By Nellow Simukonde( Civil Engineer)
Development to the man in the street, typically means improvement in the environment in which we conduct our daily lives. In our country, it has so far been the opposite in too many places.
Development brings along significant deterioration in the quality of our enviroment. Countrywide, this is mostly in the form of dust and mud.
Dust and mud put a bad mark on our appearance, sanitation and health,the beauty of our towns, and on tourism. We walk around with dusty shoes, our wardrobe turns pale in one day and buildings look tarnished. It is extremely difficult to maintain clean vehicles and the impact of excessive dust on vehicle systems is costly.
The problem begins with our developers. This is not to say developers are the problem. The problem rather lies in the framework of regulations and
the manner of their administration, or lack thereof, by the government. It appears small-scale developers (or entrepreneurial developers, as I would like to call them) in our country simply pay a fee to the council and they are good to develop land parcels in any way without following any development regulations.
The only thing that seems to matter is that the building is in the right place and in the right zoning. Development is confined to the perimeter of the building. That is all the developer cares about. The adverse impacts of surface development, such as the removal of vegetation cover, increase in
impervious surface areas and subsequent changes in drainage patterns and increased storm runoff do not seem to be considered at all and go unmitigated.
Developers typically clear the area from the building footprint to the edge of the adjacent roadway. This area is left open without any landscaping or organized parking lots. This area, in front of numerous business buildings, is constantly walked on by pedestrians and driven over by traffic and parked on anyhow. These areas are the ‘breeding grounds’ for our dust and mud in towns and residential business centers.
Our country has many competent town planners and development engineers in government who, hopefully, appreciate the purpose of their professions in the welfare of the public as well as the beauty of our environment. Therefore, it does not make sense that the issue of dust and mud has never been addressed in the process of implementing small-scale developments. This is failure on the part of government.
Much of the government (councils) failure to provide proper oversight on small-scale developments can be attributed to corruption. We cannot expect small-scale developers to look out for our environment while they look to make profits. Spending a little more to at least improve the appeal of their facade is the last thing on their minds regardless of the value inherent within it. It does not affect their real business because we, as customers, have learned not to care how a business looks like on the outside as long as they have what we want.
We just go in with our mud and dust and give them our business. There is no reason to expect a single developer to care about the mud and dust in front of his business when nobody else cares. The issue of dust and mud (a result of poor drainage) is a government regulation issue and a constitutional responsibility effected through the Environmental Protection and Pollution Control Act of 1990. The Act is supposed to be administered by the Environmental Council of Zambia (ECZ), assuming this has not changed recently.
On dust and mud,the council may as well be nonexistent. They do not consider the cumulative impact of small-scale developments on our environment. This
cumulative impact is just as significant as that of large developments which require environmental impact studies. The government must have regulations or codes at the local level or effectively enforce existing regulations to bring about proper site developments. A developer must be required to submit a plan of development, and design plans showing how he or she proposes to develop the site; not the building. It is the job of the city engineer to review these proposals and make sure the proposed site development is proper. Local regulations must require that small private developers include in their proposals, Best Management Practices for Erosion and Sedment Control on their sites, during development and after development. By these standards, most of our small- developments are incomplete and that is exactly how they look like to our tourists.
Regulation must require proposals on how small-scale developers will mitigate the impacts of increased storm runoff from their sites and demonstrate that their site development will be consistent with and or facilitate the orderly future development of adjacent plots. Failure of small developments to provide for proper drainage is what leads to mud, standing water and roadside ditches or storm sewers that are deposited with excess sediment and cannot do their job.
The result is flooded roads following rain storms during our wet season. In the absence of other measures that would accomplish the same mitigation effects, small developers must be required to pave the area between the buildings and the adjacent roadway and mark out a proper parking lot. If the distance to the street is too much, the developer needs to propose a landscaping plan that introduces grass cover or other non-erodible application between the roadway and the parking lot.
This curbed grass cover should be maintained by the developer as long as it is on his property. Offsite development on public property must be adopted and maintained by the council. This opinion is expressed with the hope that our new government is going to look at the small changes that will make a long-term difference in the lives of Zambians.
Our new president’s best record comes from his performance as governor of Lusaka and as Minister of Local Government and Housing. He demonstrated then that he had a vision on how to improve the environment in which we live our lives,by cleaning up the house. I hope that he will bring this vision into
this government because we could use it. Town and country planning must begin to make sense for once.
It is time our government ventured out and embarked on an awareness campaign for developers as well as citizens to bring an understanding of what it will take to improve our surroundings, the importance of sustainable development and the role government will play in it,including improvement of water supplies to maintain grass landscaping.
Government must also encourage individual home owners, through community enhancement programs, to grass their surroundings.This endeavor to reduce or eliminate dust and mud and clean up our surroundings begins with the government itself, especially its ministry offices. There are numerous government offices with vast dust pans in front, constantly being eroded.
I have just spent a month in Mpika. There, the ministry of health offices, the ministry of agriculture offices, and the general hospital itself sit before a waiting cloud of dust. This is the same senario countrywide. If our government is to put an end to our dust and mud, it must first
start addressing the issue around public property. It would not make much sense for the government to enforce onsite and offsite development rules on developers to reduce dust and mud while there are no properly paved roads or the existing roads abutting these parcels are in sorry shape.
Health and dust are not compatible in development.