The rural push and urban pull factor….An urbanisation headache in independent Namibia

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Alvine Kapitako

Windhoek-Namibia has since independence seen tremendous growth in its capital city as well as its major towns, where people flock in search of greener pastures.

According to the Namibia Population and Housing Census, in 1991 the urban population of Namibia stood at 28 percent. The population subsequently increased to 33 percent in 2001 and 42 percent in 2011.

According to the Namibia Statistics Agency, this trend is not unique to Namibia but it is observed in most southern African countries where levels of urbanisation are estimated to have reached over 50 percent.

Urbanisation in Namibia is affected by population dynamics in urban population growth and internal migration, rural poverty that causes people to migrate to the city to improve their livelihoods and re-gazetting of some urban areas, according to a study on urbanisation by Dr Nelago Indongo.

In her study on the effect of urbanisation on housing conditions in Namibia, Indongo found that the impact of rapid population growth on urban development and conditions is far more than just a demographic or quantitative one.

“Whereas the urbanisation process in the developed countries was the result of rapid industrialisation, urbanisation in Namibia like most other developing nations is a consequence of the ‘push’ of the rural areas and the ‘pull’ of the town.

She added that the proportion of people living in urban areas rise not only due to migration but also due to the natural growth of the existing urban population. Indongo’s findings are published in the International Journal of Humanities Social Sciences and Education.

Meanwhile, the public relations officer of the City of Windhoek, Lydia Amutenya, says as of June 2012, the Windhoek population was estimated at 330 000. The estimated growth rate was four percent per annum.

“The rapid growth is mostly visible in our informal settlements where the majority of our residents are living,” says Amutenya, adding that this is where cases of illegal land occupation are rife. “This compounds the challenges to the orderly development of urban land,” says Amutenya.

According to Amutenya, this has resulted in a high demand for serviced land for housing as well as other basic services such as water, electricity, sanitation and road infrastructure.

“The City of Windhoek continues to address this demand every financial year through its budget provision in order to ensure that we improve the living standards of all our people,” says Amutenya.

Despite this, Amutenya says the Windhoek Municipality has limited resources to carry out its service provision mandate.

“What Windhoek is experiencing is not an anomaly to a developing country. Other countries that have become developed and those of similar status as Namibia are experiencing the same or experienced the same urban dynamics. Therefore, the situation cannot be classified as a crisis,” says Amutenya.

Furthermore, she says urban influx is a challenge. This is mostly with high demand of municipal services to the residents, most of whom are unable to afford due to problems such as unemployment, says Amutenya.

She adds that the City of Windhoek is mandated to deliver these services but “we rely on our own sources of revenue, which is mainly property rates and taxes, charges for providing water, electricity, refuse removal, sanitation and other services rendered to residents of the City of Windhoek,” said Amutenya.

She says that the municipality operates on a cost-recovery basis. This means that services can only be effectively rendered on a sustainable basis if such services are paid for.

“The unprecedented influx (of people) therefore puts pressure on the limited available resources, as the new residents mostly settle on un-serviced land and yet expect municipal services,” adds Amutenya.

Meanwhile, Anita Kaihiva, the communication officer of the Walvis Bay Municipality said that the industrial nature of Walvis Bay has resulted in many Namibians flocking to the town in search of greener pastures.

“Urbanisation became a bigger problem after independence because Namibians could now move freely and reside and work in any town of their choice. Some hope to find work in the fishing industry or in the transport and logistics sector,” Kaihiva added.

Kaihiva said that Walvis Bay has a challenge of providing serviced land for housing. To address the problem, “council has identified an area, currently known as Farm 37, where a new township can be established”.

Farm 37 is situated to the south-east of Walvis Bay, roughly five kilometres from the outer edges of the current urban area.

She said the township would mainly cater for ultra-low income residents. “Provision will be made for the township to have schools, clinics, police station and satellite fire station among others,” she adds.

Other challenges in the coastal town include, encroaching into dunes and the peninsula area, encroaching into the 100m buffer zone from the sea, industrial developments versus the human settlement need and the challenges in densification as well as high water table and the high salt quantity.

The high salt quantity makes the building stabilisations highly expensive, she adds.
Also sharing on urbanisation, Aili Gebhardt, the corporate officer for marketing and communication at the Municipality of Swakopmund says urbanisation is a global phenomenon and is not exclusive to Namibia.

“The influx of people to Swakopmund is caused and influenced by the need for better economic, political and social benefits achieved in urban settings compared to rural areas,” says Gebhardt.

According to Gebhardt, the Erongo region experiences high rates of urban influx due to the high concentration of mines and tourism activities such as the worldwide economic downturn and the drought that has been experienced in Southern Africa.

“People abandon the rural areas for urban centres,” she says adding that the urban influx can be described as a crisis because there is nothing at present that attracts people to rural areas “while services and resources in cities are limited”.

The trio agree that decentralisation of services to rural areas is one solution to the urbanisation problem.

A long-term solution to address urbanisation is to “create the opportunities in the areas where people are emigrating from”, says Amutenya.

“I don’t think the migration rate will be this high if opportunities available in Windhoek are accessible elsewhere,” says Amutenya.

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