Fifty Years of Independence – The Zambian Economy Part II – Water and Sanitation

Dimitria Lubinga collecting water from an unsafe open well that is 20 minutes walk from her house, Habeenzu village, Zambia
Dimitria Lubinga collecting water from an unsafe open well that is 20 minutes walk from her house, Habeenzu village, Zambia

As we turn fifty, we continue to ask ourselves some very important questions. This time, on water and sanitation. Can our economy attain middle income status without safe water and sanitation? Certainly not.

The provision of water and sanitation has been well articulated in various government policies such as the Integrated Water Resources Management and Water Efficiency (IWRM/WE). [1]

The question still remains, are we on course to attaining the 100% access rate to safe drinking water and sanitation by 2030 as spelled out in Vision 2030. [2[Vision 2030 has also set 2015 as the year for attainment of 50 per cent provision of safe drinking water and sanitation to the Zambian population.  These are commendable targets, but are we doing enough to realise them.

The prevalence of water borne diseases; especially cholera, spread by bacterium vibrio cholerae has become perennial with the onset of the rainy season. We can hope that government driven efforts in this area will prove effective enough to avert further loss of lives to this controllable and preventable scourge.


One of the staring points obviously is educating our public on safe practices and emphasise the importance of this aspect. The next important stage is conscientious effort in the provision of safe drinking water and management of these services by local authorities in conjunction with the private sector. This effort should not be left to the state alone if indeed a sustainable result is to be realised.

We should understand why for so many years, Soweto Market has been associated with filthy as a result of poor garbage collection/management at that busy market compounded by lack of drainage and not to talk about proper roads and ablutions for the public.

The demand for water and sanitation continues to increase.

As at 2010, the demand for water for both domestic and industrial applications was estimated to be 1,330,000 mwhile the supply capacity was only 996,000 m3 representing a shortfall of about 30%. Well, the demand side is projected to reach 2,402,000 m3 by 2015 [3](next year), we can only see the shortage escalating to well above 40% unless enough is being done to reverse the shortage.

In this vain, the construction of dams, installation of safe and protected boreholes needs to be augmented with the private sector and communities taking central roles. While governments may come and go, communities will remain. That’s the more reason why communities should be given priority consideration in this effort.

As at 2010, only 84% of urban households had access to safe drinking water and sanitation while rural areas only 49%. [4] This is a realized goal in terms of target 10 of MDG number 7 “to halve by 2015, the proportion of the population without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation” [5]. We should commend this achievement and accelerate towards reaching 100% access for all.

The proportion of the population serviced by solid waste collection was only 40% as at 2010 according to the SNDP. While this be as it may, community based efforts such as Water sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) [6] which supports the provision of improved sustainable access to safe adequate sanitation facilities and better hygiene practices in schools and communities needed to be scaled up.

Regarding garbage disposal and collection, the author offers the following short term solution to supplement existing interventions:


As for garbage disposal, we can manage it well if we emulate the conduct of national housing and population census which employs students at senior secondary schools, teachers and other individuals from the general populace. To these we should add college and university students and staff to help roll out the program on a national scale.  This is a resource that is readily available both for deployment and ease coordination. They could be agents of mass education also about best practices to promote sanitation. They will serve as a cheap way out. This program could be floated to various institutions of learning. Those who are willing and available for the exercise could enlist with the council or whichever department is coordinating the exercise. Remuneration should be budgeted for – of course as well as provision of safe working gear to do the job.

It is our country, it is our community, it is our garbage, it is our health at risk and we should therefore get involved regardless of our social status – that’s how battles of this nature can be easily won.  Keep Zambia clean and healthy this rain season and beyond. No incidence of water borne disease should take another life.

Have you ever wondered why and how come we have very few, where available, public ablution blocks in our city centres? Is this the best way of doing things at 50?

[1] Integrated Water Resources Management and Water Efficiency (IWRM/WE) implementation Plan, Vol 1: Main Report (2007-2030), April 2008.

[2] Republic of Zambia Vision 2030 – “A prosperous Middle-Income Nation by 2030”.

[3] Sixth National Development Plan 2011-2015.

[4] Living Conditions Monitoring Survey report 2006 and 2010.

[5] Zambia Millennium Development Goals Progress report 2008.

[6] Global Health Initiative Strategy Zambia 2011-2015.

Elarm Chalusa