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Lusaka floodwater has nowhere to go

Lusaka residents have had to wade through the water, after a continuous heavy downpour over the last two weeks left most parts of the Zambian capital city flooded.
Wading to the shops (Nebert Mulenga/IRIN)

The reason why Zambia's urban poor have had to wade through ankle-deep water for weeks on end is as much down to human error as the torrential rain that has hammered the country: in a word, drainage.

"The floods [in the capital, Lusaka] are a clear indication of our weak urban planning system, because there is no way water should fail to sink away over a period of three weeks if the drainage system was properly done," Douglas Katengo, former president of the Zambia Institute of Architectures, told IRIN. "All the affected areas are informal settlements, and if proper planning had been done for their existence, there would have been proper services."

Zambia has been soaked by heavy downpours since the last week of November 2007. In rural Southern and Eastern provinces, flooding has displaced thousands and drowned crops. In Lusaka, it has also brought misery: schools and clinics have been affected, homes stay waterlogged, and there is fear of an outbreak of cholera - all too common in the city, even during a normal raining season.

"Although no serious disease outbreak has been recorded, the situation is still bad," a public service nurse, who asked not to be named, told IRIN. She said her clinic was running at half capacity because staff had problems getting to work.

"Sometimes I am forced to pay a [errand] 'boy' 1,000 kwacha [US$0.25] to carry me on his back through the floodwaters, otherwise I can take almost an hour to go round [the water], a distance that normally takes five minutes."

Holland Mulenga, a property consultant, said, "This is more about lack of proper forward planning which takes into consideration the expanding towns. If we had proper planning, and a planning authority in the first place, the law should have been enforced to ensure social services were properly provided and these floods wouldn't be as bad as they are now."

Most residential areas in Lusaka developed haphazardly from unplanned informal settlements before the government finally recognised them. But critics say recognition does not automatically mean the delivery of social services.

Unplanned

"We need to introduce a system where upgrading of informal settlements is done before they are recognised; not the way things are at the moment, where recognition is done first before upgrading, which leaves the settlements with perpetual sanitary problems," commented Mulenga.

Zambia's formal sector generates only 400,000 jobs, and all most three-quarters of its people subsist on US$1 or less a day, according to the government's Central Statistical Office. Informal settlements provide the only accommodation Zambia's urban poor can afford.

"I left my home village in Chipata [a town in Eastern Zambia] to come and look for a job here ... I haven't found that job, so my family sells vegetables and tomatoes at the market, but everything is now disturbed because of the floods," said Ganizani Tembo, who lives in Lusaka's Misisi township.

"We are now putting our small fridge and stove on top of the table before we go to sleep - water is everywhere. Our children are not going to school and we are scared cholera may break out."

Zambia's vice-president, Rupiah Banda, told local media the government had earmarked US$4 million to mitigate the impact of the floods in the capital. "[It] is worse than earlier estimated ... I just want to say that this is a tragedy that has hit us, and let us all forget our political differences and fight this problem together."

Banda's appeal was likely to have Michael Sata in mind, the populist leader of the opposition Patriotic Front, who commands a large following in the capital and for whom the floods could be a political gift if his followers can get out and vote.

Ireen Mambilima, chair of Zambia's Electoral Commission, said a parliamentary by-election scheduled to take place in one Lusaka constituency later this month may have to be postponed, because "the flood waters are just too much at the moment".

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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