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Poor Waste Disposal Threatens Health in Zambian Cities


The United Nations declared 2008 the “International Year of Sanitation.” And one of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals is to provide safe basic sanitation facilities to all by 2015. But in many developing countries, including Zambia, sanitation problems receive little or no attention from the government. Voice of America English to Africa Service reporter Danstan Kaunda in Lusaka, says severe weather is causing more sanitation problems in southern Africa. Flooding from heavy rains increases outbreaks of diarrheal diseases like cholera and dysentery.

In Zambian cities, most of the unplanned settlement areas have pit latrines, where human waste mixes with floodwaters.

Febby Mbewe is a resident of Kanyama, a Lusaka township where buildings are straw shacks and latrines are pits. She says, “There is too much water [in township] toilets. Roads have submerged in the floodwaters. Every time it rains the water level rises. Now it has gone up over knee-level. Because of that the houses, toilets [pit-latrine] and roads are all flooded.”

The Ministry of Heath says diseases related to diarrhea have increased, contributing greatly to child mortality.

The Water and Sanitation Council of Zambia acknowledges the problem. Osward Chanda is a coordinator of the council, “We need a policy change in the sanitation sector because people are building structures anywhere without proper sanitation facilities. So who’s responsible for where they are disposing the human waste? We need to police the sector properly; by this I mean having someone responsible to oversee the sector development. “

The government says the agency that oversees the construction of sanitation facilities is the Department of Town Planning, but a funding shortage has weakened its ability to do its job.

A study by the Zambia Statistical Office reveals that seven out of every 10 households use pit-latrines as their main toilet facility.

Some sanitation groups and international agencies like UNICEF are proposing new and improved toilets.

A government initiative under the Rural Sustainable Development Program has constructed over 240 improved low-cost toilets.

The new toilets are not pits, but units that separate waste into two containers below the pan. They are constructed 1.5 meters high from the ground with two collecting chambers behind.

Technical advisors say they are easy to maintain and the waste can be treated and used as fertilizer.

The government and donors are planning to introduce the improved public toilets in townships.

Currently, the Zambian government allocates only 0.2 percent of its national budget to water and sanitation development. But critics are calling for more funding for the sector.

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