Small-scale developments-our mud and our dust in Zambia

Pedestrians walking through mud in Lusaka

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.

small scale entrepreneurs in Lusaka

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.

This was once a beautiful park in the copperbelt

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.

A road in a residential area in the copperbelt

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.



  2. Very good article. Our cities and surrounding will always look dry, dusty and muddy as long as we don’t keep and maintain greens and properly paved ways around them. Councils are mostly to blame for overlooking this and allowing it to go on

  3. I like the article and I fully agree with the author. Development is not just about erecting structures. The surrounding environment must also be appealing and well cared for.
    On the other hand, maintaining a good balance between biulding structures and natural environment can also prove to be a challenge as can be seen in countries of the western hemisphere. They have these artificially set up parks and natural resorts in the middle of heavily industrialised cities. It makes one long for the wild, untamed African natural set up.

  4. This is a brilliant article.So Zambia does have engineers after all! Please President Sata take note of all this engineer has said.I always get choked up by the dust especially in Lusaka.As soon as you land at the airport you start inhaling dust particles.You find people driving posh cars but so dust covered they look like they were once driven by Zinjanthropus.We indeed need curbed grass cover between roadways and parking lots.Good drainage systems and please councils maintain roads in residential areas also.Why should our beautiful country look so shabby

  5. I did not even finish reading! How can u publish the whole book here. Ba LT do u edit, or only those from ZNBC, Times or daily are brief? Thanks anyway 

    I can’t blame the engineer who wrote as we know engineers are engineers not journalist. Next time summarize. 

    We cant read this long story we are busy prosecuting MMD officials one by one they are falling, we shall not rest untill all trouble makers and corrupt chaps account for all their misdeeds.

  6. Sorry guys when am developing my house, the plot is my perimeter but outside it is for the council to deal with that. Paving the surrounding is more expensive than a slab of the house. I cannot afford that way. may be a different approach. Well money is the only pothole. Because even watering grass every day, can cost you a fortune in bills at the end of the year. But the pictures showing Soweto market in Lusaka and Los angles is the big concern for every one. LCC must deal with that.

  7. I also did not finish read this not even the first pragraph it just too long.
    Anyway I read about mud & dusty, so RB did not bring any development to out country. He graded all tired roads & put redlite soil, all the roads are now dusty & come rain season they will all be full of mud. What a useless president we had, good I plated a role to fire/retire him.

  8. The article is too long for an online script…! Couldn’t even finish reading the second paragraph, hope they will make their articles brief and staright to the point

  9. To those complaining about the length of the story think next time when you say where is the facts?
    Ignorance by not reading ALL will lead you to be making assumptions on your life’s possibilities.


    Make it an ambition to learn as much as possible as education is power.


  11. It is really sad, hate it when I go back home its either mud or dust as said, The councils stopped functioning because they got so corrupt, Imagine they issue plots with no roads or sanitation. New Government has to stop this nonsense.

  12. Agree with the writer. Garbbage, dust and unplanned builldings are the  order of the day in Zambia. Politicians and our council planners do travel outside but they don’t see anything wrong with the way our cities are  looking. Many diseases and deaths could be a thing of the past if we planned well and keep the our surroundings clean.

  13. Reading the comments above, I am just wondering why nobody has called for voluntary communal involvement especially for residential areas, to keep the surroundings clean and then demand or compel the city councils to constantly remove gabbage from the streets, markets and everyvwhere! The rains are now due, are we going to experience the same floodings as has been for time immemorial?

  14. We have a budget making process (I hope) that makes requests to the Ministry of Finance every fiscal year. With that said, different bodies, the council, local gov, ratsA, all have a budget to finance different projects such as  road maintenance, park maintenance, garbage collection, etc. With roads this bad and parks this dirty, someone is not doing their job! 

  15. City councils may have the skilled professions but do they have the man power and the budget to enforce some of these planing permissions?? City councils need to find more revenue streams by introduction of a council tax on each property and Business rates for businesses or other commercial ventures. Tried and tested methods for local authority revenue collections are free and available worldwide.. 

  16. This is the only article that talks about things Zambians dont see to be a problem.this is a right at the end of the tunnel that we now have pipo who can see that we live in problems and that’s why we are dirty tho we are always defesive when others tell us the truth.This is what the public media is supposed to be doing.sensitizing pipo on issue of hygen and change of mindsets.This can reduce deaths in our country and contribute to development thru health pipo.VIVA CLEANILINESS ZAMBIAN!

  17. Yes if councils did their jobs and collected revenue were its due and put it were it belongs instead of their pockets our cities and suburbs will just be like south africa’s….This is GRZ and Councils ignorance and nobody else. period!

  18. People need to stop thinking about drainages and think fresh water and waste water m management with a proper sewer systems.  i mean the romans built sewer systems much  more  advanced that what Zambia has currently.  Landfills and mandatory recycling facilities need to  be  built.  putting all the responsibility on  small business and home owners will only make things
    worse and harder to start businesses.

  19. I think it is time we started to plant lawns, trees and make pedestrian walk ways in Zambia! Lusak in particular is pathetic esp Kaunda Square with the dust and wind greeting people everywhere must be looked into. Look at the photo above, it cannot take a lot to just put cement on the sidewalks bane plus draining furrows! Ba Sata twafweniko!

  20. ‘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’

    Quite an appreciation of the idea the Civil engineer has. There are too many short comings however. The main report as well does not bring out a professional engineering report. it all ‘booky’. a text book airlift in short. The engineer has failed to bring out the nitty gritty saliency of an true engineer. Very embarrassing to have such a report. Editors try to have such publishing be graded by professional engineers. i thought it as a joke at first when a Ugandan under graduate civil eng student showed me a printed copy of this, as written by a Zambian Civil eng

    • #21: This is not a technical paper. It is written to be read and understood by lay people – non engineers; not other engineers. There isnt enough room on this platform to discuss the techincal details of engineering soultions. It is neither necessary nor appropriate for this forum. That discussion belongs in an engineering journal.

  21. N.S. this is a well writen article .Thumbs up. It’s good that the education you got from KABOSS is well applied. I’ll call you to have more info.

  22. Great article.To those who say its too long therein lies your problem in lacking personal fulfilment.Yes,it takes very long things to make it in life-long work hrs,enduring long reads, and focusing on your goals for long periods.Therefore if you can’t read this long article i assume you also think other good things in life will come to you easy and thats why most zambians are not successful.They just want short term effort for big gains.Sorry life doesn’t work that way.Regarding dust,we can’t just blame LCC.We also don’t have discipline-on where we walk,where we toss trash or where we drain our waste water.USA is clean because its people are disciplined and don’t just wait for councils to do everything and they have a maintenance culture from their homes to everything else.

  23. #21: This article is not a technical paper. It is written to be read and understood by lay people -non engineers. There isnt enough room on this platform to discuss technical details of engineering solutions. That kind discussion belongs in a technical engineering joirnal. It is neither necessary nor appropriate for this platform. The goal here is to simply convey an opinion of how things should be to the public.

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