Zambia: Floods Still a Menace in Lusaka Townships

MUCH as the dawn of the rainy season has been regarded as a blessing by majority farmers, its impact has subjected urban dwellers to numerous sanitation problems which have been devastating at times.

Densely populated urban areas, particularly townships have been hit on two fronts: First the flooding that has characterised most rainy seasons and, secondly, the water-borne diseases that have come as a result of poor sanitation.

Areas such as Chawama, Kanyama, Kuku, Misisi and many other townships in Lusaka, for instance, have been at the receiving end of the 'negative side' of the rainy season.

While the population of Lusaka has continued to grow, a severe scarcity of toilets in Zambia's capital has led to a lack of dignity and hygiene in the city as a whole, as well as in these townships.

It is estimated that Lusaka currently has more than two million people but up now there are no public toilets in its central business district (CBD) apart from the congested City Market as well as the dirty ones at Intercity Bus Terminus.

The situation is even worse in townships where expansion of unplanned houses has not been accompanied by necessary and adequate pit latrines to service the growing population.

Emeliya Banda from Misisi Township is among residents who are concerned because everyone around her plot is using her pit latrine, and her worry is that she will soon be forced to dig another one.

"Many people around here are using my toilet and since it has no lock, I am very sure that it will soon be full, and I have no one to dig another one for me," said the 75-year-old lady.

"May be the Government through the Lusaka City Council should come up with a plan to put up toilets in townships so that cleanliness can be enhanced."

She said she had tried to ban people from using her pit latrine but that has not worked because people do not have toilets.

Amon Mbewe is one of the landlords in Kanyama Township with a cluster of unplanned houses with five tenants but is currently using a neighbours' pit latrine.

"The toilet was full recently and I asked my neighbour that as I wait to dig another one, my tenants and I can be using the toilet and I hope I can manage to finish digging and building before the rains," he explained.

According to UNICEF, one-third of the global population has no access to toilets and Mr Mbewe is among such people.

The world child organisation said recently during the commemoration of World Toilet Day that situation has had devastating consequences to the health and development of children.

According to UNICEF, since 1990 almost 1.9 billion people gained access to improved sanitation, but in 2011 the total number of those without access was still 36 per cent of the global population, or approximately 2.5 billion people.

Interestingly, lack of pit latrines is seen by many as an embarrassing state that not everyone is willing to disclose.

Perhaps it is against this background that it is no longer uncommon for one to find faeces in open packs of opaque beer as well as plastics which have been turned into 'toilets' in densely populated townships of Lusaka.

"Access to toilets remains the unmentionable, shameful secret for even some very prosperous countries," said Sanjay Wijesekera, the global head of UNICEF's Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programmes.

"But its invisibility doesn't make it harmless; in fact it is quite the reverse. Lack of access to toilets is quite literally killing children, making adults sick, and slowing progress - day after day."

The global organisation's figures released this year revealed that lack to access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene was a leading cause of deaths from diarrhoea in children under five, amounting to approximately 1,400 children dying each day.

Besides those scary figures, a 2008 study by the Water and Sanitation Forum revealed that only 58 per cent of Zambians had access to adequate sanitation and 13 per cent lacked any kind of toilet.

While the Government has improved water and sanitation in urban areas, this is not the case in unplanned, high density peri-urban settlements where residents complain that a lack of space and poor soil make it difficult to construct pit latrines.

The over-used existing latrines attract vermin, and in the rainy season overflowing sewage pollutes wells causing water-borne diseases like diarrhoea, dysentery and cholera.

As the rainy season approaches, the Sunday Times talked to various people in Lusaka's townships on the availability of toilets.

"The toilets are there although there are some houses that do not have and rely on other people around them," said Accencio Kalande of Kanyama Township.

"However, we also have public places like markets and bars where there are no toilets and this is a great concern, especially this time when we are expecting the rains any time."

Milika Chanda noted that the Lusaka City Council had not done enough to supervise in order to ensure that everyone had a pit latrine.

There was a time we heard that the council had started arresting people without toilets, but that only happened on one or two occasions, she added.

She called on the local authority to carry out routine inspections particularly in townships to ensure that every landlord had a pit latrine as well as punish those without the toilets.

While the council has on many occasions cited lack of capacity as the reason for its failure to inspect the townships regularly, other stakeholders are equally concerned with the low access to sanitation.

In commemorating the World Toilet Day during the week under the theme 'The right to sanitation' the National Water Supply and Sanitation Council (NWASCO) said there was need to scale up interventions and improve access to sanitation.

"Currently about 948,000 urban and peri-urban dwellers have no access to adequate sanitation, which means out of a population of about 5,760,000 in the urban and peri-urban areas only 57.3 per cent have access to sanitation," stated the regulatory body in a statement.

It noted that with the current low sanitation coverage in Zambia's urban and peri-urban areas, adequate investment for providing basic sanitation would be crucial to turn around the prevailing situation.

In this vein, the Government should ensure that water and sanitation are prioritised on the national agenda, it added.

"NWASCO would like to call on all stakeholders - local authorities, cooperating partners, private sector, commercial utilities, NGOs and indeed the Government to act now for a sustainable improved sanitation," it stated.

It is clear that lack of pit latrines by residents in both urban and rural areas results into the practice of open defecation, a trend that has been fought for some time by both the Government and NGOs.

For instance, the Community Approaches to Total Sanitation (CATS) programme encourages communities to take the lead and identify their own measures to end open defecation, and has been achieving results at scale.

As more governments and communities apply the method to eliminate open defecation and scale up access to toilets, many more people stand to benefit, especially from a reduction in WASH-related diseases.

But it is understood that the consequences of the open defecation have been felt in varying degrees in rural and urban areas.

The existing poor sanitation caused by poor planning in townships has meant that the situation in these areas is more severe and requires adequate measures to enhance proper sanitation.

It is hoped that as the rainy season gets into full swing, landlords will be able to understand the severe consequences of not having a pit latrine and ensure they have one.

In the same vein, the local authority in Lusaka and other cities should employ a mechanism that will ensure that every household has a toilet.

This could be done by punishing those without a pit latrine to build one in townships while rewarding those that have managed to enhance proper sanitation.

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