent in these areas. The government, non-governmental organisations and the donor community put much focus on rural areas.

Due to urbanisation, a lot of people now prefer to live in towns. Rural-urban migration is increasing especially in developing countries.

The creation of sustainable cities and the identification of ways to provide food, shelter and basic services to city residents is a challenge to many city authorities around the world.

As such, the locus of poverty is shifting and increasing in urban areas. For example, in Harare, street vending is now a source of livelihood for most city dweller.
In front of most supermarkets chains you always come across women and children selling vegetables, tomatoes and fruits.

These vendors are always on the run in fear of the municipal security officers. Some women end up paying bribes or extending sexual favours with these officers so that they avoid victimisation.

High death rates and low life expectancy are common not only in Zimbabwean urban centres but in most cities of Third World countries.

There is high malnutrition in low income residential areas like Hatcliffe, Dombotombo and Epworth.

The deteriorating conditions of Matapi and Matererina flats in Mbare and Tandarai flats in Marondera need not to be over- emphasised.

Most people in these areas are living below the poverty datum line. It is very difficult to dream of an Aids-free generation when many people are resorting to prostitution to eke out a living.

There is need to address urban poverty if goals of sustainable development are to be achieved.

Planned and guided support of urban agriculture can be an effective tool to buffer hardships for vulnerable urban groups and create a better urban habitat.

The urban farmers are mainly women and men from all income groups but the majority of them are low-medium income earners, who grow food for self-consumption or as income generation.

Governments can support urban agriculture through the provision of inputs, access to credits lines by urban farmers and access to different market channels.

Informal urban industries like welding, carpentry and shoe making need major backing from the Ministry of Small to Medium Enterprises.

These informal activities are a source of employment and livelihood for many urban residents.

The Glen View 8 carpentry industry and Mupedzanhamo flee market in Mbare have played a major role of sustaining many low income earning families in Harare.

However the carpentry and the welding industries have been severely affected by power cuts.

Making rural areas attractive through comprehensive decentralisation programmes and making major growth points centres of attraction, can help reduce the urban population thereby lessening the burden of providing for basic services like water and waste management on city authorities.

Government urban housing policies should be favourable and focus much on the low income group.

Well-backed housing cooperatives can facilitate the provision of affordable houses to the urban poor.

The corporate world (banks) can chip in by making loans with reasonable interest charges accessible to the urban poor.

Employers can also build rent-to-buy houses for their employees.

So instead of putting much focus on rural poverty, urban poverty should also be analysed so that we come out with possible measures to curb it.

Nowadays most people live in towns.

Non-governmental organisations should channel most of the aid and resources to urban areas where poverty is now rampant. Urban poverty now requires a major unity of purposes.

Mguazen Sithole spatial planner, DPP Mashonaland East province.

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