50 Years of Independence – The Zambian Economy Part IV (b)- Housing, Jobs, Poverty and Health

Elarm Chalusa
Elarm Chalusa

Having looked at the health related parameters of our populace, its expected life expectancy at birth, status of HIV/AIDS situation, ability to combat major infectious diseases, hospital bed and physician density as well as infant and maternal mortality rates, this edition endeavours to delve into the housing, jobs and poverty issues to see where we stand at FIFTY YEARS.

It is a shared dream of every Zambian to see all and sundry live in prosperity even as we celebrate our jubilee as a liberated nation, a sovereign state and a people with self determination. It is worthwhile asking whether we are able to rejoice and celebrate for the most part this political emancipation. This is especially real when one ponders upon the realities of shelter, jobs and poverty.

When our television stations, our state house, our independence stadia and other public places show people rejoicing about this liberty, how many tummies still go to bed hungry? How many, in the midst of all this frenzy are not even certain of when and where their next meal will be? How many will celebrate this jubilee from the comfort of a modest, habitable place they can call home – never mind the sweet home aspect? As we do so for this year, how does the current status compare to a decade ago, two decades past and going even further to Independence Day itself.

While there is obviously a numerical increase in the number of housing units, we certainly have not done so well.


Housing happens to be a fundamental human right and it contributes to the social en economic development of the country. Therefore every human being should be accorded the dignity of decent shelter. One needs not be a researcher to find uncontested evidence of inadequate decent housing units in Zambia. The ram shackles, the slams that form the majority of our every city is revealing. Not to talk about the mud houses still prevalent in most our villages and yet we manufacture cement locally.

The 1996 housing Policy was enacted to address the issues of housing shortage in the country. Has this produced dividends?

As at 2001, Zambia is reported to have had 2,311,988 housing units with 80% being informal with poor services. At that time, it was envisage that by constructing some 150,000 housing units annually up to 2011, the housing situation could be alleviated. But has this been achieved? Unfortunately, this is not the case. This is shown in the Sixth National development Plan 2011-2015 which spells out the need to construct the same number of housing units per year up to 2015 – being 100,000 (low cost), 40,000 (medium cost) and 10,000 (high cost) houses per year in ten districts.

The SNDP 2011-2015 includes the following strategies to address the housing problem:

  • Carry out Housing needs assessment for each district;
  • Encourage Home Ownership and Rental Housing schemes;
  • Provide serviced land for private housing development
  • Mobilize cheap long-term finance from the capital market for housing development;
  •  Review the National Housing Policy; and
  • Implement the Public Service Housing scheme.


While this is being done we should reflect on the facts we already know as we chat the way forward.

To begin with, the cost of formal houses is beyond the reach of many Zambians when one considers our per capital income. Secondly, where these houses exist, they are not adequate. The contributions of the National Housing Authority, Presidential Housing Initiative and similar interventions have proved to be a drop in the ocean. These approaches are not adequate to mitigate the housing challenges.

The Housing Finance Year Book 2013 reports that the cost of houses in Zambia is very expensive, and ranks among the most expensive on the continent. The report continues that only about 1% of Zambians can afford cheapest formal houses pegged at $68,363 – World Bank Poverty Survey. Elsewhere, a cheap house fetches for $30,000 on average.

So what needs to be done?

Since our communities are easy to mobilise for this cause – there is obviously an abundance of labour and enough qualified personnel to not only provide training and supervision to construct these housing units en mass. This can be achieved using a bottom – up approach. The whole exercise should be revisited by integrating our communities in the drive. The cost of labour will decrease substantially, the rate of completion of multiple housing units at any one given point will increase exponentially. While the NHA plus other state run institutions have the mandate to oversee these projects, they lack the capacity to accommodate Zambians at an acceptable rate. They have failed. So, let them continue, if need be, with the role of overseeing these projects as they continue with their snail pace activities on the other hand while allowing communities to develop themselves. We therefore need to break from the past ways of doing things that do not deliver at FIFTY YEARS.

Can we for once imagine how many jobs this community based approach would generate nationwide? With our population increasing at an average of 2.5% per year, this effort can be here to stay and voila! Sustainable jobs for many will have been created.


Why is employment important? It is because it is one of the major determinants of ones economical status as well as being a determinant of one’s economic contribution to self or, family, community, society at large and the nation as a whole.

Employment or lack of it to a large extent determines whether or not some body lives in want or plenty.

To discuss this segment, it is important to describe salient and pertinent terminology being:

  • Working population: comprises economically active and economically inactive members of the population.
  • Economically active: also called the labour force includes those who are employed and those who are not employed. This group comprises those whose main economic activity status is to supply their labour for the production of goods and services.
  • Employed: those who are working for profit or pay, those who are on leave and those who are unpaid or family business.
  • Unemployed: unemployed and seeking work.
  • Not seeking work such as students, invalids, pensioners, mendicants etc.
  • The working age comprises persons of 12 years and above.

Over the past 30 years, Zambia’s work force has varied as follows:

  • 1980: 1,744,183
  • 1990: 2,162,487
  • 2000: 3,165,151 of whom 2,755,379 were employed, 409,772 unemployed
  • 2010: 4,259,170

Clearly, always increasing but of course not enough.

As at 2010, 55.2% of the labour force was inactive while only 44.8% was active –sustaining an economy of 13 million plus!

Out of the existing actively employed, skilled agriculture and forestry account for 53.8% followed elementary occupation at 12.8%

According to the International Standard of Industrial Classification of all Economic Activity Revision IV (ISIC Rev 4), the agricultural industry accounted for 66.5% of the economically active.

The CIA World Fact Book estimates for 2013 puts agro sector at 85%, industry, 6% and services at 9%. When one considers the net contribution of the agro sector to the nations GDP, one understands why we are lagging behind in the fight against poverty and why we continue to struggle with job creation.

In spite of the majority of our workforce being in this sector, the sector is not developed enough to pay well, generate economies of scale and therefore contribute in a significant way towards national worth in view of the manpower it absorbs.

Since the agro sector has already position itself as far as job creation is concerned, pragmatic steps are needed urgently to make the sector even more lucrative than the mining sector for instance which employs much less numbers.


The theme of the Sixth National Development Plan reads “Sustained Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction”. It is commendable that the state has taken up the issue of poverty reduction seriously. Other initiatives such as the poverty reduction paper which serve to underscore the importance attached to this effort need supporting.

The question is, are doing enough to attain the millennium development goal of halving extreme poverty by 2015?

Well this 2014, what proportion is till languishing in extreme poverty? We do not expect much jubilation from these about our political emancipation when they continually court with the reigns of poverty, want and lack. Hope, half of these will calibrate from this bracket by this time next year. We however look forward to a time when extreme poverty is not anywhere near our borders. Can you for once imagine the nature of independence celebration then?


The people of Zambia will truly celebrate independence when all and sundry are redeemed from the shackles of poverty in its various forms. When the nation’s people enjoy good health and related facilities, have access to modest shelter and when they have food on their table, we can then call a national party and celebrate. Well, is that realistic? Yes it is. Any state which comes to power believing that a certain fraction of its population shall – no matter what happens – remain in abject poverty does not deserve a shot at the helm of our leadership.

We need leaders who are allergic to poverty, to slams, to unemployment, to preventable diseases to all forms of social vices that subtract from human dignity.

As we turn FIFTY YEARS, what things are we doing differently?

Is it good enough, then continue or up the scale or pace or both. Is it not yielding, stop it, break with the past and give room to informed change. With independence comes liberty, unlimited liberty to self determination and destiny. We are not there yet. We are where we are because we are doing what we are doing.






Sixth National Development Plan 2011 – 2015
Zambia 2010 Census of Population and Housing National Analytical Report