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Alba Iulia
Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Zambia’s Pathetic Cholera Strategy

Columns 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

[Read 383 times, 1 reads today]


  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