opinionBy Dixon Bwalya
May be at last, maybe finally our built environment may have begun to receive the necessary attention it deserves from those entrusted with the management of our towns and cities.
The Government has this year (and probably for the first time) allocated K9,206,500,000 in the Budget to be disbursed to 10 local authorities for the cleaning up of drainage systems.
By December 21, 2012, according to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Housing, K4,602,250,000 or 50 per cent of the budgeted amount had been disbursed to the 10 councils.
The intention is obviously welcome.
One can only hope that would follow through at implementation stage, going by the past experience in Zambia where very well-intended projects have failed at implementation stage when executors tend to lose focus of the original objectives of the exercise.
While the statement by Government as advertised in the Times of Zambia of December 21, 2012 that blockage of drainages is as a result of either siltation or indiscriminate dumping of garbage is true, it is important to note that this problem has reached this alarming level because of constant neglect by councils to properly clear storm water drains as a routine exercise.
The issue of indiscriminate dumping of garbage, although covered under existing by-laws is exacerbated by the Zambians' poor attitudes and the lack of pride towards management and disposal of garbage which attitudes seem to attract no punishment.
The fact that the state of towns and cities in Zambia does not rank very high even when compared to other countries within the region should not attract much dispute.
This low level quality of Zambian towns has been partially attributed to the colonial policies adopted in town planning by Zambia's colonial masters prior to independence.
However, Zambia lost the opportunity to create home-grown town planning solutions from around 1979 when, as reported by Professor Peter Lloyd in his book "Slums of Hope- shanty towns of the third world", Zambia has allowed town planning and urban management to be controlled by politicians of the dominant political party.
Most of our towns have adopted a "piece meal" approach to urban planning without comprehensive town plans as has been evidenced by a number of extensions to some of our towns.
There have been instances where extensions have been made to our towns and cities without due regard to the provision for such issues as storm water drainage at the time of making extensions and where any future provision for drainage systems would be very difficult if not impossible because of the proximity of houses to each other and the very narrow access roads which are hardly adequate for the access of vehicles alone.
Zambia has also not deliberately taken advantage of a number of projects to facilitate technological transfer from foreign sources to the Zambian consultants and contractors.
For instance, there have been projects which, maybe because they have been foreign-funded have been executed by foreign consultants and contractors including road construction at the exclusion of Zambian consultants and contractors.
The Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola and the new Independence Stadium currently under construction in Lusaka do not seem to have had any meaningful involvement and input from Zambian consultants other than some kind of peripheral involvement during the entire process.
When the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium was under construction, the Zambia Institute of Architects, after realising that the stadium was to be designed by foreign consultants, made several attempts to access construction drawings for the purpose of basic preliminary satisfaction that all was well and in accordance with the Zambian context but all this came to nothing.
There are some major pronouncements that have been made by the current Patriotic Front (PF) Government which would have an impact on the built environment of some parts of Zambia whose quality of the solutions would depend on the adopted execution process.
New Muchinga Province has been created with its headquarters located at Chinsali which was part of Northern Province.
In addition, Choma will now be the headquarters for Southern Province and if not mistaken Chembe is now a district in Luapula Province, while Chikankata, Pemba and Zimba are districts in Southern Province.
Chilanga and Rufunsa have been created as districts in Lusaka Province and Chitambo, Luano and Sibuyunji are now districts in Central Province, while Limulunga, Mwandi, Siyoma, Mulobezi, Luampa and Mitete are in Western Province.
Others are Vubwi in Eastern Province, Ikeleng'i and Manyinga in North-Western Province, Nsama in Northern Province and Shiwang'andu in Muchinga Province.
The new Muchinga Province headquarters at Chinsali, Choma for Southern Province and all the newly created districts and any that may be created in the future will be administrative centres.
In order to function efficiently, these centres will require development of functional town plans.
The town plans will be designed to take into account current and projected populations with support facilities in terms of road net works, such services as water, electricity supply, and sewer systems.
The new towns will also need to be planned to accommodate schools, clinics, offices, commercial, industrial and residential areas whether based on the concept of separation of activities or any other approach the point being made is the need for meaningful town planning to avoid recurrence of the mess in the our current towns.
The creation of a new province and new districts has given Zambia an opportunity to create towns and cities which are based on a home-grown approach and appropriate to the Zambian climate, environment, social and cultural aspirations.
We have since independence, had experience of evils that characterise unplanned developments.
We should also by now be in a position to understand the aspirations of Zambians in the environment they live in.
There is also something to be learnt from the short-sighted approach to town planning adopted by the colonial urban planners and the problems this concept has created for us.
Town planning for the new districts should also draw from the pitfalls of leaving town planning and urban management to persons who are ill qualified in properly moulding of the built environment, while the country's political leaders, who are essential to give the required political will and impetus, should understand their technical limitations.
Again, let the implementers of this directive learn from what has transpired before in the construction of other stadia.
Even where funding for the Mongu Stadium may be sourced from the donor community, the Zambia Institute of Architects Act does allow for meaningful joint (rather than rubber stamping) ventures and those tasked to negotiate for donor agreements would do well to keep this in mind because this is not just about creating jobs for Zambians it is also about creating a safe built environment for citizens and this practice is worldwide.
The concern for the built environment shown through the release of funds for the cleaning of storm water drains to the 10 councils, insignificant as it may be, gives hope and possibilities of a new and different approach to the way Zambian towns and cities will now be managed.
On the other hand, the Zambia Institute of Architects stands ready to participate in the planning for the newly created districts all over Zambia.