The urban challenges of a booming Maputo

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Mozambique has one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, driven by coal mining and other extractive industries. [1] Nowhere is this prosperity more noticeable than in the capital Maputo, where cranes straddle the city building scores of new tower blocks. But this boom has so far failed to benefit the majority of the population, many of whom still live in poverty.

In Maputo, half of households live on less than US$125 a month. [2] The metropolitan area formed by Maputo and the adjoining city of Matola is one of the fastest-growing in Africa. It has 2.5 million inhabitants, forecast to rise to more than four million by 2025. [3]. Its growth was kick-started by the country’s civil war, which ran between 1977 and 1992, as people fled to the safe haven of this government-controlled area.

In the 1980s, the city introduced a programme to curb unplanned expansion by redistributing thousands of plots of land to citizens for housing. The UN recognised this Strategic Action Planning programme as a model of planning for poor urban areas. [3]

But expansion since then has been largely unregulated, overstretching the city’s health, education and transport systems — and even leading to riots over food and transport costs. Most residents now live in inadequate housing on low lying areas on the outskirts prone to flash flooding. Around three-quarters of the population lack access to piped water and sewage systems, leading to outbreaks of malaria and waterborne diseases including cholera. [4]

This photo gallery illustrates some of the pressing challenges faced by Maputo and its residents — challenges that the country’s new-found income has yet to resolve.

Jon Spaull was assisted by Charles Mangwiro in Maputo.

This article is part of the Spotlight on Transforming cites for sustainability.


[1] African economic outlook 2014 (African Development Bank, the OECD Development Centre and the UN Development Programme, 2014)
[2] Ines Raimundo and others The state of food insecurity in Maputo, Mozambique (African Food Security Urban Network, 2014)
[3] Jørgen Eskemose Andersen and Paul Jenkins Urban development in Maputo: Strategic action planning on a tight budget (LSE Cities, November 2011)

[4] Júlio Carrilho and others Mozambique cities profile (UN-Habitat, 2010)