In a rapidly urbanising world, Malawi remains one of the least urbanised countries in Africa. Approximately 16.7 percent of Malawi’s population live in urban areas. Nevertheless, the country is urbanising at a moderate rate of approximately 3.7–3.9 percent per year. If growth continues at this rate, by 2030, approximately 20 percent of the population will be city dwellers, reaching 30 percent in 2050.
This urban growth has the potential to improve economic opportunities and living conditions across Malawi. This is particularly significant given that approximately 69 percent of the population are living under the international poverty line of US$1.9/day in purchasing power parity terms. However, challenges are also associated with this shift and concentration of population. With urbanisation comes a substantial amount of new construction.
In Malawi, much of this new construction has occurred in cities and towns with limited capacity to ensure the structures in which people live, work and gather are safely sited and built to withstand chronic stresses (i.e. fire and spontaneous collapse) and disaster shocks (i.e. earthquakes and floods). In Lilongwe, for example, estimates indicate that 76 percent of residents live in informal settlements. These settlements are generally characterised by a lack of access to public services, tenure insecurity and inadequate housing.
An efficient and transparent building regulatory process can also incentivise economic investment in the construction sector by providing the market with a clear set of design and construction requirements and performance expectations.