22 November 2012

Zambia: No Handouts to Flood-Prone Areas

RAINY season usually brings joy to the farmers as it is time for them to cultivate and plant their seeds in anticipation of the next harvest.

It is also a time for ripening of seasonal fruits such as mangoes, masuku and a variety of wild mushrooms alongside caterpillars for that traditional savory dish.

But on the contrary the rainy season becomes a moment of agony for some Lusaka families, especially those residing in flood prone areas.

It is a crucial time of reminiscing.

Most families in these affected areas have remained adamant despite repeated calls by local leaders for them to move to higher and safer grounds before the on-set of the rains.

They have resorted to such actions in the hope that the annual event of shifting which has been done under the auspices of previous governments which carries with it a myriad of goodies would be repeated to them.

Alas the current leadership has declined profusely to extend such kind of gestures which normally attract huge sums of tax payers money which could be channeled into other meaningful development projects if such trends were avoided.

"IF people living in Lusaka's flood-prone areas think government will this year come to their rescue when the deluge hits them, they are misleading themselves," says Ashell Kampengele the Lusaka District Commissioner.

These candid words to a lay person may appear harsh although coming from a decisive public official but on closer scrutiny he seems to have a solid point which should be taken seriously.

He says colossal sums of money have been spent by the previous government in the recent years all in the name of creating a short term and less helpful solution for the people of Misisi.

"We cannot be evacuating people year in year out... it is not 'Kuomboka ceremony'... these people know very well how dangerous that place is and continue renting houses as low as K50,000 in Misisi. What do they want in Misisi which they cannot find in other safer places?...This time we are firm on our decision they have to move on their own ," he says.

Mr Kampengele seems to have put his foot firmly on the ground over this matter and says he is yet to sound the very last warning to the flood prone residents. This is despite the repeated warnings from the office of the vice-president.

What the District commissioner is trying to clearly communicate is the reality that no budget has been allocated for any form of repatriation exercise for who would-be flood victims in Lusaka this year by the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU).

So far, calm still reigns as there has not been a serious down-pour yet with ravaging consequences in these flood prone areas to warrant mass evacuation.

As such, the yester year's flood disaster memories are as good as erased off the minds of these residents.

Taking a walk in Lusaka's Misisi Township, known for grabbing headlines for obvious flood related challenges coupled with garbage-ridden scenario and death traps in the name of open quarries, a picture of indecision emerges on many faces.

To these residents, there is no need for panic.

What is so apparent is that many of these residents seem to have continued folding their arms in what seems like false hope that the year will be flood free contrary to what meteorologists have projected-the slightly above normal downpour this year.

In normal circumstances, these residents would have been pressing a panic button by now looking at the on-set of the rains and the DMMU warnings, but the opposite seems to be the case.

As these residents go about their daily activities, normally it is deceivingly as though they are living their last to the fullest, minding less of the impending natural disaster that might ruthlessly hit them in a few weeks time.

These are mainly huge families that mainly arise from non adherence to family planning interventions another social problems that needs tackling.

Large numbers as they might be, these people live in small down-trodden and unventilated ramshackles. In most cases, a single room would be enough for a family of up to six or even more.

Few metres away is a scantily contracted pit latrine releasing a nose-pinching stench, leaving one to wonder how these people have gotten used to this kind of lifestyle and have continued to refuse better alternatives.

In fact, not long ago, a man was fished out of a pit latrine after it collapsed while inside and was a typical specter of a private television station to several viewers. This is a life just as if not really in Lusaka or part of Zambia!

In the morning of a working day, men, both elderly and youthful, sit outside shoddily constructed beer houses enjoying a locally prepared intoxicating brew with loud conversations on mostly adultery, wife battering, and soccer. This is spiced up with deafening local music.

One stunning reality on these beer gatherings is the ever availability of the banned intoxicating liquor sachets known as tujilijili.

Trade of illicit drugs like cannabis is never strange in these areas. The long arm of the law seems to elude these unplanned settlements.

It is so clear that these gatherings discuss nothing close to looming natural disaster such that discussing the Government's order for the residents to move to safer grounds away from these boundaries becomes an infuriation, especially amid a drinking spree.

James Kangwa proved less volatile than the other men who did not even want to discuss any issue to do with their lifestyles.

Kangwa had to be tactfully isolated from the rest for him to freely express himself. He confesses that he and fellow residents have heard the warning from the vice-president's office but have chosen to ignore it.

He maintains that the warning is not beyond question as the government has not offered alternative places where people should voluntarily move to before the floods strike.

"Moving is not a problem... but my question is; where to? We have not heard from the DC where he wants us to relocate to because if we allocate ourselves land it will be another disaster because the council will come straight to demolish our structures," he says.

But Mr Kampengele says Misisi residents know where they should go and that it is not the first time they have been warned to vacate from this area that has proved not fit for human habitation.

"It is not government's duty to find houses for people to rent, in the first place, how did they even find Misisi? The same way they found houses for rent in Misisi, is the same method they will use to look for accommodation in other safe places," says the DC

It has been proved beyond fears that this place (Misisi) is not just a residential area and Mr Kampengele seems in a hurry to put things right and says the PF government will make sure all illegality in the cosmopolitan city of Lusaka is dealt with there and then.

One would only wonder what would become of these people, especially if water borne diseases which are common during the wet season like cholera, dysentry, diarrhoea and typhoid break out.Will this not be another recipe for a national disaster?

So come rain on the part of government, the writing is on the wall in black and white, "No hand-outs to the Misisi flood victims this year".

So the onus really is on the residents to move out now or get caught up in the impending disaster of which government does not wish to get itself entangled with.

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