During the Inclusive Urban Infrastructure (IUI) project’s annual meeting in Zimbabwe last year, we visited Hopley Farm, located on the periphery of the country’s capital Harare, and engaged with the community. As IUI colleagues prepare to visit urban neighbourhoods in Colombo (Sri Lanka) during this year’s IUI annual meeting, we thought it was a timely moment to reflect on our visit to Hopely Farm.
Water and sanitation
We observed that some residents of Hopely Farm have formed Community Development Committees (CDCs), which have resorted to self-provisioning services through savings and crowdfunding. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Dialogue on Shelter and Médecins Sans Frontières have also intervened in the community by drilling boreholes, which are maintained by residents. Our baseline survey results show that most respondents (79%) in Zimbabwe source water from a tube well or protected well. The average distance travelled to fetch water is highest in Zimbabwe (124 meters) out of all IUI research countries, and thus households in Zimbabwe spend the most time on average (35 minutes) fetching water.
Women and girls are largely responsible for bringing water to their households, just like in Sri Lanka. In both Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, women often face gender-based violence when accessing water, thus ensuring safety and equal access without discrimination should be a priority. In Bangladesh, 31% of respondents use water provisioning arrangements from community-based organisations (CBOs) or NGOs, 27% use public utilities and 21% use neighbourhood groups. Dushtha Shasthya Kendra (DSK), an NGO, has helped informal residents in some of Dhaka’s squatter settlements to gain access to public water and sanitation services. DSK uses the innovative strategy of acting as an intermediary between poor urban communities and the water utility agency to facilitate water and sanitation provision at regulated prices.
In Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, close to a third of the households use municipality services for sanitation. In Bangladesh, NGOs play a sizable role in sanitation. In Hopely Farm, we saw makeshift toilets throughout the settlement. We were surprised to see pit latrines close to closed wells, as this carries the risk of water contamination. There is no reticulated sewerage system in the settlement. In South Asia, urban dwellers tend not build wells within their dwellings for water, rather they get it from public utility providers or CBOs.
The CDCs in Hopely Farm also collect funds for electricity connections and have erected poles, albeit only in a section of the community. According to community leaders, their aim is to connect the entire settlement to the national electricity grid, which a part of Hopley Farm is already connected to. But the CDCs believe that priority should be given to developing water facilities before focusing on electricity infrastructure. This is a good example of how the community prioritises its needs when sufficient state funds are not allocated. Nevertheless, it is evident from the survey that the share of households with an electricity connection is conspicuously low (13%) in all of our research sites in Zimbabwe. As the community is not connected to the national grid, respondents expressed their dissatisfaction with the affordability, accessibility and quality of their electricity connection.
People have become more aware of renewable energy in Hopely Farm. We observed that, in their individual capacities, residents have opted to use solar power or solar cells for lighting and charging their equipment. There were charging spots and salons run by solar power within the community. This is a positive development in that they are adapting themselves to climate change, global agendas on energy justice, a green and smart economy, and safe power (some traditional energy sources can cause respiratory problems or act as fire hazards). Solar power for lighting is used in Zimbabwe (46%) far more than other countries in our research.
But many residents cannot afford to buy a solar system; instead, they use torches, candles, gas, charcoal, sawdust and firewood as their main sources of energy for lighting and cooking purposes. CDCs could introduce a mechanism to pool money and supply solar panels to underprivileged residents who cannot afford to access energy. Instead of an individual-based approach, community-led action could make Hopely Farm more inclusive.
In terms of transportation and the infrastructure associated with it, Hopely Farm is largely in a poor state. Aside from one good quality road, the settlement only has gravel roads (without a clear drainage system) that have not been repaired since they were constructed. As per the survey, 51% of respondents from Zimbabwe are unsatisfied with the accessibility of transportation and 50% are unsatisfied with its affordability. In terms of roads specifically, 59% are unsatisfied with their quality. In Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Somaliland, most respondents are satisfied with road quality and accessibility.
Vulnerability and resilience
The most marginalised are those who live in flood-, cyclone-, salinity- and drought-prone areas, which are most vulnerable to climate change. Climate change is damaging infrastructure and much infrastructure is not constructed in a climate-sensitive manner in low-income settlements. We observed houses in Hopely Farm’s Gada area that are built in a wetland and are vulnerable to waterlogging and floods. In Bangladesh, Dhaka and Mongla are also facing negative impacts of climate change because of increasing temperatures and irregular rainfall causing heat stress and urban flooding. Frequent cyclones and salinity also impacted Mongla’s informal settlements.
To conclude, governments and civil society organisations (CSOs) can play an important role in promoting community resilience in low-income settlements. The government can provide resources and support to local organisations to help them address the needs of the community and to ensure access to basic services. CSOs can provide technical assistance, training and other resources to help communities identify and address the issues they face.
Abdhullah Azam (Project Manager at the Centre for Migration Research and Development) and Md. Lutfor Rahman (Researcher at the International Centre for Climate Change and Development) are members of the Inclusive Urban Infrastructure (IUI) team. IUI is a project funded by UK Research and Innovation through the Global Challenges Research Fund under the title ‘Towards Trajectories of Inclusion: Making Infrastructure Work for the Most Marginalized’ (grant reference number ES/T008067/1).