Habitat for Humanity Zambia is urging decision makers to pay urgent attention to informal settlements, which are often densely populated and have inadequate housing and limited access to water, sanitation and hygiene facilities needed to stop the spread of the COVID 19 disease.
Organisation National Director, Mathabo Makuta says crowding has been associated with elevated risk of respiratory infection, increasing the opportunity for cross-infection among family members and within communities.
Ms Makuta said globally, an estimated 1.6 billion people live without adequate shelter, including nearly 1 billion living in informal settlements.
She said some 2.2 billion people live without improved sanitation and 2 billion are affected by water stress adding that in Zambia there is a housing deficit of 1.5 million and 40 percent of the population has inadequate access to clean safe water saying the figure is even higher for sanitation and hygiene.
Ms Makuta said in light with the current COVID 19 pandemic, people living in unplanned settlements are more susceptible to the disease because of their living conditions.
She has recommended that policy makers should take actions including protections and support for access to safe, adequate and affordable housing; and access to clean safe water, sanitation and hygiene in their responses to COVID-19.
Ms Makuta said decision makers should consider policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic that: ensure adequate housing remains a priority and option for all; recognize the multiple ways in which housing is financed at the household level, including access and protection for micro-finance loans; recognize tenure security along the continuum of land rights; incorporate participation of the communities they are trying to serve; and facilitate the ability of communities to build back better and more resiliently.
She added that government should consider the needs of residents in communities and to consider contextually appropriate solutions for those living formally and informally, including: eviction bans to help tenants struggling to pay rent; cash benefits as direct support for struggling families; banning utility shut offs of electricity, heat, and water so that people are safe in their homes; and addressing the hygiene and shelter needs of the homeless.
Ms Makuta said Government cannot afford to wait as the availability of water, sanitation and hygiene facilities including adequate housing are a first line of defense against the COVID 19 disease.
She said her Organisation has been complimenting government’s efforts to provide safe, clean water to the urban poor in form of boreholes, open and closed communal water kiosks under the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene-WASH programme.
Ms Makuta has added that, 59 public water points benefitting about 47, 604 individuals in Chilanga, Lusaka, Chongwe, Kabwe and Ndola Districts have been installed so far since 1984.
“Furthermore, through the Orphaned and Vulnerable Group Housing programme targeting the aged, orphans and people with disabilities, more than 3, 844 decent shelters have been constructed,” stated Ms. Makuta.
Ms. Makuta is therefore, calling for the civil society organizations and policy makers to put access to clean safe water, sanitation and hygiene; and adequate housing in unplanned settlements at the heart of actions plans in addressing the COVID 19 pandemic in Zambia.