UN-Habitat Country Programme D
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UN-Habitat Country Programme Document 2008-2009 - Malawi

The Habitat Country Programme Document for Malawi outlines the main development objectives and priorities in the area of shelter and human settlements in Malawi. In collaboration with the Government, local and international partners, and other UN Agencies, the overall aim of this HCPD is to attain sustainable urbanisation and reduce urban poverty.

Through an analysis of seven key sectors including: Governance, Land, Housing, Water and Sanitation, Urban planning and management and HIV/ AIDS and through partnerships with the Malawi Local Government Association, the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Housing, and Ministries responsible for Land, Housing and Local Government, UN-HABITAT has assisted to identify key urban issues and areas of support to improve the urban situation in Malawi.




Malawi is one of the fastest urbanizing countries in the world with an annual urban growth rate higher than five percent and an urban population of 20% of its entire population. Absolute urban growth in Malawi will exceed rural growth before 2025 with an urban population increase of 214,000 per annum during 2020-2025 compared to 193,000 in the rural areas.

Urban planning in Malawi was delegated to the cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and the Municipality of Zomba in 1992. The Local Government Act of 1998 obligated all assemblies to draw up plans for the social, economic and environmental development of their areas. Urban planning in Malawi has traditionally been based on the structure planning concept demarcating the urban space into land use zones.

Land in Malawi is governed by the Land Act of 1965 and the Registered Land Act of 1967. Various land and land related bills are yet to be enacted by Parliament in order to operationalize the Malawi National land Policy of 2002, which seeks to ensure tenure security and equitable access to land and its sustainable use.

The most significant urban sector challenges facing Malawi today are rapid urbanization and growing urban poverty. The rapid urbanization has led to a pressing housing demand that far exceeds the rate of new housing delivery. As a result, 80% of the demand is met through informal housing, resulting in insecure tenure, poor quality of housing and overcrowding.

“Urban resilience has often not been prioritized by different actors in the country. The perception that urban areas are less vulnerable has contributed to this. There is, however, a change in perception taking place. UN Habitat’s work in urban resilience, including the work on resilience assessment and planning through the CityRAP tool is very commendable. As government, we hope we will see more players supporting urban areas in building resilience to climate change and disasters, particularly now when we are seeing more frequent and severe disasters in urban areas”

James Chiusiwa

Director of Risk Reduction, Department of Disaster Management Affairs, Office of the Vice President, Malawi


As of 2018, 16 percent of Malawi’s population reside in urban areas, slightly increasing from 15.3 percent in the 2008 census, where 12 percent are in Malawi’s four cities of Mzuzu, Lilongwe, Zomba and Blantyre and the remaining two percent reside in town and municipal councils. Limited revenue collection and planning capacity, weak governance structures, poor land use planning, threat of climate change and disasters, high levels of informal settlement and unregulated developments are major challenges affecting sustainable urbanization in Malawi.

Informal settlement in Malawi’s four cities range between 60 and 75 percent, with an average of 65 percent of the urban population living in informal settlements. In recent years, the country has witnessed an increase in the frequency and magnitude of disasters in urban areas, most of which linked to climate change and variability and a manifestation of poor planning, limited drainage system, inadequate and unregulated waste disposal and settlement in high risk areas.

Urban numbers

Urban Population (2018): 16.9%

Urban Growth Rate (2015-2020): 4.19%

The urban population annual growth rate is 4.19%


International Organization for Migration
European Commission
Adaptation Fund Board


James Chiusiwa Director of Risk Reduction, Department of Disaster Management Affairs, Office of the Vice President, Malawi
Director of Risk Reduction,
Department of Disaster Management Affairs, Office of the Vice President, Malawi
  • Total value of UN-Habitat investments (2008-2015): US$ 1,752,113
  • Total number of UN-Habitat projects (2008-2015): 6 projects
  • Main donors: IBRD World Bank,UNDP Malawi, Cities Alliance and FAO, European Commission and the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Secretariat   
  • Implementing partners: FAO, COOPI, CARE, UNDP, CCODE, UNDP, Habitat for Humanity, Christian Aid

In the period between 2008-2013, UN-Habitat had activities in Karonga, Nsanje Chikwawa District, and a slum upgrading and city development strategy project in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba.

General information

Population: 15.91 million

GDP: US$4.264 billion

GDP growth: 1.9%

Urban population (annual %): 16%

Population growth rate (average annual %): 2.9%

Urban population growth rate (average annual %): 3.8%

Rural population growth rate (average annual %): 2.7% Source: World Bank, 2012

Major cities:  Malawi is divided into 28 districts within 3 regions. Its major cities are Lilongwe (capital), Blantyre, Zomba, Kasungu, Mangochi, Karonga, Salima, Nkhotakota, Liwonde and Nsanje.

UN-Habitat projects in Malawi

Improving Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion in Peri- Urban Areas of Mzuzu City and Karonga Town in Malawi

Objective of the project

The overall objective of the Action is to contribute to poverty reduction and an improvement in livelihoods for the target population. The specific objectives are to:

  1. Increase access to safe water supply in the informal settlements of Mzuzu and Karonga.
  2. Increase access to basic and improved sanitation in the informal settlements of Mzuzu and Karonga.
  3. Promote hygiene and sanitation awareness in the informal settlements
  4. enhance the capacity of local institutions and communities to sustainably operate and manage water and sanitation facilities as well as hygiene promotion programmes

Main Components of the Project

The safe water supply component involves, rehabilitation of the facilities, extending the network, construction of water kiosks and installation of group connection in informal settlements, and installation of water connections to schools.

The sanitation component involve the construction of gender sensitive toilet blocks for the target communities and schools, construction of ECOSAN toilets in market places and construction of biogas digesters in selected places.

The Hygiene Promotion incorporates the aadaptation of Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) and School Led Total Sanitation (SLTS) approaches to the context of peri-urban environment. It also establishes a campaign in the target peri-urban areas to promote the social norms of using latrines and not defecating in the open this component is crucial for the creation of demand for success of subsequent project activities. This will ensure improved safe water handling from the source up to the point of use and proper use of sanitation facilities and disposal of faecal wastes.

The Capacity Development action has been embedded into the project to enhance sustainability of the interventions and improved the service delivery in the targeted towns. Relevant local institutions will be fully involved, their capacity needs identified and relevant trainings provided as necessary.     


The implementation process will follow the established procedures of UN-Habitat, drawing on experiences and lessons learnt from similar projects that have proven to be effective. Accordingly, Agreement of Cooperation (AoC) for the water components has been signed with the Northern Region Water Board (NRWB) and for sanitation and hygiene component with the Center for Community Organization and Development (CCODE)

A Steering Committee, composed of key partners, has been established. The Committee is responsible for the overall strategic guidance on the implementation of the action and. it meets quarterly to monitor progress, resolve problems, approve work plans and keep work on track. UN-Habitat, in close collaboration with the Steering Committee, has the responsibility of monitoring and evaluation of the implementation as well as providing technical and administrative assistance to the partners.  Also, UN-Habitat has established a project management team that is responsible of project follow-up, supervision and management activities.

The project will adopt a comprehensive approach where water supply, sanitation, hygiene and capacity development interventions will be embedded together to enhance improved and sustainable service delivery.

Service sectors covered by the project include: Water, Sanitation, Hygiene Promotion and Capacity Development

Duration: January 2015 to 31 December 2016 

Value: The total value of the project is Euro 2,053,298 and 45% (EURO 923,005.29) is contribution made by European Union. The remaining balance (55%) is the contribution made by other partners (Northern Region Water Board, Mzuzu City Council, Karonga District Council, Center for Community Development, and UN-Habitat)

Donor: European Union, UN-Habitat and Local Partners (Northern Region Water Board, Mzuzu City Council, Karonga District Council, Center for Community Development) 

Implementing Partners: UN-Habitat, Mzuzu City Council, Northern Region Water Board, Karonga District Council, Centre for Community Organization Development (CCODE), and Mzuzu University

Urban Household Sanitation Improvement Project, Lilongwe City, Malawi: the overall Goal is to improve the living conditions of the urban poor by facilitating access to affordable and environmentally friendly sanitation facilities, better sanitation practices, personal hygiene and food security through better management of human excrements.

Support to Living with Floods in Chikwawa District, Lower Shire Valley, Malawi: the overall goal is to reducevulnerability to floods of communities living in low lands prone to low and moderate flooding byreinforcing local capacities and applying sustainable coping solutions through innovative small-scale mitigationinterventions for floods to support the alternative strategy of Living with Floods rather thanrelocation.

Malawi City Development Strategy and Slum Upgrading Programme Phase: to improve the lives of poor people living and working in the slums and informal settlements in urban areas; to build capacity of government. Local authorities and communities to effectively address poor living conditions in the slums and develop strategies to reduce further slum growth.

Support the Establishment of a Technical Centre for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation for Southern Africa (DIMSUR): the main project objective is to support the establishment of the DIMSUR with the mandate of providing DRR and CCA assistance and knowledge to address the needs of national programmes, and therefore reduce the vulnerability and build the resilience of communities to natural hazards.

Regional multi-sectoral DRR assistance programme for Southern Africa (UN-Habitat Basic Infrastructure, Shelter and Urban Risk Assistance): Analysis of food security risks and vulnerabilities in hazard prone urban and peri-urban areas, and develop alternative tools for participatory planning, land use and building norms to address food security related issues.

Donors: The donors for these projects were mainly the European Commission, IBRD World Bank, UNDP Malawi, Cities Alliance and FAO.

Implementing partners:  UN-Habitat worked with several partners namely FAO, COOPI, CARE, UNDP, NGO CCODE, UNDP, Habitat for Humanity, Christian Aid to name a few.

Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme

The Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme aims at improving the lives of slum dwellers by addressing the five deprivations that characterize a slum namely, inadequate water; sanitation; durability of housing, overcrowding and tenure insecurity. Interventions are underpinned by three cross-cutting and complementary approaches: gender approach, human rights based approach, and results-based management approach. Results will add value to the development of policy, institutional, legislative, financial, and normative and implementation frameworks.

  • Implementation Phase: Phase III
  • Duration: 2009 - December 2015
  • Value: US$250,000
  • Donor: European Commission and, the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Secretariat
  • Implementing Partners: UN-Habitat and Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development
  • Profile cities/ location: Cities/ towns of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba


Youth in the township of Salima, Malawi. © Shutterstock
Malawi National Urban Profile
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Malawi: National Urban Profile

The Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme (PSUP) is an accelerated and action-oriented urban assessment of needs and capacity-building gaps at national and local levels. It is currently being implemented in over 30 countries in Africa, Caribbean, and Pacific Region. PSUP uses a structured approach where priority interventions are agreed upon through consultative processes.

The PSUP methodology consists of three phases:

(1) A rapid participatory urban profiling, at national and local levels, focusing on Governance, Local Economic Development, Environment, Land, Shelter and Slums, Gender and HIV/AIDS, and Basic Urban Services and proposed interventions.

(2) Detailed priority proposals.

(3) Project implementation.

PSUP in Malawi encompasses a national profile, as well as profiles for Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba Cities, each published as a separate report.

This report constitutes a general background, a synthesis of the seven themes: Governance and Financial Management, Local Economic Development, Environment, Land, Shelter and Slums, Gender and HIV/AIDS, and Basic Urban Services; and priority project proposals.

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Malawi: Zomba Urban Profile

Under the motto of “Floriate Zomba” (Make Zomba a Flowery City) Zomba City, the first capital of Malawi up to 1975, is undergoing rejuvenation since it was declared a city in March 2008. The city is experiencing rapid population growth with a population of 88,314 in 2008 and an annual growth rate of 3 percent.

Some 51 percent of the city’s population is male and 49 percent is female. The city has a population density of 2,264 per km². The local economy of Zomba comprises of trade and distribution, community and social services, agriculture, and some light industries. Poverty stands at 29 percent and over 60 percent of the population lives in informal settlements.

Comprehensive urban management and development of land use and local economic development plans will help in positively addressing various challenges being faced. The city council needs to foster public-private partnerships (PPP) in order to maximize the potential in urban development and poverty alleviation and improve its capacity in terms of physical economic infrastructure and environmental planning.


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Malawi: Mzuzu Urban Profile

Mzuzu City, with a population of 133,968 and growing at 4.2 percent per annum, is one of the fastest growing cities in Malawi and is the third largest urban centre after Lilongwe and Blantyre. It is the hub of government administration, business, industry, commerce, and services for the northern region of Malawi, and it serves a hinterland with a population of 1,708,930.

Originating from a Tung Oil Estate in 1947, the city has grown from 23km² to 143.8 km² in 2008 and was declared a city in 1985.However, the city lacks adequate infrastructure and services. Over 60 percent of the population lives in unplanned settlements.

The city does not have adequate policies and regulations to support orderly and planned growth.Improvement and expansion of service delivery, proper urban planning and good financial management are crucial for the development of the city.


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Malawi: Blantyre Urban Profile

Blantyre City is the oldest urban centre in Malawi, established by the Scottish Missionaries in the 1870s and declared a planning area in 1897. It is the hub for communication, commercial activities and cooperation in Malawi. The influence of Blantyre declined when Lilongwe became the capital city in 1975. However, it has maintained its grip as the commercial capital of Malawi.

The city offers a number of economic opportunities but lacks resources to meaningfully implement its strategies and provide the required basic social infrastructure and urban services required for economic development to take place. Over 65 percent of the city’s population lives in informal settlements which occupy about 23 percent of the land in Blanytre. Poverty stands at 24 percent while unemployment stands at 8 percent.

Improved governance, revenue collection and management capacity are seen as major factors needed for reducing poverty in the city. The establishment of a development coordinating committee (DCC) is vital for encouraging participation and city management. Policies must be formulated and implemented to address the existing shortfalls and such policies should be pro-poor.Improvement and expansion of service delivery, planning capacity and financial management is a necessity. All in all, the leadership of Blantyre should embrace good governance through principles of sustainability, subsidiarity, equity, transparency and accountability, civic engagement and citizenship, and security.


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Malawi: Lilongwe Urban Profile

Lilongwe, the largest city in Malawi, became the capital and administrative City of Malawi in 1975 after relocating from Zomba. Lilongwe has witnessed a high urbanization rate ever since, accelerated by the relocation of all government head offices from Blantyre to Lilongwe from 2005. The city is divided into four sectors (Old Town, Capital Hill, Kanengo, and Lumbadzi). Lilongwe is situated at the centre of a large agricultural area and there are many economic activities taking place in the city.

However, Lilongwe lacks the necessary financial resources to implement significant development plans and provide the required basic infrastructure and urban services needed for economic development to take place. Lilongwe’s major industry is tobacco processing. Approximately 76 percent of the city’s population lives in informal settlements.

Poverty stands at about 25 percent with unemployment at 16 percent. Improved governance, revenue collection, management capacity, and understanding of the city’s competitive advantages are seen as major factors to address the current development challenges faced in Lilongwe.

MALAWI Urban Housing Sector Pr
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MALAWI Urban Housing Sector Profile

The Malawi Urban Housing Sector Profile is the first in a new UN-HABITAT report series. It is an analytical tool to support a comprehensive assessment of housing delivery systems in different countries tackling access to land, housing finance, basic infrastructure/services, building materials and technology amongst other issues hindering the housing sector to work properly.

It draws recommendations to enable better housing delivery for all.