DECENT HOUSING FOR ALL TANZANIANS

‘After food and clothing, shelter ranks third amongst the basic necessities of life’. The Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development repeated this message at the conference held in Arusha to work towards a national housing policy for Tanzania. He continued: ‘when Tanzania became independent on 9th. December, 1961, the government took immediate steps to provide decent housing to all Tanzanians irrespective of their income or race’. The conference was only too able to assess how this objective had fared as it listened to papers which spelt out the problems both in the past 20 years and in the way ahead.

Like many developing countries the Tanzanian population has been growing Rapidly – currently at a rate of 3.3% per year (doubling in 20 years) – since independence, with a present population of 19 million. Half of this 19 million is under 15. It is not difficult to imagine the demands for shelter generated by such growth. Compound this with the experience that the traditional house-type lasts about 7 years depending on mud, pole and branches for the main constructional items. The net outcome of this calculation is that about 600,000 houses were being built or rebuilt in 1978. It is not amiss to recall that the UK, with a population 3 times the size and a GNP per head 24 times greater, has managed 500,000 houses in a year only once.

This scale of the problem is, however, complicated by the movement of rural people towards the towns. While largely a rural country (85% live in villages) the main towns, and especially Dar es Salaam, are growing at over 8% per year. leading to substantial areas of squatters’ houses, of which there are 100,000 in Dar es Salaam alone. This movement to the towns aggravates the housing situation since such a move is towards a cash economy, needing to buy materials for proper shelter from a largely subsistence agricultural economy with materials near to hand. So there are major factors of populations growth, urban drift and material availability.

How have the formal public housing institutions tackled these very substantial tasks, as promised in 1961? The picture, it has to be said, is not good. The Minister stated that the National Housing Corporation since 1962 had built no more than 14,000 homes. The Registrar of Buildings had also constructed 400 houses. Site-and-Service projects had released a further 9,000 plots for individuals to build their own homes. These approaches are clearly not meeting the needs of the bulk of Tan2anians, concentrating, as it transpired, on high quality, high cost units in urban locations.

As a new approach, the Tanzania Housing Bank (THB) was established to provide mortgage finance for people to build their own new houses. Such finance would also be available to villages as a whole and as such the THB played a significant role in the implementation of national governmental policy for the creation of new and centralised village settlements, which were to form the basic organisational units of the country and the Party. By the end of 1979, 27 villages had borrowed to finance 2,000 houses, as well as individual loans. Yet it was still the urban areas with 15% of the population that were getting half of the available finance, due largely to rural inaccessibility of the urban-based THB and to its conservative approach to income requirements and repayment schedules (over three quarters of the THB borrowers earn more than twice the average income). These rules become a major constraint when Tanzania’s GNP per head is amongst the lowest 15 in the world.

So there is a huge gap between the houses that are reported as being constructed and the comparatively few houses that the formal institutions have been funding. The contribution from the informal sector is thus the bulk of all housing activity. It is not surprising that the Arusha conference resolved that the starting point for a national housing policy was that home ownership should be encouraged. The closing speeches that now ‘Tanzania has very limited resources to provide public housing. That is why the Government and Party encourage Tanzanians to build their own homes instead of waiting for the Government to provide housing for them.’ Self-reliance is now the watchword for housing provision; it is a long way to come in 20 years.

Self-reliance will apply to materials and to construction and financing. One reason of course why so few houses were funded publicly was the high standard required by a building code exported from Britain in the thirties and unamended since independence. It related well to urban aspirations of importance and mortgage security. Its critical failure, however, was its almost total dependence on cement blocks and on imported components, including the raw materials for corrugated iron or aluminium sheets. The money cost was itself high (over twice the cost of an indigenous brick house), but its major national disadvantage was the high import content. And that is a disadvantage worse today than ever, when the average import capacity of the country is only half what it was in 1972 or 1976. The terms of trade have moved radically against the country since then and the lack of resources has led to a drop in income of about 50% over the last 3 years.

There is now internal cement production, but it is fired by fuel oil, which has itself to be imported. The product when finished has to be distributed by diesel-fuelled vehicles. The planned output is to double, but the National Economic Survival Programme priorities may not allow such consumption of extremely valuable and expensive imported resources on housing projects, when they could be applied to utilising more of the economy’s productive capacity, which is only 3o% utilised at present. If national priorities determine the resource allocation of high cost construction materials, it becomes even more essential that locally available materials are used, to locally agreed standards and designs and by locally comprehended methods of construction. These now form the key planks in the ‘nyumba bora’ campaign to improve rural housing.

The Arusha Appropriate Technology Centre has developed particular soil cement mixtures compacted in a manually operated mould-machine to provide traditional house-types with a much longer life. Such a machine, with adequate training and repair backup, form~ a sensible approach for a village construction unit to provide rural housing at a 35% saving over sand-cement blocks. Again, in appropriate areas one can often see very small scale clay pits providing bricks to be fired locally. The importance of local production is highlighted by the fact that the westernmost Districts use 40 time less cement per head than those at the capital.

The other key local element is that of education being undertaken by the Party (CCM) and local officials both to advise on the long-term advantages of improved long-life housing and on the need for joint village working to build and finance them. At a practical level there should be technical support via the Rural Construction Units, which should be equipped to train and assist villagers in building, joinery, bricklaying and plumbing methods. If these key areas can be successfully tackled, the number of houses needed could drop from 600,000 to 200,000 per year, since each improved house would last of the order of 4 times as long. Even that would demand resources of an estimated shs.1.4 billion per year, which even reduced to an individual village scale must be doubtful in view of the low real income from cash crops.

This financing area is crucial, since villages have to raise loans from the THB to fund the works with little state financial support. The success of such a strategy depends on major relaxations and improved accessibility on THB’s side as well as substantial income and commitments by the villagers. Certainly evidence on the ground at the moment indicates a substantial number of houses still being built of traditional .materials of mud and laths on a pole framework.

In the towns, the authorities have accepted squatters as an unavoidable component of housing policy and have embarked on a programme to upgrade squatter areas. This is by way of loans from the THB to individuals. The state cannot provide new housing and amenities, but it aims to improve the surroundings if owners improve their own homes. The success of this in mobilising resources, coupled with the Site-and-Service Programme, is indicated by Dar es Salaam’s consumption of 40% of the national output of cement. The Squatter Improvement Programme is one area in which the World Bank has made material contributions to improve the homes of 315,000 people throughout the urban areas of Tanzania. Nevertheless, the issue of squatter areas will continue. There are 100,000 squatter houses in Dar es Salaam now and urban populations must be’ expected to rise from 3 million to 10 million in the next 20 years. It would be foolish to pretend that all the urban workers will be able to afford THB loans: but can Tanzanian society accept the South American, or even the Kenyan, scale of alienation?

Ian McCalman

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URL

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.