Makoko, a Floating Slum in Nigeria

Apr 16, 2014 5 comments

The shanty town of Makoko is located on a lagoon on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, a stone’s throw from the modern buildings that make up Lagos, the biggest town in Nigeria and the main commercial and industrial center. In this sprawling slum on the waterfront, adjacent to the 10 km long Third Mainland Bridge, tens of thousands of people live in rickety wood houses raised on slits. There are no official census records, but estimates suggest some 150,000 to 250,000 people live here.

Makoko used to be a small fishing village built by fishermen who came from Benin to make money more than a hundred years ago, before it grew into an illegally constructed one-square-kilometer urban settlement. The population now consists mainly of migrant workers from West African countries, trying to make a living in Nigeria. The oily black water is no longer suitable for fishing; it emits a pungent smell, and a thick layer of white scum gathers around the shack stilts.


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The houses on water are built from hardwood, supported by wood stilts driven deep into the waterbed. Each house usually houses between six to ten people and a high percentage are rental properties. The residents use dug out canoe to navigate the canals that crisscross between the houses. Aside from transportation, canoes are also used for fishing and act as points of sale where women sell food, water and household goods.

For decades, residents in Makoko have had no access to basic infrastructure, including clean drinking water, electricity and waste disposal, and prone to severe environmental and health hazards. Communal latrines are shared by about 15 households and wastewater, excreta, kitchen waste and polythene bags go straight into the water they’ve lived on top of. The only way to get potable water is to buy them from vendors who get it from boreholes. The government provides no free water to Makoko residents. Indeed, the government doesn’t want Makoko residents living there at all. On July, 2012, the government swooped into the low-lying coastal community and demolished many of the floating houses and other illegal structures. The officials cited health and sanitation concerns, but some locals suspect that the underlying motivation is a desire to sell off the area lucratively to property developers.

The media outcry following the demolition and the community’s protest led the state government to announce a regeneration plan to provide accommodation for 250,000 people and employment opportunities for a further 150,000. Recently, a team of architects devised a floating school built from plastic barrels that has space for classrooms as well as play area.

More Floating Villages: Kampong Phluk, Ganvie and Cat Ba


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The floating school. Photo credit: NLÉ architects


Photo credit: NLÉ architects


Photo credit: NLÉ architects

Source: Aljazeera / CNN / Future Cape Town


  1. Great photos. Why is voluntary family planning not mentioned along with the other basic health services that Makoko lacks? The fertility rate of Nigeria is 5.49 and Makoko's is likely higher. That means that if the project to build housing for the current pop of 250,000 (an estimate I see elsewhere) takes ten years (an optimistic guess), it will fall short of the population in 2024 by about 79,000. And 25 years from now, when today's babies are ready to find meaningful work and start their own families, the population of Makoko will be TWICE what it is today. Meanwhile 1 in 5 Nigerian women want to stop or space their pregnancies, but are not accessing contraception - along with the northern part of the country having some of the highest death rates due to pregnancy/ childbirth in the world. Here is a good article with a short video on Makoko: And see our project on population and climate at UC Berkeley here:

  2. In the Nigerian culture a person is judged socially by their fertility. A person who cannot have a child is viewed as inadequate. Marriage is less important than giving birth. The Yoruba tribe is prevalent in Lagos. The Yoruba have the highest multiple child births of any race. Twins, triplets and even higher natural multiple births are common in the tribe. The infrastructure in Lagos is terrible. They can't seem to to provide electricity more than just a few hours a day to the entire city. The roads are terrible and most people have to purchase their drinking water as there. There are limited jobs available. The schools are closed more than they are open due to the teachers always being on strike. For Nigeria being one of the richest countries in Africa, most people have to survive on less that $1.00-$2.00 per day. I pray for the people of Nigeria.

    1. I am sorry, but what will pray will do???? And I am not being sarcastic, I just want to find somebody in the world that would probe me wrong. Thanks.


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