Can city relocation end cholera outbreaks?

EIZ president George Sitali officiating the engineers’ indaba in Lusaka recently. Picture right, engineers following indaba proceedings at Mulungushi International Conference Centre in Lusaka.

CHOLERA, a highly contagious waterborne disease with the ability to cause death within 24 hours, has in the past few months ravaged the city of Lusaka. This notorious epidemic that knows no class broke out in October last year and has so far claimed about 80 lives while 3,635 people have been treated.
Some of the areas that were affected by cholera include Chipata, Kanyama, Chawama, Matero, Chilenje and Chelston.
However, on the bright side, the disease has inculcated good habits in people such as the cautious disposal of garbage, washing of hands after using the toilet and drinking treated or boiled water.
But, without adequate clean drinking water, better sanitation and hygiene practices, it is difficult to maintain high standards of cleanliness and win the fight against cholera.
It is believed that lack of access to clean drinking water and better sanitation are among the factors that ignited the outbreak of cholera in the capital city. However, Government has worked hard to curb the disease, but what remains is to find a lasting solution to recurrent cholera outbreaks.
Meanwhile, after a long dry spell in Lusaka, the heavens have finally decided to open up, and alas, causing floods in some townships of Lusaka.
And as the heavy rain pounds the rooftops of Kanyama township, Elledy Musumala closes the window of her tiny house and sighs.
“The rains are here and there is cholera too,” Mrs Musumala notes.
She then explains how the outbreak of cholera in the unplanned settlement has negatively affected the lives of many people due to water shortages and the inadequacies of water infrastructure.
Ms Musumala, who has lived her entire life in Kanyama, is now worried because the cholera epidemic has become a perennial problem.
Water supply and sanitation has been a huge challenge in most unplanned townships of Lusaka, prompting residents to draw water from unprotected shallow wells which are unsafe.
The UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number six calls on countries to ensure access to water and sanitation for all. Improving these services to bring about economic gains is key in building resilience due to increased climate variability.
Engineering Institution of Zambia (EIZ) president George Sitali believes that the solutions to combating cholera include brainstorming and sharing of ideas that have the potential to produce feasible models.
Recently, EIZ held an indaba dubbed ‘Sustainable development in the water and sanitation sector” to put in place permanent measures to avoid future disease outbreaks.
Mr Sitali said the indaba theme had clear links to the Seventh National Development Plan under the growth outcome number three which emphasises improved access to water supply and sanitation.
EIZ’s mandate is to advise Government on matters relating to the engineering profession, to investigate and monitor national emergencies of public concern by, or likely to be caused by, an engineering product or service and recommend appropriate preventive and rehabilitative measures.
“Cholera response requires structural responses,” one of the engineers, Ennie Muchelemba, noted in her presentation entitled: “Rural water supply-faecal contamination of groundwater: Does disinfection using chlorine make the water safe?’’
Ms Muchelemba stated that safe drinking water should be free from pathogenic organisms and low in concentration of compounds that are acutely toxic.
This year, Government has allocated K564.5 million for water and sanitation in the national budget.
According to the National Water and Sanitation Council (NWASCO), access to water supply in urban areas stands at 86 percent, while in rural areas it is at 48 percent. This means that over six million people are without sanitation facilities.
Daniel Nkhuwa, a geology lecturer in the School of Mines at the University of Zambia, suggested that the capital city should shift from Lusaka to another place where proper city planning will be possible.
Professor Nkhuwa said over the years, Lusaka’s perspective has been lost, hence the need for an urgent re-think on how future developments of the city should be implemented.
He said there is need for a complete uproot of the capital city to some new location whose geology could allow for on-site sanitation system.
“The choices made many years ago have impacted on current waterborne diseases. The onsite sanitation should not have been permitted because the geology on the ground (of Lusaka) does not allow it,” he said.
Professor Nkhuwa’s presentation was entitled: ‘Is sustainable urban water development and prevention of waterborne diseases attainable in Lusaka under its current sanitation practices?’
While a lot still needs to be done to correct the current situation, especially in Lusaka, efforts on the ground are slowly yielding fruit. The US$355 million Millennium Challenge Account (MCC) project which aims at improving water, sanitation and drainage infrastructure has been almost completed.
The project is meant to help reduce the incidences of water-related diseases, give households more time for income generation, make businesses more productive and prevent residential floods.
It is for this reason that Ministry of Water Development, Sanitation and Environmental Protection principal engineer for rural water supply and sanitation, Abel Manangi, called on engineers to influence change in the prevention of waterborne diseases through timely advice.
“We hope the team of engineers working with Government will consider re-planning or re-development of cities and slums where disease outbreaks are frequent,” Mr Manangi noted.
Adding more insight on the topic, WaterAID technical manager Adamson Sakala advised engineers to be emphatic and proactive for their decisions to be taken seriously and implemented.
“We need to target the causes of cholera. This implies building water systems in whole cities and villages in endemic areas,” Mr Sakala said.
The resolutions of the indaba will be presented to Government for possible action. Former EIZ president Bernard Chiwala will lead the team of experts in drafting the position paper.

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