Hotspot mapping helps cities find the most vulnerable communities

December 10, 2020

A new research report that maps some of the most vulnerable communities in Zimbabwe’s capital city - Harare,  will help local authorities develop a more targeted approach to responding to future shocks.The report is important and useful particularly to local authorities and government ministries and departments as it is providing the spatial context to vulnerability which is a key source of information in the preparation and review of planning and development frameworks for cities. The report is also useful to Non-Governmental Organisations who intend to work on projects and programmes that seek to build urban resilience.    

The Rapid Land Use Mapping Report was conducted by the University of Zimbabwe, in collaboration with UNDP and the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works. The report comes at a time that councils, such as Harare, are redesigning their response mechanisms, against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic and a growing urban population.The project sought to carry out a simplified hotspot mapping to examine places that are characterised by high socio-economic vulnerability, areas with high intensity of informality, high diseases outbreak and environmental ecosystems vulnerabilities.

According to the United Nations, 54 % of the world’s population is living in urban areas and it is expected to reach 62.5% by 2035. The Economic Report on Africa says nearly 90% of this increase will take place in Africa.

This trend is also reflected in Zimbabwe, where the capital city is home to the largest population of the country’s urban residents. According to the Central Statistics Office, 44% of the urban population in Zimbabwe is in Harare, an indication that the capital city has the highest proportion of the urban population in Zimbabwe.

This growth is putting pressure on the city’s already stretched public infrastructure and recent disease outbreaks, such as cholera have underlined the need for the city to put in place systems to respond more rapidly to such shocks. This has not always been possible, because of the lack of data that shows where exactly the needy communities are. However, a new research report has mapped the most vulnerable hotspots of the city, laying the ground for an evidence driven response plan. Initial findings from the report show that disease hotspots are largely in the city’s growing informal settlements.

“Harare city is characterized by a rising number of informal settlements. Most informal settlements are located on fragile land mainly along rivers,” the report found.Figure 1 below shows the distribution of informal settlements across Harare. 

Figure 1: Distribution of Informal Settlements in Harare

The locations of most informal settlements are exposed to the risk of flooding and water bone diseases such as typhoid and cholera. This, raises concern for communities living in those conditions, given the rising threat of climate disasters and disease. From the data available, public amenities, including health facilities, are provided only to formal areas, leaving many in informal settlements with no easy access to basic services.

In order to protect already vulnerable groups, local authorities and stakeholders should have proper data management systems that embrace land use planning appraisals and hotspot mapping that will enhance decision-making in resilience building.

By mapping hotspots for at-risk areas, councils have a better chance of coming up with more targeted responses.

The importance of building more modern infrastructure for informal traders was reflected during the COVID-19 pandemic, when authorities shut down markets. The report says this further disrupted the livelihoods of some of the most vulnerable groups.

The mapping report makes another key finding on the state of working spaces for informal traders: “Overly, the informal sector activities are vulnerable to hazards and are exposed to operational space and infrastructural challenges that compromise their resilience. On the other hand, they produce hazards to the environment that contribute to environmental health problems.”

Through mapping, local authorities will be in a better position to identify where the needs are greatest to rebuild new and safer trading spaces. The data available identifies some of the most disadvantaged areas, and their most urgent needs. 

“It emerged from the study that the areas being affected by the waterborne diseases are all in the western side of the city. It also emerged that the areas with the highest incidence of both diseases are close to the city’s largest sewer treatment works of Firle and Crowborough.”

This is worsened by the location of the sewer treatment plants close to the rivers making pollution of rivers and subsequent spread of water related diseases to those who use the water downstream, the majority of whom are the vulnerable groups in the informal settlements.  

Figure 2: The distribution of dumpsites and sewerage works in Harare.

While the project revealed that data on various urban issues is important for resilience building, there are challenges with collection, storage and retrieval of that data and this affects decision making and planning processes to tackle vulnerabilities affecting cities. This is an area which needs to be improved on as local authorities embark on resilience planning and building initiatives. 

(Article Updated March 2021)