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Corruption Found to Impede Access to Water in Zambia

Transparency International says corruption has made the cost of water more expensive in most developing countries, threatening billions of lives.

The scarcity of clean water delivery in Zambia has led to water-borne diseases, such as cholera and trachoma. Zambia’s finance and national planning minister says the government has allocated additional funds to the water sector. He made the comment in an address to the National Assembly in January. The minister, Situmbeko Musokotwene, says government will spend up to US$ 40 million to improve the water infrastructure in underserved areas. The lack of adequate water has created sites where waterborne diseases are spread.

But Zambians have heard such promises before.

A closer look at the situation shows that corruption in Zambia emerges at every point along the water delivery chain. It can be seen in the drilling of community boreholes, the construction of water kiosks and the rehabilitation of water infrastructures.

Bupe Kabwe is a resident of Chipata compound, a heavily populated township outside Lusaka. She wakes up at five o’clock every morning to fetch water for her family. She says it’s not safe for women to walk long distances early morning. But the water kiosks are turned off by seven o’clock in the morning and they cannot go without water all day.

The World Health Organization says only 40 percent of rural dwellers in Zambia have access to safe drinking water.

And the 2008 Transparency International Global Corruption report says massive investment in the water sector has been announced worldwide yet there are still water shortages in most parts of world due to corruption.

Yvonne Magawa is with the National Water Supply and Sanitation Council (NWSCO).She says, ”We (Zambians) are still a developing nation, where most of our people live under [the] poverty line. So as long as we are not addressing such forms of wrongdoing like corruption in [the] water sector, we will not develop. As NWSCO we are trying to regulate and monitor the water utilities so that they provide the best service 24 hours.”

A prime example of corruption in the water sector in Zambia is the multi- million dollar government bid to drill boreholes at two public universities -- the University of Zambia and the Copperbelt University in the northern town of Kitwe.

The Zambian Anti-Corruption Commission notes there are irregularities in awarding the contract because the company that got the contract is registered as a food processing enterprise, not an engineering firm.

They said the company lacks the equipment for such a project. The university borehole project has stopped.

Chola, a senior inspector with the National Water Supply and Sanitation Council, says “We have seen a situation where people are buying plots and building mansions (very good houses) but the water utilities are not involved in the process. So what is happening is that we are just seeing structures coming up. But now the problem is that people in those areas are finding it difficult to access the sanitation services because they are not sanitation lines. So some are forced to corrupt the utilize staffs to get connected.”

Sanitation-related diseases such as cholera and trachoma are the second biggest killer of Zambia’s children after malaria. Since last November more than 500 people have died from cholera in Zambia.

Impure water leads to cholera, trachoma and other water-borne diseases.