In Namibia, Babylon is hell

Cardboard and rickety tin structures jostle for space on a barren outcrop in the sprawling suburb of Katutura in Namibia’s capital, Windhoek. A putrid smell hangs in the still, afternoon air as flies wing their way over the debris.

A child plays in a stagnant pool of water beside a mongrel dog that gives out a half-hearted bark before retiring in the sun-baked dust. Take a stroll from here into Babylon, an informal settlement. The filth and decay, the lack of water and proper sanitary facilities in Babylon and other informal settlements in Namibia are a blueprint for a disaster.

With the authorities having done little to address the situation and with people being forced to buy water for as much as N$6 (about $0,87) a litre in these settlements, an action plan is urgently needed to avert a crisis.

Agnes Shivute, who lives in a cardboard shack with her husband and two siblings in Babylon, says the area is not suitable for human habitation and implores the authorities to take action.

“This place is hell. We have no water and diseases are likely to break out at any time. It’s a sad situation, really, and something must be done for us as a matter of urgency. There are no lights and crime has become rife at night,” she says. Muggings have become common at night.


Another resident, James Nangolo, says the high incidence of crime in the informal settlements is a cause for concern. “People are being killed or beaten up at night. It’s never safe for someone to move around at night in these places. Come six o’clock in the evening and there are already problems, even for those still coming from work. This is something the government must urgently look at. People cannot continue to lose their lives,” he says.

A third resident of Babylon, Esther Angula, says they cannot afford to buy water every day as it is too expensive to do so. “We have to buy food and clothes for our children and you can’t expect us to find money to buy water every day. Many people in Babylon don’t work. And we will expect diseases to break out anytime if something is not done. This is just unacceptable.”

Development

The Spanish Agency for International Cooperation, attached to the Spanish government, has provided funds that have seen 55 houses being built last year in Bethesda and Okahandja Park, north of Windhoek, at a cost of N$1,5-million (about $218 000).

The venture happened in collaboration with the non-governmental Namibia Housing Action Group and its affiliate the Shack Dwellers’ Federation of Namibia (SDFN). The SDFN is a nation-wide network of more than 15 000 households that belong to savings schemes. The savings have been used to buy land for people’s permanent settlement, among others.

But more ground still needs to be covered if the dream of every Namibian having a decent roof above their heads is to be realised. Windhoek’s Khomas regional governor, Sophia Shaningwa, says shelter development in urban areas is a challenge that needs to be overcome.

According to her, a high portion of households in urban areas do not have secure tenure yet, mainly because they cannot afford the costs of developing land, while the smaller local authorities do not have the funds or capacity to develop the land.

“As long as land with basic services is not accessible and affordable to such a large portion of urban dwellers, the people will remain vulnerable, living in unhealthy conditions and remaining poor,” she says, adding that their dreams will only be realised if they are provided with affordable land and support.

“Without us supporting them, their good efforts will be meaningless. We need to combine our efforts to ensure that we secure land tenure for shack dwellers,” Shaningwa argues.

The SDFN is “busy building the capacity of less privileged people in Namibia to manage money. They encourage regular payments from the old and the sick, although this is not an easy task among the poor. If people repay their loans, more people can benefit from the funds,” she notes.

She is also encouraged by the support that the SDFN has provided to pensioners and sick people in its national network of savings groups. — IPS

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