By Ben Kangwa
While in the last 20 years, Zambia has undertaken various policy and institutional reforms in the water sector, challenges such as, old and inadequate infrastructure, lack of connection networks, intermittent water delivery and the poor performance of utilities still remain in Lusaka.
Further, the capacity of water supply and sanitation service provision has been stretched by a rapid population growth of more than one million.
On 22nd March, 2012, the United States Government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a bilateral United States foreign aid agency established in 2004 approved a US$354.8 million Compact with Zambia.
The Board of Directors’ decision was arrived at its quarterly meeting chaired by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to lay the foundation for systematic and lasting change in Lusaka’s water, sanitation and drainage sector, a critical constraint to economic growth in the country.
On May 10, 2012, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and the Zambian government are scheduled to sign the US$354.8 million five year Compact.
It is expected that through the Compact, the Lusaka Water Supply, Sanitation and Drainage (LWSSD) project will provide Lusaka residents greater access to water and better water supply, sanitation and drainage services by extending and improving select water supply and sanitation and through an improved drainage networks, lower flooding.
Speaking in Washington DC in April, 2012, when he met the MCC Vice President – Department of Compact Operations Patrick Fine and Andrew Mayock, Deputy Vice President for Compact Operations for East and Southern Africa, Minister of Finance and national Planning Alexander Chikwanda thanked MCC and the United States government for this gesture.
He said, “The Compact will be the single largest investment in the water sector in Zambia since independence.
I also wish to thank the MCC for the technical and financial support that was rendered during the preparation of the Compact.”
Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) provided US$15 million to conduct studies as well as for start up costs for the Accountable entity.
Mr Chikwanda said he was aware that there will be more work to be done after the signing of the Compact.
Some of the critical work to be done will include the preparation of detailed design studies for the sub-projects which is expected to be completed in mid June 2012. Thereafter, the procurement of the contractors is expected to take another estimated six months to be completed. The actual construction is expected to begin in early 2014.
“As Government, we are looking forward to the implementation of this project because the existing water and sanitation infrastructure in Lusaka is old and the capacity has been overwhelmed by the rapid growth of over two million compared to 134,000 at independence,” he added.
He noted that the programme only covers Lusaka Province and that the intention of the Government was to leverage for more financing to roll-out the programme to all parts of the country.
Against this background, the Minister said the support of the American Government would be most welcome, especially as the United States continues to lead the world in providing development aid even in the face of the austerity measures in almost all high income economies.
Mr. Chikwanda also assured MCC of the Government’s strong commitment to good governance, particularly the control of corruption, ensuring voice and accountability, civil liberties and maintenance of a conducive economic environment for business.
He stressed that Government would set aside funds for sewer connections for poor households and maintenance of drains in order to ensure that the Conditions Precedent in the Compact were met.
Earlier, MCC Vice President for MCC’s Department of Compact Operations Patrick Fine said his organization was looking forward to working with Zambia in this partnership with excitement.
He noted that Zambia would be the 24 country that his organization would be working with in this partnership but warned that a great deal of work lay ahead if everything envisaged in the Compact was to be completed on time.
“We are very happy with the relationship we have with the new government and we hope that there will be no hitches to the programme,” he said.
The Lusaka Water Supply, Sanitation and drainage (LWSSD) project is indeed a large and complex project with many components. MCC’s project selection criteria is anchored on sub-projects that are technically sound, yield an economic rate of return of 10 per cent, can be implemented within five years and are sustainable in the long term.
MCC supported the development of Investment Plans for water supply and sanitation covering Lusaka Province, as well as a priority drainage investment plan for flood prone areas in the City of Lusaka. This is the framework under which the proposed investments in the LWSSD infrastructure development will take place.
According to the Millennium Challenge Account-Zambia website, the investment plans under the LWSSD project have a 25 year design horizon through to 2035.
The interventions are divided into short-term, medium term and long term projects. Short-term projects are priorities up to 2015 while the long-term projects will extend up to 2035.
In late March 2012, at a town hall meeting held at the MCC building in Washington DC, Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Chief Executive Officer Daniel Yohannes said in announcing the decision by the Board of Directors,” We congratulate the Zambian people and the Government of Zambia. MCC investments are expected to have a meaningful impact on the lives of more than one million Lusaka residents by improving their health and economic productivity and helping the country reduce poverty on a sustainable basis by enhancing water security.”
Zambia’s Ambassador to the United States, Mrs Sheila Siwela noted that the signing of the Compact facility was very exciting news. This, she said, was indeed a joyous move and a manifestation of the USA government’s approval of Zambia’s policies.
She added,” It is my hope that more collaborations of similar nature will be forthcoming to Zambia. I am proud that Zambia is a recipient of this funding.”
In Lusaka, US Ambassador to Zambia, Ambassador Mark Storella added his voice, “ I congratulate the people and government of Zambia for becoming one among a select group of countries to gain MCC approval for an MCC Compact partnership.
Reliable water sanitation and drainage systems are vital components for sustainable development and while mostly underground and largely invisible to the casual observer, will improve the health of Zambians, catalyze economic growth and continue to reduce poverty.”
Ambassador Storella concluded,” Together, we have engaged with multiple stakeholders in intensive negotiations, consultations and project development to achieve the five year US$354.8 million Compact agreement with Zambia.”
It is therefore not surprising that a cross section of residents in Lusaka recently shared their thoughts on the impact of improved water supply, sanitation and drainage and reflected on how it affected their lives in the Millennium Challenge Account – Zambia quarterly magazine for February – April 2012 as follows
“I live in an area where intermittently we have sewer blockages. Perhaps the system has outlived its design period. I look at the improvements in residential housing in Lusaka; there are more people residing on single plots, which possibly implies that the system needs to be upgraded. Residential houses are wall-fenced without the control of storm run-off, and that is one of the causes of occasional flooding in the city. There are some well-planned areas that are not connected to the sewer network. The impact of that is that in the long-term we will damage our ground-water sources. We have good limestone aquifers in Lusaka, and if we contaminate these aquifers we are likely to disturb the potential source of water, which is ground water,” said Humble Sibooli who is Technical Support Manager at Water Aid Zambia.
Social economist at Zulu Burrow, Muze Balasi noted,“I might be privileged to have running water and a good sewer system but not all of my family members are as privileged as I. I’ve been to most of the peri-urban areas of Lusaka, and the problem of flooding is unimaginable. The government is doing the best they can but the efforts need to be doubled, even tripled. In fact, we should all double our efforts, in our own fields, and I think we can all play a part in educating people – educating people about hygiene and sanitation. We can do a lot by educating people because that is where it starts.”
Dr. Maria Akani, a Registrar at Chainama Hospital observed,“There are many diseases that people can contract from water, even things like Hepatitis C, and many people don’t know that. In Zambia, one thing that affects child health are diarrhoeal diseases because they compromise the nutrition of the child and it’s difficult to control; their condition is made worse because of diarrhoeal diseases. In places where there is not good water supply or sanitation, where there are no proper toilets, it’s a big challenge for the health sector, and we are still struggling with high infant mortality rates and child deaths. As a health professional, I know if we can deal with water – generally – we will be able to overcome a lot of challenges.”
National Water Supply and Sanitation Council (NWASCO) Director, Kelvin Chitumbo was quoted as saying, “Currently, the situation is one where every person who builds a house puts up their own septic tank, whereas we should have a situation where most of the areas are connected to the main sewer system. But we also have a situation where there has not been enough coordination between the planning authorities and the service provider to an extent where people have built houses and then they go to the utility company for services; it should be the other way around. With a project such as this, I hope it will enhance coordination, enhance planning and service delivery and establish strong links between stakeholders that provide services. We should strengthen that cord.”
George Ndongwe, Managing Director, Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company said,“If there were improved water supply, it would relieve us as a utility company. At the moment, we spend most of our time grappling with inadequate water supplies for our people [customers]. If it were improved, we might have more time to spend giving better service to customers, making their experience more pleasant. On a personal note, I get affected when I see that people have died on account of not having access to a good water supply; it’s unnecessary suffering, it shouldn’t happen.”
With the afore said, access to water, sanitation and hygiene will certainly improve the livelihoods and well being of the general populace of Lusaka urban and per-urban residents. Clean water and adequate sanitation will lead to improvements in health, school attendance, productivity and entrepreneurship.
The writer is Press Secretary at the Embassy of the Republic of Zambia in Washington, DC.