The cholera outbreak we are experiencing today is not something we could not foresee. The writing was on the wall.
We seem to be a nation that doesn’t want or is unable to read the signs of our time.
No matter how much we run around like headless chickens trying to arrest cholera outbreaks, we won’t succeed in stopping it. It is good to mobilise our military and turn our soldiers into nyamazais to clean our cities. But that will not completely stop cholera and other waterborne diseases that are today killing our people. We have a bigger problem than just garbage disposal.
Late last year, the Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company issued a warning that underground water in the city of Lusaka was no longer safe for consumption. And Millennium Challenge Account Zambia communications and outreach director Dr John Kunda said the Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company needs over US$4 billion to meet the water supply demand of the city’s residents.
According to Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company, while Lusaka had more than 400,000 houses that were eligible for connection to the company’s sanitation system, only 33,000 people were being serviced, “meaning that more than 90 per cent plus of waste is going underground and underground water, as a company, is a source of water for us to supply to the residents at the same time. So, you can imagine; here is a resource underground, which we think we must purify, treat and supply but it’s being contaminated every day because we don’t have a sanitation programme that can help to reduce or prevent that. So, this is a major challenge. I will not mention the percentage but there has been…I don’t want to alarm – [there is] a research by an international institution through the University of Zambia, which has just been released. This report is yet to be published and that’s why I’m not able to give specific details about it but the situation is very alarming. So, this is one of those many challenges that we are getting as a company.”
Asked on the challenges that the Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company was facing in terms of service delivery to unplanned residential areas, the response was: “We can’t connect a house which is not recognised by the local authority – the council. We have just received another directive today in which the government has asked us to try and survey private boreholes to find out how safe they are. I’m not sure where we’ll find the strength to even announce the findings because it’s a big challenge – water underground is no longer safe but this is the biggest source of the commodity for most of Lusaka residents. For us as a company, we are supplying 60 per cent of our customers through water [from] underground but the water underground is being contaminated every day, mainly through these mushrooming and unplanned settlements.”
And over the last ten years, Ngobola Muyembe has been warning us about this danger. But no one in our successive governments seemed ready to listen to him. Ngobola has indeed been a lone voice. And now the unrenting Ngobola writes:
“It is not just the street vendors that have caused this cholera outbreak in Lusaka. There is enough blame to go around. I have been saying on this wall for years now that you don’t build on groundwater recharge points when you rely on borehole water and when you use soakaways for your wastewater. The reason is simple…in recharge points, the permeability (the ability of fluids to pass through) is very high. This is a potential hazard but people in this country never learn. When you build in these areas like most of you have done in Chalala, Ndeke Vorna Valley, Marshlands, Garden, Salama Park, you contaminate groundwater where most people abstract water for drinking and cooking. For Lusaka which is largely limestone, it means the whole town is at risk because the chances of polluting the aquifer are more than 100 per cent. When you wash your hands or use water for cooking, make sure it is not coming from a borehole that is in one of these groundwater recharge points or best chlorinate before use.”
Clearly, we have a very, very big problem.