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ZAMBIA: “Every Year Flooding Makes This Place a Little Hell”

LUSAKA, Jul 1 2011 (IPS) - During the rainy season, and many weeks afterwards, home is never the best place to be for Miriam Banda. Until the end of 2008, she enjoyed living at her house in Kanyama, a high-density settlement bordering the central business district in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital.

"The problems started during the 2008/9 rain season, when the water started building up around my house like never before." -Miriam Banda Credit: Ephraim Nsingo/IPS

“The problems started during the 2008/9 rain season, when the water started building up around my house like never before.” -Miriam Banda Credit: Ephraim Nsingo/IPS

Her small tuck shop was also a reliable source of income for her and her children. This is no longer the case, and she thinks only “some miracles” will change the situation.

“The problems started during the 2008/9 rain season, when the water started building up around my house in a manner we had never experienced before,” she told IPS.

“At first, we managed to block the water using pit sand packed into cement bags. The water levels kept on increasing until water started flowing into my house.”

The last blow was when she woke up one day to find her tuck shop washed away by the floods that had hit the impoverished southern African state.

“I could not believe it; everything was gone, just like that. The shop was my main source of income. I called my neighbours for help, but nobody could do much for me as they were also trying to contain the water at their own houses. Now I have become just helpless, but we are soldiering on.”

Banda, 61, had to face the reality of dammed up water left among dwellings after the floods. But when the government wanted to evacuate her and others to Independence Stadium in Lusaka, she would not agree without getting assurances that she would be allowed back at her house when the floods subside.

Another resident, Clara Siamwindi, said the situation appears to be getting worse with each year.

“In the more than 30 years I have lived in Lusaka, I have never seen such floods as we have been seeing of late. For me as a widow life has become very difficult, but I cannot move away from this place, except if they (government) build us new houses,” said Siamwindi.

Banda, Siamwindi and their neighbours in Kanyama do not view their plight as being a consequence of climate change but entirely as a sign of “divine anger”.

Changing rainfall patterns have resulted in an increase in the intensity and frequency of floods in Kanyama and neighbouring shantytowns of Misisi, Chawama and John Laing. Flooding has become a perennial problem in these areas, but the response from the government has been slow.

“Women and children are the most affected,” said Bornface Chileshe, a Kanyama resident who has committed himself to playing a leading role in mitigating the effects of climate change in Kanyama and the surrounding settlements. Chileshe is a psychosocial counsellor and a member of the ward development committee.

“Every year, especially in February when the floods are at their peak, this place becomes a little hell. We face all sorts of problems but it doesn’t seem anybody really cares.

“At that time of the year we also experience an increase in the outbreak of diseases such as diarrhoea, typhoid and malaria, but we cannot go to the clinic because even the clinic itself is flooded.” Because of poor drainage, the floods render the clinic and schools inaccessible.

“It is a sad situation. You can imagine what happens, especially to pregnant mothers when they need attention and cannot access the clinic,” added Chileshe.

Chileshe and another resident, Mariel Manda, told civil society representatives that they believe the money the government had spent to evacuate them to the stadium and to supply provisions was probably more than would have been spent to construct a better drainage system to support the community’s mitigation efforts.

Member of Parliament for Kanyama Gregory Chanda told IPS that climate change was having a “terrible” impact on women and children.

“This is posing a lot of challenges that the government should address. Some of the activities do not require too much money — just cooperation from government,” said Chanda, who belongs to the opposition Patriotic Front.

A newly published report on public expenditure shows that in 2009 – the year floods destroyed Banda’s tuck shop – the government allocated about four million dollars to the establishment and rehabilitation of the drainage system in Kanyama.

The Auditor General’s report confirms that the whole amount was released, but only about two million dollars were spent. The ministry of local government retained the rest.

Chanda told IPS that, as the area MP, he found himself in a “very difficult” situation especially given that it was a matter of public record that funds were released for construction of the drainage system.

He also alleged that “most” women left without livelihoods due to flood damage were now resorting to prostitution and other “uncouth” means to earn their livelihoods.

The chairperson of the Zambia National Campaign for Persons with Disabilities, Sefelino Bwalya, said the situation was worse for women with disabilities, especially women who are blind and those using wheelchairs to get around.

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