LUSAKA, October 6, 2010—At independence in 1964, Zambia was a middle income economy, largely dependent on copper. Until the mid-1980s, most basic services were readily available and highly subsidized as a result of the solid economy and strong social policies.
In urban areas, the water sector developed as an almost “free” service with limited metering, no control on consumption, and maintenance was funded from general funds rather than from user fees. A culture of high expectation of good service with low payment therefore emerged.
Zambia’s fortunes deteriorated from the late 1970s through to the 1990s due to falling copper prices, limited diversification of the economy, poor macro-economic management, and frequent fiscal crises which adversely affected its economic development. As a result, delivery of, and access to, basic services, also declined, including in the capital Lusaka, where access to clean water became scarce.
In some parts of Lusaka, the shortage of clean and safe water was so bad that people were forced to fetch water from shallow wells, often near pit latrines, exposing them to water-borne diseases. The occurrence of cholera and dysentery was so regular that there was an average of 10 cases of cholera per year.
In 2006, the Lusaka Water and Sewage Company (LWSC), through the Zambian government, received a credit from the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) for US$23 million to rehabilitate Lusaka’s water system.
“The company has recorded improvements of its operation through the rehabilitation of distribution lines in order to strengthen the backbone of water supply to other areas,” says George Ndongwe, LWSC Managing Director.
Through the Water Sector Performance Improvement Project, and the improvement of supply lines, according to Ndongwe, most of Lusaka’s residents now have access to clean water.
Community kiosks provide safe drinking water
In addition to servicing Lusaka, LWSC has also extended services to marginalized Zambians in suburban areas just outside of the capital. The company has constructed 66 water kiosks at the centers of many communities where residents can go to collect clean water for the minimal fee of three cents per 20-litre container.
John Laing is one of the 32 compounds of Lusaka, with an estimated population of one million people. In the past, shallow wells served as the predominant source of water for the compound’s residents. Now, community members have access to a water kiosk from which they can draw clean water 24 hours per day.
Bernadette Kalunga, LWSC Community Development Officer, says the provision of basic services, particularly water and sanitation, has improved the services in the health and social welfare of the John Liang community. Kalunga said people now manage to get enough water to satisfy their requirements.
“The situation was very bad,” she said. “There was cholera and other water-borne diseases such as diarrhea and dysentery. Since the World Bank assistance of water kiosks there has been a tremendous improvement in the lives of residents of John Laing.”
According to Kalunga, most people are happy because they don’t have to walk long distances to fetch clean and safe water.
Beatrice Phiri, 72, a resident of John Laing says: “We used to fetch water from far places and with the coming of these kiosks we are willing to pay ZMK50 (US$ 0.3 cents) per 20-litre container.”
Priscilla Ngoma, 27, says she and others faced many problems when it came to fetching water from distant sources, but with the coming of the kiosks the problem has been eased.
“We are very grateful of the assistance,” Ngoma said. “It should be noted that in our area, a considerable proportion of the population used to depend on unsafe sources of water particularly shallow wells and pumps. Now with the introduction of water kiosks all these are by-gones.”
To date, the Water Sector Improvement Project has brought clean water to an estimated one million in Lusaka and its outskirts.