aerial view of sunset and clouds in swakpomund

Formal houses being built on the northern edge of Swakopmund. The pipeline which supplies drinking water to town is visible in the lower right.

Namibia is a beautiful desert country in southwestern Africa. It's easy to find vast expanses of open land here, especially in the south - the roads are long and straight, and the twin cities of Walvis Bay and Swakopmund stand like fortresses guarding the thin strip between the icy Atlantic ocean and inhospitable sand dunes. Many travelers come to Namibia to "escape" real life and find something in the desert which approximates a simple, uncomplicated existence - perhaps finding an inner peace in the stillness. Even Angelina Jolie came to give birth to her daughter Shiloh, a type of birth tourism the irony of which did not escape many who live here. 
Namibia, like many developing areas of the world, is seeing a tremendous growth in urban areas. In Swakopmund (shown here) the pace of growth is one of the fastest in the country, growing by 188% since 1991. The vast majority of the growth has been shacks - tin shacks in which a growing number of Namibia’s poor live. In fact, while the number of brick or block houses has doubled since 1991, the number of shacks has grown seven times over. That’s 700%. This represents a major shift in population away from rural areas to cities, a huge challenge for job creation, service delivery, and health. Namibia is different in this sense from South Africa, which is already heavily urbanized.
aerial view of a slum in swakopmund

Namibia is undergoing a rapid and major transition from a rural-based society to one based largely in urban areas. Informal settlements like these, on the outskirts of the foggy coastal city of Swakopmund, have grown rapidly in the last 10 years. About one fourth of Namibia’s population is obliged to live in shanty shacks under deplorable conditions, and even if they have the money to build with permanent construction materials, the law does not allow many of them to do so.

aerial view of a large slum in swakpomund

The "informal" area of DRC (Democratic Resettlement Community) has ballooned from its roots as a temporary housing area to a city in itself, equal in population to the formal areas of Swakopmund. 

The Salt Company, located just north of Swakopmund, creates over 120,000 tons of salt per year, mainly for export to South Africa.  

These salt ponds have differing algae levels which give them their beautiful red and orange hues. 

aerial view of a large slum in swakpomund

Another angle on the DRC informal settlement looking west, toward the Atlantic Ocean. Fog often shrouds Namibia's coastline due to the interaction of hot desert air with the cold air above the ocean. Sometimes temperatures even a few kilometers inland will be 10-15 degrees warmer. 

Growth of cities is preferable for many reasons - sustainability, prosperity, solidarity. Cities make it possible to provide hospital services, jobs, waste removal, power generation, higher education, and organized sports. Cities are more efficient in almost every way. 
But rapid urbanization can create vast slums, continuing the level of poverty found in rural areas but with a much lower quality of life. This is the situation found now in much of Africa, and government officials struggle to grow their cities fast enough to accommodate this vast influx of people. Historic injustices of colonization, apartheid and economic inequality mean that there is no "quick" way to provide services to city dwellers with local tax revenue, requiring national, and even international, interventions to prevent the current catastrophe of a two-tiered society becoming even more sharply divided. Namibia and South Africa currently vie for the title of world's most unequal country
How can we make sure this historic population shift is done in the best way, ensuring quality of life, dignity, and prosperity to all? The decisions made by city planners in the next few years will be critical to the long term viability of cities like Swakopmund and Windhoek.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
aerial view of jeep driving in sand dunes

The area just outside Swakopmund is desert, with little to no population or development. A 4x4 is essential. 

aerial view of a canyon in the desert

Uranium mines in the Namib desert make Namibia globally significant. Namibia is one of Africa's only uranium exporters, and poised to expand operations

aerial view of a slum in swakopmund

More information on Namibian urbanization can be found here

aerial view of a slum at sunset in swakopmund

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