Lusaka, Zambia

by Chileshe L. Mulenga

The slums of Lusaka owe their origins to the neglect of providing low-cost public housing and to short-sighted urban and housing policies, both during colonial and postindependence times. Lusaka’s population grew most rapidly after 1948. The city quadrupled in size between 1963 and 1980 as a result of rural–urban migration, natural growth and extension of the city boundaries. In the absence of sufficient public low-cost housing, and with non-insistence on statutory building standards, the urban growth resulted in a series of housing crises and the growth of unauthorized settlements at the urban periphery. This was exacerbated by highly centralized forms of governance that did not delegate decision-making and revenue-raising powers to the local level.

A distinction is made between two types of slum:

Early self-help housing: this comprises low-income housing as it emerged on specifically allocated lands on the outskirts of Lusaka, with communal water provision, located just outside of the municipal boundaries in the post-1948 period.

Unauthorized housing: this comprises all other informal subdivisions, land squatting, etc, largely on privately owned lands zoned for agricultural purposes and without essential physical and social infrastructure.

Generally, there is security of tenure for the early self-help (improved and authorized) settlements and regularized former unauthorized settlements. There remains a serious lack of security of tenure for unauthorized housing settlements.

The bulk of the residents of the low-income housing areas are predominantly unskilled and semi-skilled and work mainly in the informal sector (piecework and small-scale trading activities). A few young men and women engage in
criminal and anti-social activities.

The 1948 African Housing Ordinance, designed to stabilize the urban population, allowed African workers in urban centres to live with their families.

The Second National Development Plan (1972 to 1976) recognized unauthorized housing as an asset that required improvement and was followed by the 1974 Improvement Area Act to pave the way for upgrading.

The Draft Decentralization Policy of 1997 (which has remained a draft since) attempts to address the failures of local-government financing and autonomy arrangements.

The successive post-independence governments have also failed to come up with permanent solutions to inadequate low-income housing in a rapidly growing city. Although the Improvement Areas Act of 1974 has shown that the solution to the critical housing shortage can be best resolved with the involvement of the residents of the slum areas, the government does not seem to have grasped the essential lessons that should have been learned from the upgrading projects. Participatory approaches are more likely to help deliver decent housing at an affordable cost to both the individuals and the government, while the traditional public provision of low-cost housing failed to deliver improved housing for the bulk of the population. This was especially the case during the period of 1966 to 1970, when enormous public resources were devoted to providing public housing.

The major problem confronting the slum areas of Lusaka today is not poor housing quality, but the sustainable provision of essential infrastructure and services, as well as effective solid waste management. Other less perceived problems are insecurity and overcrowding.

Finding answers to the problems faced by the residents of the slums of Lusaka requires concerted efforts by a more proactive and progressive leadership at all levels. Above all, it requires a more autonomous local authority, with full control over the affairs of the city, including its finances and management. Bringing that about requires the acceptance that essential urban services can only be effectively delivered by an autonomous and democratically elected and decentralized local authority.

This summary has been extracted from:

UN-Habitat (2003) Global Report on Human Settlements 2003, The Challenge of Slums, Earthscan, London; Part IV: 'Summary of City Case Studies', pp195-228.

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2003 Development Planning Unit | Anna Soave | Khanh Tran-Thanh