WATER supply and sanitation services had been the responsibility of local authorities and Water Affairs Department until around 1997.
It was due to persistent and consistent poor service delivery of water supply and sanitation to communities that made the Government to remove this responsibility from local authorities through the enactment of The Water Supply and Sanitation Act of 1997 which created the National Water Supply and Sanitation Council (NWASCO).
This laid the foundation for formation of Utility Companies in the hope of improving provision of these services to the Zambian population and thereby reduce the health risks that go with poor quality services.
Under Part III Clause 10 (one) The Water Supply and Sanitation Act states: “Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary and subject to other provisions of this Act, a local authority shall provide water supply and sanitation services to the area falling under its jurisdiction, except in any area where a person provides such services solely for that person’s own benefit or a utility or a service provider is providing such services.
Clause 10 (two) continues to state that “Notwithstanding subsection (1) and any other law to the contrary, and subject to the other provisions of this Act, where a local authority is unable, for whatever reason, to supply water and sanitation services to a locality within its jurisdiction, and no services are being provided by any service provider, the local authority may contract any person or other service provider to do so.”
Generally speaking it is true that there has been a marked improvement in the provision of water and sanitation services to the Zambian community compared to days when this was a direct responsibility of local authorities but for a number of reasons Zambia has still got a long way to go.
The millennium development goals on safe drinking water and sanitation is by 2015 to reduce by half the proportion of people without access to these services from 1990 levels which looks like Zambia will fail to meet this target.
According to WaterAid Zambia as reported in the print media there are seven million eight hundred people in Zambia without access to sanitation while four million eight hundred people have no access to clean drinking water.
While it is incumbent and mandatory on the part of commercial water utilities to supply clean water and sanitation services to communities within each utility company’s jurisdiction there are a number of factors that have hindered quality delivery of these services.
According to the report by WaterAid Zambia the Government is not meeting its 2008 African Union commitment to spend at least five per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on sanitation and hygiene thereby contributing to the crippling of water utility companies from either upgrading the existing service networks to cope with increased demands or invest in new infrastructure development in the expanding areas of towns and cities.
This, however, is not all because inspections of most water utility companies will most like reveal that the Government ministries and departments are the major debtors in terms of unpaid water and sanitation bills.
This means that apart from not capitalising the water supply and sanitation sector the utility companies are being deprived of income to enable them operate efficiently and meet the required minimum service levels as demanded by the NWASCO.
Another contributing factor to this state of affairs in this sector lack meaningful co-ordination and cooperation between local authorities and service providers and yet Clause nine under Part III of the Water Supply and Sanitation Act states under nine (1) “A local authority may resolve to establish a water supply and sanitation utility as a company under the Companies Act as follows: (a) as a public or private company; (b) as a joint venture with an individual or with any private or public company; (c) as a joint venture with another local authority or several other local authorities; Provided that the majority shares shall be held by the local authority. Even with this arrangement where local authorities are major share holders and one would expect a development of keen interest in the affairs of water utility companies it is still a common practice for local authorities to open up and allocate new plots without first ensuring availability of such services as water.
In a number of cases service providers are never aware of future development plans by local authorities for utility companies to also plan and cater for the new areas. The result has been allocation of plots for development and owners proceeding to develop without availability of water and sanitation services, in short developments are ahead of provision of services thereby subjecting inhabitants to possible unclean water supply and poor sanitary conditions.
Local authorities are further contributing to the failure to meet the MDGs on water supply and sanitation through their town planning approach in terms of location of sites for development especially residential plots which have been offered to unsuspecting developers without due consideration of existing site conditions.
This includes situations where plots have been offered to people where existing sewer lines are at a higher level than the plots making it difficult if not impossible to discharge waste water from the new plot into the existing sewer line.
There is also now a tendency by local authorities to allocate residential plots to unsuspecting developers in marsh lands without existing sewer lines; the only option in such cases is to rely on private sewage disposal systems such as septic tanks and seepage pits, septic tanks and tile drain fields, cesspools or filter systems.
To function effectively and efficiently all these private sewage disposal systems will depend on the permeability of the surrounding soil, the elevation of the ground water level (water table), the size of the plot and proximity of wells or other water bodies which might be vulnerable to pollution by the products of the disposal system.
To ensure constant availability of good quality raw water supply and consequently availability of affordable clean water supply it is imperative to control pollution of water bodies throughout the country but especially in urban areas which have high levels of industrial activities.
Water bodies can be and have been polluted where industrial waste is discharged directly or indirectly into rivers or streams without prior on-site treatment to acceptable levels.
This tendency does not just make communal water treatment more expensive but may also endanger aquatic life and nearly all water utility companies in urban areas are affected by this development.
Old sewerage networks in desperate need for replacement coupled with overloading of the same old networks through the undesirable discharge of storm water through sewer pipes especially during the rainy season have led to pollution of water bodies that are used for abstraction of raw water for subsequent human consumption.
Steps need to be taken to guarantee constant availability of raw water in Zambia which was o2nce blessed with so many water bodies throughout the country; the situation is, however, slowly changing for the worse.
Depletion of availability of reliable water sources is gaining ground throughout the country through a number of activities which include drying up of water bodies through excessive exposure brought about by cutting of trees along river banks either through the “chitemene” system or clearing of river banks to facilitate development where local authorities have allocated plots along river banks as is the trend now.
Depletion of water bodies is also taking place through reduction of storage capacities through siltation encouraged to take place by allowing of cultivation along river banks which tends to remove protective vegetation.
Even though Zambia is blessed with adequate annual rainfall patterns there does not seem to be a deliberate and incessant policy to educate the masses on harvesting of rain water as an alternative source of water for consumption even though the technology does exist.
Now WaterAid Zambia says around 5,000 children under the age of five die annually from diarrhoea in Zambia as a result of lack of access to clean water and sanitation; obviously the figure would increase if those above the age five and dying for similar reasons were to be added to the statistics.
Concerned by the high loss of live through road accidents the Republican President recently directed the Road Transport and Safety Agency to intensify control and monitoring efforts to try and reduce the carnage on Zambian roads.
Statistics of deaths resulting from lack of access to clean water and sanitation are just as frightening as those from road accidents if not more; the difference is that deaths resulting from lack of access to clean water and poor sanitation are not as vividly shocking as those from road accidents and do not seem to have a direct connection with the root cause but it is still loss of life.
May be another Presidential directive may work out to address this unsung killer.