The real hunger games: Urban poverty on the rise

No Image

According to a recent Statistics Botswana survey, between 2010 and 2016, 10,000 more people in the country’s cities and towns sank below the poverty datum line, the level measuring the ability to meet one’s basic needs. Interestingly, in the rural areas and urban villages, more people rose above that line during the same period. Staff Writer, MBONGENI MGUNI writes.

The numerous truth-bombs contained in the recently released Botswana Multi Topic Household Survey are still reverberating around the country. The report, generally covering household incomes and expenditures across the country, has revealed uncomfortable trends around wages, falling rates of home ownership, rising worries about where to get the next meal, the numbers of the unemployed and those who have given up on getting jobs, amongst others.

One disturbing trend indicated is that poverty is rising amongst residents of cities and towns in the country, at a time when it is falling everywhere else.

According to the numbers, in the 2009/10 edition of the survey, 31, 401 people were identified as living below the poverty datum line in cities and towns countrywide. That number, in the 2015/16 edition of the survey, had risen to 41,093.

The poverty incidence, or proportion of people living below the poverty datum line, rose in cities and towns to 9.4 percent from eight percent between the two surveys. In urban villages, poverty incidence fell to 13.3% from 19.9%, while in rural areas, it trimmed to 24.3% from 24.4%.

Nationally, poverty incidence has declined, with less numbers living under the poverty datum line. In the 2002/03 edition of the survey, nearly 500,000 lived below the line, falling to 362,116 in 2009/10 and 337,410 in 2015/16.

Those numbers resonate well with authorities in Jwaneng. For more than a decade, the town has fought against a stubborn and strengthening squatter crisis driven by the thousands of hopefuls who arrive daily trying to secure employment in and around the diamond mine.

“Being a mining town, people continue to migrate into the town in search of job opportunities and as such end up squatting mainly because there is a serious shortage of residential plots and higher residential rentals,” reads a Jwaneng Town Council report from 2003.

“Squatting has resulted in overcrowding in the squatter areas.”

In 2008, 2012 and 2016, Jwaneng authorities rounded up and evicted the squatters, even providing transport to their places of origin with their property. The squatters returned.

Observers believe the Jwaneng situation highlights some of the major drivers of rising poverty incidence in cities and towns. Rural-urban migration in search of better livelihoods, coupled with shortage of residential plots and affordable housing, means higher numbers of the poor in the cities and towns.

One of Gaborone’s largest squatter camps, situated on the western fringes of Block 5, is another example of the drivers of rising urban poverty.

Since moving into the area in 1989, the squatters’ matriarch, one, Mma Sithole has raised a family of 18, most of them born in the camp. The community has no power or running water. Parents wake their children up at 4am to go and bath in the nearby Segoditshane River.

Now numbering nearly 200, the residents of the Block 5 squatter camp are emblematic of the poverty incidence that has gripped cities and towns in the country.

Even outside of the squatter camps, evidence of the rising poverty incidence in cities and towns, is apparent from the burgeoning populations of high density neighbourhoods, urban squalor and the blossoming number of able bodied, young men and women being engaged in the lower levels of the informal sector, such as roadside vending.

However, the rising urban poverty is still a far cry from the situation haunting rural areas, where a crisis exists in terms of sheer numbers. While the latest survey estimated the numbers of the poor in cities and towns at 41,093, the rural poor were estimated at 175,087. That number means nearly 52% of all people below the poverty datum line live in rural areas or that every one in two poor people are found in the rural areas.

The latest survey also shows that women are more affected by poverty than men and that the youth comprise the majority of victims of poverty. In fact, poverty is harshest amongst children aged up to 14 years old, gradually declining amongst both sexes as the ages rise.

Editor's Comment
Escalating fuel prices cause panic

Nowadays it is not uncommon to purchase an item for a certain commodity and return to the shops in a week, to find the same item has gone up by a significant amount of money.Botswana Energy Regulatory Authority (BERA) last week announced yet another fuel price increase, which follows yet another increase that came into effect on March 29. Hardly two months later on May 12 boom, BERA announced yet another increase, which came into effect at a...

Have a Story? Send Us a tip
arrow up