opinionBy Dixon Bwalya
IT is almost obscene when you compare the quality of life and housing in most shanty townships in Zambia to other formal residential houses within a few kilometers of each other.
We should not just be haunted by the misery and squalour in which millions of our fellow human beings live but must rise up and show concern by coming to the aid of those affected by this lifestyle.
Housing is not only the shelter structure but also should include the piece of land on which the shelter structure stands, the services which are available and accessible to members of the household, the environment and neighbourhood within which people live.
Housing should also be evaluated as a basis for social interaction and economic improvement.
The family is the nucleus of every society and the quality of family members has an influence on the economy and quality of any country.
It has further been argued that the quality of the built environment one lives in has an impact on one's character and that by the age of seven, any criminal tendencies if any in a child would have manifested.
Large-scale establishment of shanty townships began soon after independence as people freely migrated from rural areas to urban areas in search of job opportunities and improved lifestyles while those who retired or were out of employment were reluctant to go back to their villages.
Migration from rural areas to urban areas was strictly controlled during the colonial days through the issuance of identity cards called ifitupa which control was relaxed with the advent of independence in 1964.
However, this new freedom of movement was not accompanied with increased provision of decent housing to cater for the increased urban population.
Although there has been a lot of research and literature on housing problems in the third world, one thing that has not been settled is what comprises low-cost housing. In order to fulfill the role that housing plays in everyday life of human beings, housing then must meet certain minimum standards.
First of all, any house must provide shelter to its occupants from the elements of nature, wild animals and criminally minded persons in society because without minimum physical protection, survival would be threatened.
Shelter therefore provides protection in this regard to varying degrees.
The physical quality of the built structure would determine to what extent this attribute of shelter would provide.
The special role housing plays in inculcating and maintaining family values may dictate that minimum consideration is taken into account in the assembly of any housing so that certain social and cultural values are maintained.
Secondly, the life cycle of a human being requires that certain services be accessible in various forms to make life tolerable.
Most important of these services are water and sanitation facilities for purposes of maintaining personal health which may lead to an improvement in the quality of life.
Consideration is to be given to the provision of reasonably durable access roads for the purposes of facilitating movement to employment and other parts of the city as well as to enable security and such other wings as fire fighting and health delivery to function properly and efficiently.
Good and functioning drainage systems would not just reduce the disease burden but would also reduce incidents of flooding
Apart from the quality of the built structure, the quality and scale of spaces provided within the built structure is another important attribute of housing.
Quality of space in terms of size would determine how functional the space would be, quality in terms lighting and ventilation would improve health and execution of chores within the built environment.
The type of structure in terms of durability and appearance is another important consideration that may change the label attached to shanty townships where housing is not constructed as permanent structures probably because of lack of security of tenure.
As a nation we seem to have been insensitive to the squalour that the majority of Zambians have been subjected to since independence.
Some people prefer to say they live in Kabulonga Extension rather than Kalikiliki because of the desperation and stigma that is sometimes attached to shanty townships even the label "baku mayadi" in reference to those who live in such formal residential areas as Kabulonga and Itawa should be an indication of the need to help improve the built environment of shanty areas.
There have been attempts to improve the quality of the built environment in shanty townships through such programmes as PUSH (Program Urban Self Help) but such programmes have not been sustained.
Instead of upgrading and controlling the shanty townships, we have seen an increase in the sprawling of these residential areas.
Zambia had an opportunity to seriously embark on upgrading shanty areas when most parastatal companies and houses were sold, the monies or part of it realised from this privatisation programme could have been invested in the upgrade of shanty townships but it is now a lost opportunity.
It does not matter how we define low cost housing, the fact is there would always be a category of Zambians who would never own a decent house by whatever definition. This category of Zambians would still require some kind of housing to provide shelter and be a base for bringing up families.
Some interventions in the attempt to help uplift the life in shanty townships may just involve educating those affected and providing them with technical skills to improve the quality of the shelter structures they live in.
This may include understanding for instance, the importance and purpose of foundations to any building as well as proper demarcation of plots to leave room for access roads and drainage systems to the benefit of all residents.
Ward councilors need to be playing a more meaningful role in the attempt to improve the quality of the built environment in shanty townships than perpetually condemning those residents to a sub-standard life of squalor and misery.
Most shanty townships do not have sanitary facilities people answer the call of nature by digging holes around their houses even though this could easily be resolved by constructing, say, ventilated and improved pit latrines at minimum cost with the beneficiaries providing the necessary labour. All they need is technical support.
It is against this background that the Zambia Institute of Architects initiated the idea of setting up a small house bureau as a way of assisting those who need technical support in such areas as shanty townships.
This programme has been available with the Institute and ensures that reasonably durable and functional structures are constructed with spaces that adequately accommodate functions that take place in the shelter structure.
However and unfortunately, very few people if any have taken up this support facility.
In the attempt to uplift the standard of life in these townships, the Zambia Institute of Architects may facilitate technical support seminars if so requested.
Even though most of the shelter structures in shanty townships may lack durability and aesthetic appearance the social interaction between residents in some of these areas is at a higher quality level that most of the formal residential areas.
The call for the urgent need for intervention and to come to the assistance of those who reside in the informal residential area is an attempt to bridge the gap that now exist in the quality of life between the two categories which has to some extent created a stigma.
It is also an admission that even though we may live in different residential areas, we have an impact on each other and it is in the benefit of all citizens to ensure that the bringing up of children will ultimately enhance the quality of citizens.