Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Zambia’s Pathetic Cholera Strategy


By Michael Chishala

It seems to me that the government response to the latest cholera outbreak in Lusaka is mostly wrong, treating symptoms rather than causes. The epidemic started last year around October and has claimed the lives of more than 50 people and infected over 2,200 people with as high as 100 new cases in 24 hour periods.

GRZ has swung into action closing down markets and restaurants, demolishing illegal street vendor stands, cleaning up various areas including drainages, banning gatherings of more than 5 people and other measures. I totally applaud all these actions that are at least 30 years too late because of corruption in successive governments that have failed to enforce laws on hygiene and building standards. But this only solves about 20% of the problem in my layman estimation.

The big massive elephant in the room is the fact that cholera in developing countries is mostly spread through unsafe contaminated water, poor sanitation and inadequate hygiene. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on their website say:

“The disease can spread rapidly in areas with inadequate treatment of sewage and drinking water. The disease is not likely to spread directly from one person to another; therefore, casual contact with an infected person is not a risk for becoming ill…. Individuals living in places with inadequate water treatment, poor sanitation, and inadequate hygiene are at a greater risk for cholera.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) states the following on how cholera is spread through contamination:

“Bacteria present in the faeces of an infected person are the main source of contamination. The disease can thus spread rapidly in areas where sewage and drinking water supplies are inadequately treated. New outbreaks can occur sporadically in any part of the world where water supplies, sanitation, food safety, and hygiene are inadequate. The greatest risk occurs in overpopulated communities and refugee settings characterized by poor sanitation and unsafe drinking water.”

It is clear that most of the cholera is coming from the filthy Lusaka shanty compounds that have no clean running water, no flushable toilets nor a literate population that fully understand hygiene and practices it. Shanties are full of pit latrines that are contaminating shallow wells and boreholes sunk nearby.

Residential areas like Chalala or Saint Bonaventure in Makeni which are full of septic tanks and boreholes on the same plot are a secondary source of cholera although not significant since we have hardly heard of cholera coming from there.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and a water engineer I consulted, the recommended minimum effective distance for constructing a soakaway from any drinking water source is 30 metres. ie there should be no borehole within a 30-meter radius of a septic tank and soakaway as part of the mitigation of underground water contamination. Our conversation was very fruitful since like him, I also majored in Fluid Mechanics when doing my Engineering degree in Manchester (my final year project was also in the same subject).

A former University of Zambia student Luke Banda released a dissertation research paper in 2013 on Makeni Saint Bonaventure and excerpts are as follows:

“A study on groundwater that was conducted in 2010 in selected areas of Lusaka showed high levels of contamination with bacteria…. The study population … included all the 490 households in the study site. A sample size of 55 households was found at 95% confidence level…. The majority (67.27%) of water samples collected from households in St. Bonaventure were satisfactory, while 32.72% were unsatisfactory. The study revealed that only direction of groundwater flow had an association with water quality (total coliform and feacal coliform) at 5% significance level….”

“… siting boreholes and septic tank systems in the same area was not suitable for St. Bonaventure Township and Lusaka at large because safety of groundwater cannot be guaranteed. Partners in water resource management such as ZEMA, Department of Water Affairs, Geological Department and Lusaka City Council should, therefore, work together each time projects that involve groundwater development and onsite wastewater treatment are to be implemented. LWSC to provide piped water and sewage services to St. Bonaventure.”

There are many other studies and reports and they conclude that a lot of Lusaka water is contaminated and unsafe. To make things worse, we now have pirated mineral water taken from taps which are not safe. All this shows that GRZ is sleeping at the wheel. They have done very little, despite studies going back seven to ten years showing the source of the problem.

Our leaders would rather line their pockets with corrupt deals involving fire trucks, ambulances and expired drugs. They don’t care about us Zambians and it is only because people have died in dozens that they are now pretending to be working. Where have they been the last 30 years with tens of thousands of people affected?

The Lusaka City Council (LCC) clearly does not follow any standards. Everything goes out the window as long as there is a brown envelope. Health Inspectors are obviously useless and impotent, or we would not have cholera in Hungry Lion and Pick N Pay. What do they do to justify their pay?

And the media has also not been as useful as they should have been. Most media houses haven’t even bothered to conduct proper investigative journalism. They would rather copy and paste a shouting match between Chishimba Kambwili and Bowman Lusambo or Mr Steven Kampyongo. The media could have easily gone into the shanties and residential areas and got water samples from taps, boreholes and wells and taken them to University of Zambia (UNZA) labs for testing.

If I had the time, I could have found the main sources of cholera within a week. I have previously documented in pictures in the last 2 years the filth in Soweto Market and the University Teaching Hospital (UTH). I posted on Facebook with little reaction from authorities. Only now are people taking the situation seriously after seeing my pictures in light of the cholera epidemic.

Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company (LWSC) has shown no interest in stopping the leakages in underground water pipes which is another source of contamination because cholera-infested water can enter the piping system through cracks in pipes, especially during the rainy season. LWSC know full well about this link of cholera to their leaking pipes but like corrupt politicians, they simply don’t care as long they get their salaries. The “Boma ni Boma” mentality.

I was further told by my water engineer friend that the way to solve the current cholera outbreak is to isolate the source. Start testing water from Kafue until you get to distribution centres where you can follow the branches. Where you find a high concentration of cholera bacteria, you fix the leaking pipes and flush out the bacteria.

This whole disaster was and is very easily preventable by sorting out water and sanitation. Shanties should have been demolished 30 years ago and people relocated after compensation. High rise flats with small and medium apartments can replace a lot of the small structures so that less space is used. If you sell off Misisi for example, you have enough cash to build tall high rise flats in Chibolya after flattening it. You can engage property developers and managers to maintain standards through monthly collections from residents.

LWSC can take water to areas like Chalala and St. Bonaventure. It costs between K15,000 to K20,000 for a household to sink a borehole, buy a water tank and piping and install everything. If LWSC used their brains and acted, they can pipe up the whole area and add sewage pipes. If they charge every household K5,000, that would be enough to recoup their investment and they would have thousands of paying customers every month.

If water coming into Lusaka is inadequate, LWSC can get a loan from Development Bank of Zambia (DBZ) and set up more water treatment plants at the Kafue River and combine all output into a massive master pipe or they can add an extra pipe alongside the current one. They can issue a Utility Bond if borrowing is not desirable. LCC can similarly issue a Municipal Bond.

The garbage problem is easily solved by installing lots of bins, outsourcing collection to the private sector and regularly cleaning drainages. You can set up the “Hygiene Police” who arrest people littering and fine them K50 (it can finance itself).

I would suggest that the fines collected should go to the Policemen and women so that they have a huge incentive to catch everyone, with a small 10% commission for GRZ. Ditto for minibuses who contravene on the road. You just need a special unit of plain-clothes police people to be randomly patrolling minibuses and stations. You can even offer a reward to anyone who has video evidence of misbehaviour and this can be sent as talk-time and funded by fines.

In conclusion, all these basic problems have simple solutions but people have refused to think or they are too corrupt or comfortable to care. I really wish performance contracts were introduced in the Civil Service and Cabinet with clearly stated targets every month, quarter and year. Anyone below target at year-end review is fired immediately.

CDC: General Information on Cholera

WHO: Frequently asked questions and information for travellers

UNZA: Effects of siting boreholes and septic tanks on groundwater quality in Saint Bonaventure Township of Lusaka District by Luke Banda

RESEARCHGATE: The Effect of Distances between Soakaway and Borehole on Groundwater Quality in Calabar, South- South, Nigeria by Ibiang Ebri, Ekeng Emmanuel, Bejor Ebaye, Department of Civil Engineering, Cross River University of Technology, Calabar, Nigeria

The author is a Zambian blogger, entrepreneur and web and software developer.
Email: michael [at] zambia [dot] co [dot] zm


Dirty Trading Places with poor sanitation and drainage
Dirty Trading Places with poor sanitation and drainage
Dirty Trading Places with poor sanitation and drainage
Dirty Trading Places with poor sanitation and drainage
Dirty Trading Places with poor sanitation and drainage
Dirty Trading Places with poor sanitation and drainage

Dirty Trading Places with poor sanitation and drainage


  1. …and the traders are so comfortable doing their trade in such filthy!! These humans must be sick in their minds! How pathetic!!! Surely, is this my country? Why Zambians? WHY? I am so embarrassed to the core!!!!!!

    • I think therefore I am. This can not be said of the vast majority of the African and specifically the black population.

    • “All this shows that GRZ is sleeping at the wheel. They have done very little, despite studies going back seven to ten years showing the source of the problem.” No Mr Chisala, they are not “sleeping at the wheel”.

      They are VERY BUSY lining their own pockets with public money, or at least money they have BORROWED which Zambians will have to pay back. They do not go shopping in this filth. They drive their 4X4s to the new shopping malls opened by the Chief Thief and then go home to their nice expensive houses with their own boreholes, so why should they care?
      If they ever get sick there is no going to UTH for THEM! They will get flown to South Africa and treated in the most expensive hospitals all AT TAXPAYERS EXPENSE!

      They are NOT sleeping. They are busy working hard to keep…

    • You are blaming the traders? I would rather blame those who are buying from such dirty places. Personally, I would not even think of defecating in a place like this!

    • ALL you Zambians who live abroad–I dare you to show the above pictures to your friends in the clean countries where you currently reside. Tell them this is where you come from. They’ll never look at you the same. This is just plain shameful and unacceptable. How can you tolerate such filth in the country? And when racists call us names, we get up in arms trying to fight them. This is just pathetic. Lungu’s administration is the worst in the history of our country. The pictures above are horrifying, and nightmarish. Someone needs to find out whether it’s possible for Zambian citizens to sue the government for gross negligence, which has led to a huge loss of life. What a shame.

    • Everyone is wallowing in the mad like pigs even eating…how can you call yourself Mayor or President in such a country!!

    • Don’t insult people. What else can they do? Do you think people are happy to live like that? There are jobs in Zambia. We have no government, and the councils disappeared in the 196os. All of us, including you, have failed as Zambians.

    • My heart is bleeding so much I can’t handle this … what happened??? I want my Zambia back, nothing of such a sort ever happened in UNIP days. Awe mwe bantu, bushe cishi kanshi bane???

      Great piece of work, Michael … it made great reading. You identified the causes well, looked at current parameters and offered solutions … thanks a trillion.

      Heaven help us all!!!

    • That’s what I mean when I talk about the smart people of the Zambian Enterprise … you are one of them Michael!!!

      Sancho saana …

    • The disgusting filth in which people actually seem comfortable to live shows the govt of Zambia is totally insane. It’s hard to believe there’s an organised govt tasked with the responsibility to maintain the environment clean. I mean they don’t even try. No words can adequately describe the utter stup!dity that’s apparent in this chaos.

    • The problem is that the bus stops and markets have been politicised.
      There must be separation from politics in order for a country to function normally.

    • Good idea to police the cleanliness of the streets but… Can it work here in our country? Given the disgusting harassment from those authorised to police traffic on our roads, this new idea, in this country, is simply a recipe of further harassment and intimidation by those who are assigned to uphold the law.

  2. There is no way in hell anyone can ever justify a $1 million firetruck in country and capital city where people live like pigs. No apologies for that politically incorrect statement.

    • These pictures are from Zambia, you can see the price of tomatoes 3 Kwacha and a packet of chibuku shake shake, what more evidence do you want? Only Lungu would claim that they are fake!

  3. I also think the biggest problem is water and leaking pipes.If you to matero,lilanda,chawama etc you’ll find that lWSC doesnt even do anything.The Councillors are also sleeping.There is this concilor in Lilanda Saulosi the man knows nothing.Drainages just leak everywhere but he can’t even push for them to be fixed.LWSC and concillors should be charged.They are the most clueless people in Zambia.Even now pipo don’t have water in their homes.how do u expect to eliminate the spread of Cholera?too much corruption in Zambia.It’s like killing pipo just bcoz of love of money.

  4. Cholera-Be the Salt and Light?

    As a nation we should ask for help from anyone willing in times of trouble like the one we are facing right now. Therefore, the five specialists from Sheba Medical Centre in Israel are most welcome. However, after the first major outbreak of cholera in 1990 that lasted until 1993 one would think Zambia would have learned a lesson. Since then, cholera cases have been registered every year except 1994 and 1995. A UNICEF Situation Report from May 9th 2016 states, “Apart from the Nsama outbreak, which seem to be linked to the outbreak in DR Congo, the remaining cases are linked to the Lusaka outbreak. Sources of new infections are linked to contaminated water, contaminated food sold in the street and inadequate sanitation (with only 55% households having…

  5. This is the worst technical paper attempt i have ever seen in my academic life. The manuscript is full of un founded and documented facts, no qualitative and quantitative analysis, photos taken at same GPS location, the date the photos were taken (What was cholera situation for u to vomit crap and use these photos as reference materials) . If u have done fluid mechanics or water engineering , please u can still enroll for primary school teaching which is easy

    • This is the first time I have been compelled to swear online. You are really f&*K up if all you can see from the article is its lapses. There is far more substance in it that it seems you will be able to produce in your whole life-time!

    • @Anyoko, you’re just an id1ot, sorry. If you know more about this than Chishala does, why didn’t you submit your article then? That’s right. It’s because you’re just an armchair critic. Most of what Chishala presented is plain common sense. That’s why ordinary people like us understood him. If you or the government want more technical information from him, you can contact him for that. Otherwise, keep your elite ivory tower academics to yourself.

    • @8 ANYOKO

      It has been said: “One picture is worth a thousand words.” Sad that you are unable to use your eyes to see – just to look and see! You don’t have to read in order to see. That alone, the gloomy sight presented here, should have horrified you. But if you have neither heart no brain, then, that is a problem – your own, not that of the author.

  6. Just a few days after being appointed minister of local government, Mr Michael Sata ordered the destruction of illegal structures at the fringes of Kanyama township. There was uproar from all sundry including politicians. FTJ gave Sata a dressing down and those residents were compensated and rebuilt those houses on the same spot. Today this part of Kanyama is sore sight and a potential source of diseases.

    • I am surprised that you are actually knowledgable! I have read you other posts as well….I just cannot understand your almost blind loyalty to the failing PF…and often your tribal remarks. Utumano, kanshi mwalikwata, napapa sana!

    • They need to do what Kenya has been doing with the Kibera slums. Construct new high- rise apartments for the shanty township dwellers, something like Kilamba city near Luanda in Angola. You can look it up on YouTube. Once the apartments are finished, begin to relocate the people to the new apartments, and then demolish their old slum dwellings. Make sure to forbid them to rent out their new apartments–otherwise, they’ll attempt to rent out the new apartments and go right back into the slums. Also forbid people to build any new slum houses. Arrest the offenders. So build, relocate, demolish old structures, build, relocate, demolish old structures till all the slums around Lusaka are gone. Compensate them for their old structures and then make them pay affordable rentals in their new…

    • (Continued)… apartments. Thereafter, be on guard against the mushrooming of new slums. Punish the offenders severely to deter others.

    • @ 9.1 Obatala

      It does mean that Ndanje Khakis is an honest individual, and not as blind a PF follower as many of us have thus far taken him to be. Like you, I too have been impressed lately, by certain of his postings. He does sound like someone who is objective, capable of taking a balanced view. Quite refreshing.

    • My friend I have helped people with their research work even though I am of fairly humble editor. Coming to your assertions that I defend the PF…. I don’t defend anyone , I defend reality. Reality means one must analyse how Mr Hakainde is going to give every Zambian a job……refer to MMD promises vs Unip situation, PF 90 days solutions vs Rupiah against hatred from Mmembe. No one can take me for a ride. If HH won the election I was to defend him against fake promises..the hallmark of every politician..

  7. Talking about Mr Michael Sata. After witnessing so many accidents at the Great East Railway Crossing, the council engineers decided to shift the railway line to the west of town. Mr Sata as governor at that time asked these technocrats how many times they were going to shift the railway line since Lusaka human and vehicle populations were still growing. They couldn’t understand what he meant then he told them that a permanent solution was to build a flyover bridge. And here we are using this master piece.

  8. Then you have people sanctioning spending $1million on a for truck and $288k on an ambulance and dreaming of forming an airline…….any way these were the same people with cholera who dancing with lungu dunnuna reverse….lungu is only intrested in stealing $2.3 million in his account after one year…

  9. Mrs Luo , can you please revamp the primary school cariculum to include environmental awareness to teach our kids about contaminating water and safe disposal of rubbish and the threats of deforestation……we need a cultural shift in Zambia and there is need to teach when they are still young…

  10. Can one get Cholera by looking at pictures of filth? I believe I just did as my stomach has just turned and I have running tummy problems just from looking at the pictures. Someone should have resigned by now and there should be a lot of scalps on the wall too. This cannot not be the 21st Century.

  11. I really don’t know whether this is a contribution towards finding the solution or mare frustration???
    As for the pictures, those are old pictures probably for 2016 cause the whole area has received a facelift. You need to revisit the area and correct your facts.

    • Really!!? Have you been to any of the markets located in high-density locations in Lusaka this rainy season? The pictures presented above are quite typical of Zambian markets!!

  12. Much as I agree with Michael but its now a matter of too little done and too late. While I applaud, what has been done by the Government so far, we the citizens need to do our part also. Its us who promote the spread of diseases. If we stop buying from people selling at traffic lights, selling in the streets, we would at least have clean streets and roads and the spread of the disease would be contained quickly. We should buy from designated markets only, not from the vendors in the streets and traffic lights. The Councils are simply and clearly not doing anything. Did we need to have this outbreak for us to see that we do not have working Councils? Overhaul the Councils, lay off the bloated non effective labour force and employ people who are willing to work. Vendors SHOULD NOT BE…

  13. Powerful pictorial evidence of how we destroy our environment and dehumanize ourselves.Zambia looks like martian wasteland.

  14. Help provide solutions not just blame games. We ate not interested. People and family friends are dying and all you do is just blaming government,lend a hand and let’s save lives. Ifyabupuba ekokwine.

    • Why is there a government? Who is supposed to shoulder the responsibility? Why are there councils? We have had governments since 1964. What have they been doing?

  15. This filth is not a new phenomenon for those that know Lusaka. The capital city has been dirty since KK times and all we have done thru the years is compound the problem as citizens by not taking the councils to task. Add to this that Zambians are naturally dirt-loving people and you will not be suprised that this disaster is unfolding. Dont blame ECL, blame yourselves for allowing it to reach this stage.

    • @Gen Kanene you’re wrong. I don’t know whether you’ve lived in any developed country before or not. But in developed clean countries, it’s the government’s responsibility to keep the country clean. They put all the sanitation systems in place, and thereafter, enact anti- littering laws which are strictly enforced. In the USA a policeman will give you a ticket or arrest you if they see you littering. How do you expect the citizens to keep the city clean when there are no adequate public trash bins throughout the city? How do you expect the people to keep the city clean when the city council leaves heaps of garbage uncollected in public trash bins? For instance in Ndola they tell the people not to throw trash anyhow, and yet there are no adequate public trash bins in the city. The…

    • (Continued)… strategy should be , put sanitation systems in place, clean up the city, and then teach people the proper way of disposing their garbage. Thereafter, strictly enforce anti -littering laws. It starts with the government. Blaming the poor victim is always a cheap political gimmick. The blame should squarely be placed on Lungu and his administration.

    • We’re all to blame, after all we are the government. If we just watch our selected doing nothing, we’re to blame. Keep them busy, harass them even to the extent of forcing them to resign.

      I beg to differ. much as we have a huge role to play as citizens, its the functional systems in place which inculcates a culture of cleanliness. A good example is how successful mines preach about safety standards to a point of choking you. Its sounds rubbish but eventually you develop a culture for it. But to start with if there are no structures or leadership in place, this is where we are!

  16. That filth can be easily turned into serious cash. That is serious compost which can be used to grow plants and if you separate food waste from human waste, you are looking at topsoil, fertilizer. I will be setting up a recycling center nearby soon. watch this space.

    • Luanshya just doing that. Very soon people in Luanshya will be fighting over waste because the council will be buying waste for many uses.

  17. How many years ago was our ‘Independence’ ?. We are not truly Independent are we ?. We need the Israeilis to come help us fight cholera.
    We can’t even clean our back yard.
    I am one of those who thinks change is impossible with the kind of leadership that is there.
    Then again at the end of the day da pipo get the type of leaders they deserve.
    That is the law of God.

  18. Despite subsequent economic failings, Zambia was cleaner under KK. Later, there was an opportunity to start afresh when Mwanawasa came into power and a huge chunk of our foreign debt was cancelled. That was a time to be prudent and action all the plans that had been made over the years to diversify, create more jobs and clean up the environment. What happened since RB and the current regime, is a crucial period to assess. Zambia’s problems have been compounded with the lack of industries to provide employment. In short, no long term economic and environmental planning, nothing to draw the population away from the main cities to meaningful production elsewhere – and now a runaway debt, corruption, misappropriation and the development of a liberalisation attitude/culture that has been…

    • Where there is no vision, people perish. In Zambia, we are yet to learn to elect visionary leaders. We vote along tribal lines. And that has meant accepting every junk conceivable as leaders.

  19. How the hell is this possible for smart educated intellectual human beings to sink to the level of pigs? And the saddest part is Zambia has been rotten like this for decades and we ain’t even trying to improve our woeful standards .

    • Of what use are “Smart educated intellectual beings” in Zambia when in this modern day and age you still exalt Grade 12 level education as adequate for national leadership positions? The whole nation is hoodwinked by the belief that leaders are chosen by God thus He guides them in wisdom! Why should a vibrant nation be scared of setting the leadership bar higher so as to reward leadership positions to those who strive in education to attain higher levels of understanding and skills? I bet anyone that most of your elected councillors do not even have an inkling on how to go about this scourge let alone understand environmental health! However they sure understand sitting allowances, sharing of plots and, being party cadres!

    • Ego is what makes us think that we are “smart educated intellectual human beings.” I fail to find a more ideal adjective to use to adequately portray our ascend as members of the human family.

  20. Zambians need to take control of their country from tribalism and corruption.
    The two main evils that are destroying us.
    Unite dear Zambians.
    Leaders must be held accountable.
    They start fillimg their pockets once they get to plot 1.
    Take Tanzanias and Rwandas leaders for example.
    They are making huge strides to improve thier respective countries.
    You cant have kaponyas rule a county.
    Sad state of affairs indeed
    God helps those who help themselves.

  21. Ba mudala, we need such like you to bring out such facts on the ground instead of propaganda, that is an amazing and factual piece of writing.

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