ARUA CITY. The ever increasing slum and informal settlement in Arua city may affect future development plans of the new city if not addressed now.
Urban planning experts say the slums and informal settlements are extending into newly created rural divisions which may further complicate Arua’s future of becoming a clean city.
Started as a trading centre during colonial times, gradually elevated into a town council, later a municipality measuring 10.5 square kilometres, and eventually a city council in 2020, poor enforcement on Arua’s housing plan has led to development of slums which continues to extend into suburbs of the city centre.
Informal settlements characterized with unplanned housing among other factors, can daunt the expected clean and organized Arua city in centuries to come.
Experts say formal housing and informal settlements play critical roles in ensuring a healthy city for a conducive human inhabitation.
Rural-to-Urban migration, influx of refugees, wars of 1970s and 1980s in Uganda that pressed people to settle in groups resulted in increased population have been some of the factors that led to growth of informal houses in some parts of the current Arua city.
The rise in population propelled demand for houses hence prompting landlords to quickly construct houses, mostly without approval of the city or the then Arua municipal council, hence gradual development of slums, especially in the Current Oli ward.
According to the National Housing Policy of Uganda 2016, the high rate of urbanization in Uganda has led to a rapid growth of slums and informal settlements in which slums and informal settlements provide accommodation to about 60 per cent of the urban population in cities and towns of the country.
With a population of over 300,000 and 56,000 households and majority in informal settlements, Arua city has the biggest population amongst the recently created 15 cities in the country.
Mr Fred Bada, a physical planning expert who also worked in the then Arua municipal council disclosed that Arua was planned, but implementation of the plan was not to its fullest.
To him, if the mess Arua city is in now, if not corrected, will lead to the city experiencing the worst slums in the near future.
“The then Arua municipality was planned, but when people came back from exile after the war, people settled within the town centre because of the fear of insecurity in the rural areas and this automatically created slums. The peri-urban areas of Arua city then kept developing without plans”, Bada noted.
Bada explained that a good housing plan is based on zoning of an urban centre, adding that slums can negatively contribute to accessing social services in transport, health, security, and energy sectors of a country.
“If you do not have a proper road network, you run the risk of failing to receive some services. For example, someone may fall sick and you will want to rush the person to the hospital using an Ambulance, but due to the poor road network, you are going to suffer carrying this person for a long distance hence leading to death. When fire guts, the fire services cannot be taken to the people because of no access route” he said.
Bada stressed that due congestion in slums, respiratory diseases are some of the common diseases because people cook and sometimes keep birds and animals in the same house where they sleep.
According to health inspector of Arua city, Mr Godfrey Apangu, unplanned housing characterized with congestion, poor drainage systems and poor garbage management poses health risks among slum dwellers.
He said the rate of spread of disease outbreaks is rapid in slums and informal settlements because of the poor hygiene and sanitation in the area.
“If somebody only thinks of where to put his or her head, the sanitary provisions of toilets, bathroom, etc will not be a priority. There is a lot of sharing of such sanitary provisions among neighbours and tenants hence compromising the health of the residents. Such areas also act as a ground for quick spread of outbreaks like Cholera in such communities”, Apangu said.
The Landlords’ perception
A section of landlords in Arua city expressed ignorance over knowledge on matters of formal housing, a reason many of them have constructed houses without approvals by the municipal authorities.
“People were constructing without them being sensitized on how to expect what a city demands in future. For us we perceived that our city would remain Kampala” Ms Cesaro Usman a landlord in Oli ward, said.
Mr Ezra Omviti, another landlord in Oli added “what we know is that, you have got a piece of land and build any kind of house according the resources you have”
What city authorities and Chairperson National Physical Planning Board (NPPB) say;
Former Mayor of Arua City, Alhaji Isa Kato in whose reign Arua city was declared, refuted claims by the landlords saying, authorities of the then municipality undertook sensitization on housing, a matter that was affected by lack of enforcement.
But he conceded the fact that the sensitization was not adequately undertaken among residents of the then Arua municipality.
Acting Arua City clerk, Mr Daniel Christopher Kaweesi noted that the city authority with the help of the government through National Building Control Board in the ministry of Lands, Housing and urban development is embarking on how to stop further extension of slum through ensuring decent housing in the city, an initiative that he said will be Private Sector led.
“There are things that we could not do under the municipality. We are coming up with a new structure at city level to try and enforce development control. With support of the National Building Control, we shall come up with decent housing, but whatever we are going to do will be private sector led”, Kaweesi said.
He noted that Arua is still a virgin ground for investment whose services are in high demand as the city provides services to Uganda’s neighbours like Democratic republic of Congo, South Sudan and Central African Republic. Mr Kaweesi however called upon investors to interest themselves in Arua’s housing for a healthy living of the city’s human inhabitants.
With the coming into force of the National Physical Planning Board of Uganda, Chairperson of the board, Ms Amanda Ngabirano stressed that illegal buildings in Ugandan cities, including those in wetlands and road reserves will soon be demolished once implementation of the physical planning of the cities come into play.
“This Board has been given powers to even demolish structures in wetlands, those without physical planning guidelines per the law, those which were not approved and those in road reserves. We should avoid these things now before it goes out of hand” Said Ms Ngabirano.
Inaugurated as a city council in 2020 with seven others in Uganda, Arua city now sits on a 411 square kilometer land bordering Maracha district in the North, Terego in the North East, residual Arua district in the South and Democratic Republic of Congo from the West.
It is either now or never again for authorities of the city to rightly shape the future of a clean Arua city by embracing a lawful housing plan or risk destroying it in centuries to come as a result of increasing informal settlement that comes with its own challenges.
In accordance with the National Shelter Strategy 1992 embedded in the national housing Policy 2016, what the government is doing through the Ministry of Land, Housing and Urban Development to minimize some of these housing challenges in the urban set ups now, can be another thing to look at in relation to the rapidly increasing Population of the country.