Analysis: MARK RICHARDSON
THE recent outbreak of cholera in Lusaka and other towns around Zambia has been a tragedy.
Our thoughts have been with those affected, families and communities that can ill afford such events.
The outbreak, driven by poor water supply and sanitation, is something we should be able to banish permanently from Zambia’s borders.
Meanwhile, to the south, the city of Cape Town is showing us what growing water insecurity looks like – what many would not have believed possible – a major, well developed city can actually run out of water, exacerbated by the changing weather patterns associated with climate change. It is the most poor and vulnerable people that suffer most in such situations.
While southern Zambia has been unusually dry so far this season – with increasing concerns for the impact on agriculture and supply of energy – the north has seen higher than normal levels of rain which have caused floods that wash away vital infrastructure and livelihoods. Too much water, too little, not the right type.
These events all show how vital it is to our lives and economies and that we must prepare better for a future in which climate change will make such challenges even greater and more frequent. The UK Government in Zambia has actively supported the Government-led response to the cholera outbreak and we have recognised the good that has been done to bring the outbreak under control. But we know that however hard anyone tries in responding to an outbreak, it is merely a sticking plaster.
Cholera arises because people are living without proper water supply and sanitation. Long-term solutions require better urban planning, enhanced infrastructure investment by Government and affordable and practical solutions. But cholera is just one part of the battle. Ultimately we need to ensure water security, which means universal access to water and sanitation for all, improved water resources management, and an equal focus on the needs of businesses that need water to grow and build the economy. Lusaka and Zambia will not thrive if businesses and farms are forced to move for lack of secure water supply.
So, as set out in the 7th National Development Plan, unless we consider these challenges holistically and recognise the linkages between them, we will fail to build a Zambia that fulfils the enormous potential we all know it has. Last week I met with the Honourable Minister for Water Development, Sanitation and Environmental Protection. Aside from cholera and water supply, we also discussed deforestation and the use of plastics in our society. Deforestation allows water sources to be threatened while plastics block drains and spoil rivers and oceans. All these things are connected.
That is why the UK is happy to support the Lusaka Water Security Initiative (LuWSi), for which the Minister for Water is the Patron, bringing together stakeholders from across the public, private and civil society sectors because only a multi-sector, multi-stakeholder approach can help solve these problems. And it is why we are happy to provide support to Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company and other stakeholders to deliver the planning and investments to make water security a reality.
The recent battle with cholera has demonstrated just one element of our complex relationship with water – we must recognise the broader picture, treat water with greater respect and take action before it is too late.
The author is head of office for Zambia, UK Department for International Development.