Zimbabwe’s Urban Resilience Programme

ZIM-Stoneridge_ (14)

Project Background

Dialogue on Shelter, the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation (ZHPF) and the Zimbabwe Young People’s Federation ZYPF) are part of a consortium of non-governmental organisations implementing the Urban Social Assistance Programme in 3 Zimbabwean cities: Harare South, Epworth and Bulawayo. The Urban Social Assistance Programme has two complementary focus areas, namely the cash transfer (CBT) component and the urban resilience (UR) component. Since November 2019, the Zimbabwe SDI alliance has been implementing preliminary activities in order to roll out the urban resilience work with collectives in the targeted domains. The preliminary activities have centered on mobilizing and organising grassroots savings collectives which will spearhead vital community-led urban resilience interventions that are needed alongside cash transfers to improve food security.

What is urban resilience for the Zimbabwe SDI alliance?

Inadequate sources of income may lead to urban food insecurity, but urban poverty cannot easily be addressed by raising income levels. Limited access to safe and secure housing and services directly contributes to malnutrition and food insecurity. Meanwhile, poor tenure can further impair access to basic services and decent housing. The residents of low income and informal settlements are often overlooked by government. These communities often rely on collective organisation and brokered co-production partnerships to secure political visibility and voice to negotiate longer term structural solutions to their problems, for example, the regularisation of their informal neighbourhoods and/or access to affordable services. As a result of inadequate access to services and low incomes, those living in low-income neighbourhoods suffer from increased exposure and sensitivity to the environmental risks including those related to climate change. All these factors affect the ability to build resilience to a range of shocks and stresses. Effective practical responses and strategic policies are needed to address urban food insecurity in both its income and non-income dimensions. the Zimbabwe SDI alliance’s response to these challenges is to promote incremental and participatory slum/informal settlement upgrading through the following activities:

  • Building women-centred savings collectives
  • Community-led data collection processes
  • Emphasising participatory informal settlement upgrading
  • Promoting horizontal learning processes for capacity-building
  • Co-production of knowledge for policy-influencing and advocacy
  • Establishing co-created/co-governed settlement/city level urban poor funds
  • Promoting community-led livelihoods interventions


Complementing cash transfers with community action in urban areas

Whether in rural or urban areas, the focus of social protection efforts by both international and national organisations has been primarily on cash transfers to individual households. Where targeting has been used, there have been concerns that this selectivity reduces solidarity between households in any given neighbourhood and therefore leads to less collective action, whether to do with political pressure or to provide essential goods, rights and entitlements and/or to provide basic services through self-help. Hence, there is a tension between collective action and individual support. While this is not an exclusively urban problem, this tension is exacerbated in urban informal settlements because of the need to negotiate with the state for regularisation and improved access to services. 

More generally it is recognised that there is also a need to build collective social and political capital in order to enhance the resilience of communities in the long run. It is clear that no one financing mechanism can deliver resilient communities. Different social protection and finance mechanisms will continue to serve different purposes. Local savings collectives often provide a space for low income urban communities to save and borrow money, the revolving nature of these funds means that resources can go further. More effective approaches to poverty reduction including food security can be developed by converging and harmonising institutions (local gov, civil society, private sector and humanitarian agencies) to ensure coherent planning and to develop local alliances to enhance local resilience and well as improved development options

Layering urban resilience and cash-based transfer interventions

Under the urban resilience component, the Zimbabwe SDI alliance is implementing a set of activities which are aimed to building resilience amongst the targeted domains. Below, a summary of the activities is provided;

  • Establishment and strengthening of savings collectives – this activity entails the setting up of community-level institutional structures for facilitating savings and loan activities for supporting livelihoods and building resilience. The collectives are constituted on average by 20 households per group with members meeting regularly to save and discuss priorities for the membership. The savings and loan groups will, therefore, be geared towards building a pool of financial resources through which the groups will then, in turn, give out loans to members to meet household requirements such procuring food, meeting medical expenses and school fees. The savings collectives are also meant to contribute towards building the much-needed social cohesion for groups to better engage decision-makers regarding accessing improved urban services.
  • Community networking and exchanges – under this activity, the targeted communities undertake peer-to-peer exchange visits. The exchange visits include on average 5 people from a selected settlement visiting another settlement. The horizontal exchanges seek to provide learning opportunities for communities with similar conditions of vulnerability enabling them to learn how their counterparts are dealing with similar urban shocks. The exchanges, therefore, act as a capacity building and strengthening tool through sharing of experiences around, for instance, resilience-building activities implemented in other geographical parts of the project.
  • Participatory data collection processes – these constituted participatory data collection processes meant to generate information on socio-economic and spatial attributes of the targeted settlements. In particular, the assessments are meant to document urban shocks and community responses. For instance, the recent outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in the need to understand its impacts as an urban shock. The findings from these participatory assessments were in the form of impacts, community responses and settlement development priorities that will help inform and sharpen the resilience building activities. It is also expected that the findings will help in defining a clear agenda on existing infrastructure needs during the engagement processes between the communities and decision-makers thereby enabling the access to improved urban services.

Urban resilience interventions should build on the on-going CBT activities in the targeted domains. Directly layering the urban resilience activities onto the same household that receive CBT proves to be challenging, given the different targeting methodologies associated with urban resilience and CBT activities. For instance, participation in savings collectives is voluntary under the urban resilience pillar, it is not a guarantee that everyone on CBT will join the savings collectives, and there may be some members who have not received CBT but are willing to join the savings collectives under urban resilience. However, given the settlement-wide focus of collective urban resilience interventions, the urban resilience activities have indirectly benefited households that have not been the subject of CBT interventions.