The Rains Continue in Zambia

In all the years we lived in Zambia we have never seen rains like this season has brought. Our lawn has become waterlogged and is actually growing algae, the old abandoned pool on our compound has become a dark green lagoon. Water is gushing through drains and across roads.


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It’s interesting how weather can change one’s perception of a landscape. I am a Brit and therefore used to rain and murky weather. The grey drizzly days make me feel more at home. When it doesn’t rain temperatures soar and make me heavy and tired by mid-morning, but with the cooling effect of the rain I am bounding around without sweating.

Not everyone enjoys this time of year as much as I do however. We are lucky to live in a well-built house with drainage, but out on the compounds, things are very different. I was chatting to a local taxi-driver and he described how a friend of his has had to send his wife and children away to stay with relatives while he stays behind and sleeps on a table, since the flooding where he lives is so bad. He can’t cook and instead is eating out, we both joked how we felt this was good excuse to eat in restaurants and take a holiday from his family. But this story illustrates a big problem here, regular flooding.


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Lusaka is a working city and one of the fastest growing in sub-Saharan Africa. There is not much in the way of tourist attractions, houses sit in large gardens, completely walled in. Rather than existing as a cohesive city, Lusaka is more of a group of little towns that are bleeding into one another. When you walk down the street you are greeted by electric fences and large gates, concrete walls and neatly landscaped driveways. Sadly many of us ex-pats are not necessarily aware of how the other half lives, those tall walls and heavy gates don’t just keep out thieves, they keep out uncomfortable realities as well.

If you cannot afford to live in one of these properties, you live in a ‘compound’ – a township of basic houses, usually brick, small and built close together. Roads are unpaved and most of these house have only the most basic of amenities, meaning they may not have water or electricity (though it does vary from compound to compound).

kanyama clinic in floodsPoor public transport means that some compounds on the outskirts have market stalls, hairdressers, convenience stores and shacks that sell cheap booze so that residents don’t need to traipse into the main areas of the city. These compounds are at least an improvement on the shanty towns that have grown in countries like Kenya and South Africa, but there is one major problem with these areas when it rains. They flood. Poor or non-existent drainage systems and a lack of forward planning when building mean many of the places sit on low land that simply fills with water every time it rains. Part of Lusaka is built on a large seam of marble and slate which also adds to the problem. Photo credit.

Recently we have seen terrible destruction in Europe and Haiti from extreme rainstorms and although the damage in Lusaka is not nearly as bad, it is dangerous. Most of these compounds have outside ‘drop toilets’ – toilets that are holes in the ground. Many families grow their own food near their houses. With heavy rains comes diseases like cholera and malaria and other health problems as people’s toilets flood. Those families that grow food for themselves may lose their crops because they flood and die.

The sad thing is, this happens every year. Zambians pay high taxes including VAT that is on a par with the UK and yet there is little to show for it. So what is the answer? My taxi driver feels it is the fault of the government who he claims are more interested in re-election than helping citizens. Whatever the cause, until something changes many people like him will continue to sleep on tables in rainy season.

This is Elizabeth’s first post on PocketCultures. She is originally from the UK and has been living in Zambia for 3 years. When she is not dodging floods she works as a freelance writer and helps out at a local art gallery. Find her on her blog Scrapbook.

Read more:
African blogs on Blogs of the World
Cross-cultural romance in Ghana
Storytelling in Africa and beyond: Chimamanda Adichie on the danger of a single story

About the author

Elizabeth Watkin
Elizabeth is a Brit living in Zambia with her American husband. She was an English teacher for many years, which is when she got the travelling bug; she has also been a VSO volunteer. She is now a freelance writer and education consultant as well as volunteer at a local art gallery.
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7 Comments

  • Thanks for this post, it is eye-opening. It saddens me to think that political leaders (not only in Africa but South America too) are more concerned with their reelection than with the well-being of their constituencies. I hope this will change one day, but unfortunately I’m not holding my breath.

    By the way, the place you described in your post can easily be anywhere in South America too. So sad.

  • mark burke

    great blog liz, look forward to reading more. Hope Chad is ok. You know Sarah Grant started a charity on planting trees, and I wonder if she would be interested in helping urban areas too ( trees could counter-act flooding to some extent ) . Add her on facebook and see what she says. Perhaps fruit trees in urban areas could counter flooding and provide some food/income.

    all the best

  • Hi Liz! I didn’t know that you were in Zambia until I got back in touch with Mark and he let me know. And I was also not aware that the rains were still going on as badly in Lusaka.

    As Mark said, I founded an NGO and we pair small loans for business development in Zambia with tree planting…….micro-loans for group enterprises where the interest can be paid forward in-kind by planting trees. Right now we are working to build up our seed money to get offices in Zambia and support a few more loan programs, but I would love to consider the possibility of working with you and an affiliated group or community to try and offer some opportunity to change things. I am also very much interested in learning more about what you are doing back in Zambia……

    Best thoughts to you and hope to hear from you soon,
    Sarah

  • elizabeth

    Thanks for your comments Ana, sadly as the climate changes I suppose we’re going to see more of this extreme weather and it is the most vulnerable that generally suffer first.

  • The water drainage system in Lusaka is pretty bad, I don’t think that there is a plan to deal with excess water due to climate change.

    Either the people who live their have to hold their local officials responsible or come up with some solutions themselves.

    I’ve never understood why the taxes are so high and yet basic services are so poor.

    BTW my photos are from 2 years ago (Jan 2008).

  • elizabeth

    Mosilager,
    I THOUGHT the pictures were of Zambia! I totally agree with you. Change seems to be effective when it comes from the people who will benefit the most.