Zambia: Population Explosion in Nchelenge... Area Has One of the Highest Teenage Pregnancies, Early Marriages Rates in Luapula

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The mere mention of Nchelenge district in Luapula Province brings to memory the tasty dry sardines (kapenta) harvested from Lake Mweru.

While the fish levels have continued to dwindle due to years of over fishing by the local fishermen, the human population, on the other hand, is increasing at a fast rate in Nchelenge.

Nchelenge has one of highest rates of early marriage and teenage pregnancies in Luapula Province.

For instance, in Chitondo Village, which sits on the banks of Lake Mweru, there is a visible population explosion such that one can estimate that about 85 per cent of people in the locality are children below 12 years of age.

Aged only 18 and 19 years respectively, Brenda Nkole and Mubanga Chewe of Chitondo Village, which is located a stone's throw away from the town centre, already have two children each and are heavily pregnant.

They cited poverty and lack of recreation facilities as the reason they got pregnant and went into marriage at a young age.

It is worth noting that according to the 2010 population estimates, Luapula Province in that year had a population of 979, 663, out of which 457,653 were female and 455, 576 were male.

Nchelenge's population density is approximately at 19.4 per cent while the population growth rate stands at 3.2 per cent.

Based on recent statistics conducted by the Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR) in the area, Nchelenge, which is one of the 10 districts of Luapula, has the highest percentage of population living in poverty, which stands at over 70 per cent.

Because of lack of role models to inspire young people, especially boys and girls to value education, most teenage girls are falling pregnant at a tender age.

Fishing and farming, which are the main economic activities of the area, are driving young people to enter into marriage whilst they are still young.

The St Paul Mission Hospital in Nchelenge district, which is the main referral hospital, is always swarmed with young expectant mothers with the ambulance on 24-hours standby to ferry patients.

According to Moses Cheswa, a senior citizen of the area, nearly 80 per cent of the people in the area are directly or indirectly involved in fishing.

It is not uncommon to see fresh kapenta being sundried in open air.

"In terms of economic activities, fishing dominates. However, cassava is the main food crop grown with maize, tea, millet, groundnuts, sweet potatoes, rice and bananas being the other crops," Mr Cheswa explained in an interview in Nchelenge recently.

Daniel Chikulu and Albert Chilangwa, who both used to work in the mines on the Copperbelt before they relocated to Nchelenge years back, said young girls in the area are lured into early marriage and teen pregnancies because of economic hardship.

In terms of social economic development, Mr Chikulu said the district shares borders with Congo DR in the west, Chiengi district in the north, Kaputa district in the north-east and Kawambwa district in the south-east.

"Lake Mweru marks the boundary between Nchelenge and Congo DR... the inhabitants of Nchelenge are mainly fishers or fishmongers," he said.

Due to overfishing, there has been a shift to farming in the past few years to meet people's basic economic needs.

The selling of fish and timber, as well as general trading, comprises the main economic activities carried out by people, accounting for a significant population of the workforce.

The other population is made up of formally employed workers, mostly in Government departments and various non-governmental organisations in the area.

Banking services in Nchelenge are provided by the National Savings Bank(NATSAVE) and the Zambia National Commercial Bank (ZANACO); the latter operating as a mobile bank twice weekly from Kawambwa district, located about 90 kilometres from Nchelenge.

A few filling stations, which intermittently run out of gas, are located within the central business district.

The district has several Government and a few private schools.

According to the Zambia Statistics Agency (Zamstats), Nchelenge has low literacy levels with only 30 per cent of the population completing primary education, 45 per cent attaining the ninth grade and only 10 per cent completing the twelfth grade.

The remaining 20 per cent of the population does not attend school at all.

70 per cent of all students are male, and female students who drop out generally marry young, while male dropouts tend to pursue careers in the fishing industry.

These factors have had a negative impact on the development and economic advancements of the district.

The district is linked to Mansa (the provincial capital) by a paved road as far as St Paul Hospital.

The rest of the other roads are not paved, which renders them impassable during the rainy season.

The water transport is the most available mode of transport at Lake Mweru which links Zambia with Congo DR, and the four Islands, namely Kilwa, Chisenga, Isokwe and Kanakashi.

Large vessels (Ichombos) and smaller boats are used to transport traders and consumer goods on the lake as well as on the Luapula River.

The district also has one airport for light aircraft situated just six kilometers (3.7 miles) from the district central location.

The Mantampala refugees' settlement is also located about 30 kilometres away from the town centre.

The district is connected to the national grid up to Mukwakwa and 10 per cent of the households have access to electrical power for lighting and cooking purposes.

The rest of the district uses solar, charcoal or firewood as alternative sources of energy.

In the tourism sector, good sites for construction of lodges are available.

These include the waterfront area on Kalungwisha River in Mununga. Another waterfront location on Lake Mweru in the Kanyebo area in Chief Kanyembo is a perfect place for those itching to invest in the hospitality industry.

There is also an excellent waterfront area for lodges or hotels in Kilwa and Chisenga islands.

The intangible culture heritage, folk culture and cultural expression are visible in the area.

Investments in different sectors of the economy in the area will employ more local people and increase the income levels at household level in Nchelenge.

This will no doubt also help slow down cases of early marriages and teen pregnancies which are rife in the area.

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