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  • group of boys
  • Peter and Ignacious
  • 3 boys
  • Class room
  • Class Photo

Zambia - Day 5

Batteries recharged after our 500km drive yesterday, and it was off on our last day to visit the biggest area of challenge for the WaterAid team - an urban slum just outside Lusaka. Lusaka, the capital, has a population of 2.2 million and, absolutely astonishingly, 1.6 million of them living in urban slums around the perimeter of the city. That is a population in slums larger than Glasgow! We were visiting one of the slums called Ng'ombe (Zambian for cow) that had 80,000 people living there and only 20,000 of them with access to safe water and 90% with no access to sanitation. There are extremely high levels of illness, particularly diarrhoea and HIV related illnesses.

Due to there not being enough access to toilets, we learned the term "Flying toilet" which was basically doing the toilet into a "Chibuku shake shake" carton, similar to a milk carton, and then transferring it into a plastic bag and then throwing it away. The result of this was litter and human waste lying all around the dwellings and often in the stream that ran through the site. It was really shocking to see this and children playing with this all around.

Chibuku is a cheaply brewed very strong alcohol from maize and water boiled up and fermented. Many of the rural villages make this, but in the towns, it is commercially produced as Chibuku shake shake and sold in cartons for around 30p per litre. Most of the adult males drink this and I think that if I lived in these slums I would most likely drink lots of it too! (We did sample it a few nights ago, when one of our guides bought a carton, and the best I can describe it is like strong fermented porridge-like liquid. It made buckfast seem like vintage champagne! We were told not to drink this so please don't tell anyone, you are the only person I have told!)

We visited one of WaterAid's partners, Keepa Zambia who are a foundation set up in 1996 and working as a charity to help deal with this challenge. The name of the programme is Sanitation and Social Marketing and covers the installation of latrine toilets, hygiene education and solid waste management. The biggest challenge of these is changing behaviours, which will strike a chord with many Scottish Water leaders who are currently dealing with similar issues back home.

Keepa Zambia started working with WaterAid 5 years ago as one of the partners dealing with this  issue, and it was really clear that Partnership and Collaboration were the key factors in giving any hope to these people. Again, there are many similarities with what we are trying to do in Scottish Water with a stronger partnership approach to delivering the capital programme and collaboration as a key focus area for all of us.

We visited the Health centre, and met the manager called Ignacious in his room with writing above the door saying "in charge". Simple but effective! We also had a chuckle at the room next door which said "Knight duty room" and yes, there was a round table in it!

The health centre had 700 patients a day and only 2 doctors. I wonder how the NHS stats match up to that! I was in awe of the fantastic work that the nurses and doctors were doing. Thankfully the Government was funding the clinic. However, when you consider that they only contribute 5% of the water and hygiene spend (every $1 spent on water and hygiene returns benefits of $4 to $16) I only wish they would see that they need to invest in stopping illness and disease rather than treating it.

We next visited the Ng'ombe Presbyterian school (funded by a christian alliance for children) in the slum that had 518 children, 9 teachers and a head teacher called Satiel, who was only 31 and looked like one of the older pupils! Clearly he didn't drink Chibuku shake shake! Supported by Pastor Emmanuel, they were doing a fantastic job and the children were absolutely delighted to see us. Once again, they had very little but were really happy. We gave some gifts of pencils, rulers, key rings, and some blow up world globes and you would have thought that it was Christmas. Their excitement gave me a boost and, for a small time, helped to take my mind off the  horrendous sights that we had seen.

The next stopping point in the slum was the thing that will last with me for a long time. Four teenage girls were washing clothes in the stream.  The water was filthy, contaminated with septic tank effluent which was entering the stream a few yards from them. There was also stinking rubbish and many "Flying toilet" bags lying around them in the water. They couldn't afford to pay the 5p equivalent for 20 litres of water from the commmunity distribution tap so this was their only option.

The enormity of this problem in the slums is depressing and it could easily be put into the 'too hard' box. But that is not how WaterAid operates. With all of our help, and their partners, the problem can be tackled. It may take a long time, but every life saved and every child protected from illness should give us all the resolve we need to continue with the support that we give to such an amazing team.

As I sit on the plane completing this, I have reflected on the overall experience of WaterAid in Zambia. The team put together an outstanding programme which I feel privileged to have experienced. Joseph Pupé, the WaterAid leader, was outstanding. His plan was perfect. He controlled everything to military precision, but knew when to flex the plan to enhance the experience. His team were equally impressive. The four drivers, Costa, Godfrey, Fast and Kingston were brilliant. Not just drivers, but they also shared with us the history and culture of this great country. His other community based staff, Runnex and Layford, opened doors for us to experience rural, small town, peri urban and urban settlements as well as meetings with district commissioners, heads of councils and community groups and the pinnacle, an audience with His Royal Highness Chief Sekuteé.

I will never forget this visit. I am exhausted and energised at the same time, I have really happy memories and memories that will haunt me, I have met some truly inspirational Zambians and some who are not and most importantly I have made some great new friends in the UK,  Louis, Richard, John, Garry, Dave and Helen.

Off to sleep now and signing off for the last time

Twaloomba and Twaunka (thank you and goodbye)

  • Child Rubbish Tip
  • Dump
  • Sorting through tip
  • Little girl
  • Community Health Centre Map
  • In charge
  • Knight duty
  • WaterAid Group Shot
  • Group shot
  • Water company stall