Mbarara suburbs struggle under city’s rapid growth

Mbarara’s peri-urban areas have become dumping sites for the city. PHOTO/ FILE

What you need to know:

  • According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics midyear projections 2021, urban population was 11.4 million people. The same population is projected to hit 21 million people by 2040. While urbanisation is seen as a positive trend for economic growth, peri-urban areas have always become shock absorbers of urban pressures and thus neglecting them at the expense of urban growth. This may have far reaching negative impact.

As urban areas grow they attract many people looking for opportunities but because not everybody will afford the high cost of living, a substantial part of the population ends up living in the peri-urban areas. Therefore, the peri-urban areas deserve as much consideration and investment as the urban centres they serve in order to achieve holistic development. 
Happy Kobugabe, an urban planner notes that peri-urban planning should focus on various factors, including development and design of land use as well as the built environment and infrastructure.  

“For sustainable socioeconomic transformation urban areas and their neighbourhood need to work and plan together.  All aspects including communications, transportation, property development, population, public facilities and waste management should be given proper attention as neglecting one tends to affect the rest,” says Kobugabe.
In the western city of Mbarara, the peri-urban areas have become dumping for the city and the challenges of sanitation and hygiene, poor planning and environmental degradation loom large.

Absorbing the city’s growth
“The city’s rapid growth is not easy for the neighbouring areas to absorb. Every day new people find themselves being forced to the city’s fringes where there is hardly proper transport, decent housing and access to water and sanitation services.  Meanwhile, the city itself is grappling with issues that result from rapid urbanisation such as pollution, traffic congestion and crime,” says Kobugabe.

She urges both city authorities and those of the peri-urban areas to work together to create a seamless environment that enables productivity to thrive. 
“Instead of working in silos, all stakeholders should come together to work as one. Therefore, the local community, which includes investors and residents, develops special connections with the city, it creates a sense of ownership and responsibility,” she says. 
When the local community works in collaboration with city authorities to plan their neighbourhoods, they will put their efforts into designing infrastructure that has long-term focus. This means that instead of individual haphazard development, there will be careful research and long-term forecasts, especially with respect to major projects.
For example, instead of installing a water supply network for the current population, research will avail the information needed to plan for the expectation of population changes in the future. This reduces the need to plan for the same infrastructure every other year, allowing the management to direct funds to other areas. 
Another challenge these peri-urban areas are grappling with is poor waste management from the urban areas. It is common to find accumulated waste such as sewerage on streets, corridors of buildings, open lands and normally rivers, streams, water channels are always destinations for this waste which washes and drives them to the peri-urban areas. 
The most affected areas are Nyakayojo, Biharwe and Kakiika which are already facing a challenge of haphazard and informal settlements because of their proximity to the city. 

Infrastructure upgrade
To turn these areas around will require good urban planning and dedicated collaboration of all stakeholders.  For example, some of the existing structures are not connected to sewerage lines and some areas such as markets lack toilet facilities.  As such some use septic tanks and buckets and dispose their waste. It is not uncommon to see sewerage spilling in water channels and streams after being discharged, especially during the rainy season.  This waste ends up at times contaminating water sources posing great health risks such as water borne diseases.
Alice Komujuni, a resident of Nyabuhama in Biharwe says one of the biggest challenges she and her neighbour face is sewage from Mbarara city centre that ends up in their water systems and sources.

“When it rains sewage is discharged right from Ntare Road-Biafra, part of Nyamityobora then to the lower side of Makenke barracks to Koranorya and then to our water sources. Majority of the people here are low income earners and use water from channels and streams, unfortunately this is where the sewage settles,’’ says Komujuni.
This oversight is not just affecting the health of the residents but its economic development too. Because of the proximity of these areas to the city, they would make perfect residential and office space for multinational businesses that prefer exclusive locations and have the big budgets to pay for them. 

“One notable advantage of proper planning of such areas is that they are always in demand for investors. Once investors realise that there is market availability for their structures, they will not hesitate to invest within those areas. On the other hand, when multinational companies come to an area, it is a major boost to the local economy. For example, they pay taxes to the local government, employ the local population which will generally spur growth,” says Kobugabe.

When both the city and its peri-urban areas have achieved proper integration it will enhance the economy to be competitive not only the infrastructure of roads and housing, utilities or livelihood but it will significantly enhance our economic improvement through investment, real estate and it will create jobs and opportunities for all. 
The infrastructure upgrades and private developments will be catalysts for continuous growth in all areas such as population and economy, which will ultimately transform the city. 

What should be done?
There is urgent need for the city to address these challenges. After decades of rapid urbanisation and continuous immigration of people from the country’s far-flung provinces, the city is finally beginning to buckle under the weight an unplanned for population, increasingly expensive standard of living, and urban pollution. The deputy town clerk, Richard Mugisha says these challenges can be solved when there is collaboration between stakeholders and the authorities with a clear vision for sustainable growth and development. 

Mugisha notes that the city is undergoing rapid change and it is going through different phases and stages, which is why there is need to embrace the transformation to provide the proper services for the expanding population. To effectively get the necessary levers that support economic growth working, requires collaboration between departments and with stakeholders. The city planning department is a key player in the success of this strategy and the initiatives that will enable the city to make improvements.
 “As Mbarara city we are not working in isolation from our neighbours, for example if we are working on our roads, we can work with our neighbours, we provide machinery and they put in fuel to extend road connectivity in their areas,” says Mugisha.