Cholera may be loosening its grip on a Lusaka city left badly shaken by its latest visitation during which it has claimed dozens of lives, but the news from the nation’s engineers is hardly comforting.
After millions of litres of chlorine have been poured into millions of litres of water consumed by the millions of the residents of Lusaka in the last several months to ward off death by cholera, the capital city’s dwellers are being told more drastic measures are needed to make sure the disease and other waterborne ailments do not become a permanent feature of the city.
According to the Engineering Institution of Zambia (EIZ) the only way to deal a permanent blow to cholera in Lusaka is to deracinate the city…a big word meaning ‘pulling up by the roots’.
This, the engineers say, is because the city’s underground water is so extensively polluted that the entire supply system needs to be overhauled.
By extension, this means pulling down whole communities that occupy space they should never have been allowed to settle in the first place.
This has massive implications, but the EIZ says a committee of experts on water and sanitation that it has set to formulate a position paper on the water and sanitation system in Lusaka, following the cholera outbreak, will tell the Government it sees no other options.
Without such a drastic measure, it is impossible to see how any lasting solution can be effected to solve the problem of underground water pollution.
According to the opinion of most of the EIZ’s eminent members who spoke at yesterday’s indaba held in Lusaka, extensive expansion of the system is also
necessary to increase coverage of clean water and sanitation, which is
essential to human health.
From the debates, we generate a view that the problem of
underground contamination in Lusaka is historical with concerns having been raised about the city’s initial planning over several decades.
Unplanned settlements that have been ‘regularised’ have compromised the city’s drainage system, and with millions of residents using pit latrines, shallow wells and boreholes, the underground water is comingled with harmful toxic substances such as faecal matter and vibrio cholera, the bacteria that causes cholera.
According to information given at yesterday’s meeting, the latest readings of Lusaka’s underground water quality was a wholesome ‘D’.
This, as another EIZ member Ennie Muchelemba adds, renders the use of substances such as chlorine in the purification of underground water for the consumption of residents unsustainable.
Simply put, how many households can afford to spend K30 on a water of chlorine every day?
Ms Muchelemba goes on to suggest the curbing of unplanned settlements and a budgetary increase to water and sanitation provision as more progressive steps towards improving the underground water system.
With or without the relocation of Lusaka, the prevalence of unplanned settlements in the city has to be addressed immediately.
Following the cholera outbreak of last year, we have observed heightened efforts by the Government to beef up funding to water and sanitation service improvement and general standards of hygiene.
We also call on stakeholders to expedite the implementation of the US$355 million Lusaka Water Supply, Sanitation and Drainage (LWSSD) project, which will ultimately help improve access to clean water and sanitation services.