KALONDE NYATI, Lusaka
IT STARTED as a health issue, but is now affecting the economy at both household and national levels.
The cholera outbreak, which started in October last year and now spreading like a wildfire with about 2,927 cases recorded as at last Friday, has slowed down business activities following the closures of some trading outlets and markets resulting in loss of income.
As if that is not enough, the disease is also affecting international trade as demonstrated by the Namibian government’s move to ban the importation of all perishable food, fruits, unprocessed food and water from Zambia until further notice.
The economic impact of the cholera epidemic is therefore huge and will definitely negate some of the micro and macro development plans.
For Prisca Bwalya, a fruit trader, who has been in the business for 17 years, the disease has paralysed her household income and fears that she may not be able to pay her bills, meet her daily needs if the outbreak continues and trading remains suspended.
“We are going to starve, because we no longer have an income to meet our basic needs such as food. Cholera has put our lives on hold and the sooner the outbreak is contained, the better. As communities, we also need to maintain cleanliness so that the disease can be curbed,” she says.
Development consultant Isaac Ngoma is of the view that the cholera epidemic is likely to affect effective implementation of the 2018 National Budget as resources may be diverted from the original spending towards addressing the problem.
Mr Ngoma, who is also Economic Association of Zambia (EAZ) immediate past president said the cholera outbreak has a negative impact on the economy as it will negate some of the development plans of the country.
“In the immediate or short term, we are seeing the sudden unplanned spending on this crisis, which implies that budget resources are being diverted from the original spending towards addressing the problem at hand,” he said.
Mr Ngoma said while the long-term costs may not be quantified now but the already constrained fiscal status will bear more stress during the year.
“At the macro level, the cost is huge as the fiscal position will be affected due to loss of revenue and the burden of additional expenditure towards the control of the epidemic,” he said.
He said the persistence of the epidemic and failure to implement long term prevention measures can be a deterrent to investment and tourism in the short to medium term.
“The epidemic has largely affected business in the trading sector, especially for fast moving consumer goods; in agriculture where farm produce is not being easily supplied to markets and the tourism sector where tourist cancellations also impacts on the hospitality industry where entertainment and eating outlets are ultimately affected,” he said.
At household level, Mr Ngoma said the epidemic that has affected the economic activities of the micro and small businesses, especially the trading sector, has resulted in loss of income.
“The traders are unable to earn an income and therefore, unable to meet their basic needs. With the high unemployment rate in the country, the move will result in some of the micro and small businesses closing. There is loss of productivity and some traders will find it difficult to recover their businesses,” he said.
Similarly, Lusaka economist Herryman Moono says Zambia being a transit route for most goods reaching the large Democratic Republic of Congo market, there is likelihood that the export of goods through Zambia may be restricted until the epidemic is contained, and this has the associated costs of reducing revenues through toll fees and other fees.
“Given that Zambia is predominantly an import dependent economy with high cross border trade, measures by other countries to restrict the movement of Zambian traders in the aim of curbing the spread of the disease to other countries has the negative effect of slowing business thereby contributing to increased poverty,” he said.
Mr Moono also said cholera, being a fatal disease is expected to significantly reduce tourist arrivals and may result in revenue losses from tourism.
“There are also the reputational costs that will endure long after the epidemic. More campaigns would thus need to be had to reassure tourists on measures government would have put in place to redirect tourist traffic to Zambia from neighbouring countries such as Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe,” he said.
However, Zambia Airports Corporation Limited (ZACL) says the passenger traffic at the Kenneth Kaunda International has not been affected.
“Both domestic and international [flights] are running as normal and the December period was quite busy. However, the official numbers will only be known once compilation has concluded,” communications and brand manager Mweembe Sikaulu said.
Ms Sikaulu said ZACL has intensified hygiene standards in all the four international airports in the wake of cholera outbreak and has assured passengers of their safety.
“ZACL has intensified monitoring of various aspects hinging on hygiene and safety, one of the procedures performed by the corporation is the oversight over restaurants. ZACL placed sanitizers throughout the airports, sensitising staff and other airport operators. We have intensified the checks in the wake of the cholera outbreak.
Random samples of the food served in restaurants are also being carried out within the airport premises.
Given the feasibly high economic costs of cholera in Zambia, and that the channel of transmission are well known with prevention easy, extreme care should be taken in future planning to curb the disease.
The economic losses – large as they may be – are avoidable, and future efforts should prevent them.