Disease and Poverty in Zambian Shanty Compounds Must End, says HH

A spectre is haunting Zambia. It is the reality of poverty and disease that threatens the hopes and aspirations of an entire generation living in shanty compounds. There was a time when a Zambian dream existed; the universal dream that a child could be born anywhere but get through school and one day rise to the highest echelons of our society, be it in public service or the corporate world. That dream is now dead for the majority of the Zambian citizens that are poor and live in the unplanned settlements commonly known as shanty compounds.
 
As regards shanties, Zambia has the unenviable distinction that not the minority but the majority of her inhabitants live in slums around the country, with the majority clustered along the line of rail. What is also worth noting is that shanties are home to normal citizens who have been failed by a government that is clueless about town and urban planning. The evolution and existence of slums in Zambia is equally unique for two reasons: Zambia did not come out of a civil war where people were internally-displaced; Zambia has one of the lowest population densities, estimated by UNDP at 15 inhabitants per square kilometer, in the world. One commonality with the rest of the third world, nonetheless, is that the shanties sprung up and expanded as a direct consequence of failed leadership and government incompetence. Over the past 50 years shanties have mushroomed and expanded gradually, with only minor and disjointed planning for provision of roads, piped water at central places, markets and community clinics. However, since 2011 government has completely defaulted on its obligation to plan and take care of its citizens living in the shanties.
 
Below are some of the harsh realities of life in the compounds:
 
Grinding Poverty
According to UN data, over 60% of the Zambian population live on less than $1.25 per day. The World Food Programme asserts that over 36% of Zambians are malnourished. A lot of our compatriots live in destitution, a condition referring to lack of necessary means to meet basic needs such as food and shelter.
 
Diseases and Lack of Basic Services
The absence of stocked health centers with qualified manpower is as good as having no healthcare at all. Ambulance services are non-existent in most of these clinics, and pharmacies are empty. Infant mortality and maternal deaths are highest in the shanties. The lack of clean piped water and failure by councils to collect garbage results in the rise of diseases, such as malaria and cholera, which claim innocent lives.
 
Lack of Drinking Water and Sanitation
The absence of piped water and sewerage services has forced citizens to use their initiative to dig water wells side by side with septic tanks. This lack of planning has resulted in drinking water from boreholes and wells mixing with faecal matter below the water table. According to the National Water and Supply Council (NWASCO), over 70% of the urban folks in Zambia are not connected to central sewerage lines. The same regulator says that over 60% in urban areas have no access to water connections in their households. They either depend on boreholes or wells. These are mostly in shanties.  The consequences of lapses in planning and managing water and sanitation in the shanties have been severe, manifesting in deadly diarrheal diseases such as cholera, dysentery and typhoid.
 
Crime and Violence
The absence of effective police stations in these areas is contributing to crime. The impotence of the police, exacerbated by the presence of criminal elements and political cadres in their ranks, is undermining human welfare and impeding social development in the shanties. The reasons for the rise of crime in shanties include: rising youth unemployment in the wake of government raising the retirement age to 65; employing unprofessional cadres into the police and compromising the service’s professionalism; growing availability of guns; and regular pardoning of rapist and defilers from prison, those perceived to be friends of the party as in the case of a convicted musician who was released and even granted ambassadorial status by the party in power. 
 
Lack of Education and Literacy
Shanties hardly ever have decent schools or libraries. There isn’t a single shanty in Zambia with a reputable secondary school. This phenomenon has deprived a generation of any chance of attaining an education and joining the mainstream job market, thus confining them to perpetual poverty.
 
Unregulated Bars and Brothels
Consumption of drugs, especially alcohol, is poorly regulated. Every street corner has a tavern selling all sorts of drinks. It’s not surprising to see teenagers and expectant mothers consuming alcohol as early as 7am. There are all kinds of hospitality flats in the vicinity of taverns. The law of the jungle applies; no one is in control. The state has turned a blind eye to the vices that are helping to reduce life expectancy of its citizens.
 
Conclusion
The UPND, once elected to power by the people of Zambia and with God’s grace will prioritise the upgrading of shanties to make these places more humane and habitable. It is common knowledge that overcrowding is a precursor to disease and unemployment, and ultimately to poverty. The UPND will work with the Engineering Institute of Zambia, Zambian Architects and Local Authorities and other organisations to plan and implement an ambitious program that will set minimum standards for housing and other social services in compounds. We shall enhance and regulate vocational training such as welding and carpentry and provide financing for small and medium enterprises, which shall provide employment to our people. Where there is a will, there is always a way. UPND will transform the lives of our people in the compounds for the better.  

Hakainde Hichilema
UPND President

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