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Urban kids wallow in poverty

URBAN centres in the country are experiencing high levels of poverty, with child poverty increasingly taking on an urban face, as one out of 10 children is living in extreme poverty, according to a study conducted by the University of Zimbabwe Institute of Environmental Studies (IES).

Wongai Zhangazha

IES, in collaboration with Unicef, carried out a Specialised Urban Poverty Study in 2013 in two low-income suburbs of Harare — Highfield and Epworth — with the aim of capturing information on child deprivations to counter national statistics that urban children are better off when compared to their rural peers.

The study was presented this week at an international conference on “Reducing Urban Risks and Poverty Enhancing Livelihoods and Resilience: Towards Resilient Urban Communities” organised by IES and Unicef.

Qualitative and quantitative methods were administered to 500 households selected randomly in Epworth and Highfield as well as to children working and living on the streets.

Key interviews with staff at schools, clinics, orphanages and police stations were also carried out.

The study analysed poverty using two definitions — the income-based, consumption expenditure approach to poverty and the deprivations approach, which measures indicators of multi-dimensional poverty. These include children’s shelter, education, health, nutrition, access to water and sanitation.

According to the study, two out of three children were in poverty with consumption below the recommended levels, while one out of 10 was living in extreme poverty.

“Female-headed households had higher levels of extreme poverty than male-headed households. Poverty levels in Epworth were even higher with four out five households living under the poverty line and almost one out of five households were in extreme poverty,” states the study.

“Inequality was relatively high in the sample with 80% of the children living in households that had access to a consumption expenditure share of 55%. The Gini Coefficient (a measure of statistical dispersion intended to represent the income distribution of a nation’s residents) was calculated at 0,463, indicating that levels of inequality in the sample were relatively high.”

The major drivers of poverty highlighted by the study are lack of income from permanent employment, low education levels of the household head, large family size, low cash transfers and short period of residence in the suburb.

In addition to the challenges, debt emerged as the biggest challenge of urban life and many households were getting deeper into debt mainly to pay rent, electricity, water, personal needs, education and food.

“Two in three households were in debt, the average debt in Highfield was almost US$900, but some households have as high as US$7 000. In Epworth the average debt was US$200 though some households owed as much as US$3 000,” says the study.

According to the survey, only 43% used electricity for cooking with over three-quarters of those in Highfield and only 8% in Epworth.

The water situation in Epworth was regarded as a cause for concern with 60% of children in Epworth living in households that sourced unsafe water from unprotected wells.

Solid waste disposal was problematic in the sampled areas as “moulds of solid waste were a common sight along the streets of the two suburbs.

On children living and working on the streets, the study found that 73% faced challenges that ranged from hunger, illness, insecurity and violence while 9% reported that they got government support, and 34% said they received support from non-governmental organisations.

IES deputy director Jeanette Manjengwa said the specialised urban poverty study in the two high-density suburbs has provided new insights and evidence that can inform the discourse on child poverty and the various deprivations faced by urban children that retard their physical, social and economic development.

“The findings can contribute towards formulation and strengthening of policies and actions that prioritise urban children and assist in the fulfilment of their rights,” she said.

“Income poverty is the overwhelming problem affecting the well-being of the urban residents and children in the study. More money would enable urban families to address the multi-dimensional aspects of poverty and child deprivations.”

Manjengwa said the specialised urban poverty study is currently being followed up by the Urbanisation and Risk in Zimbabwe: Reducing Risk and Resilience Study which builds on the new and the unique dataset to specifically better understand the relationship between both urbanisation and risk.

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