December 27, 2005

Battles to clean up its capital after increase of cholera

City authorities in Lusaka are struggling to clear its bustling streets of huge mounds of rubbish that have been singled out as the cause of a recent upsurge in cholera. The number of cholera cases jumped from just over 200 to 900 over the past two months, ninety percent of them in the capital, the health minister said. At the heart of the problem, she believes, are the hundreds of streetside vendors selling anything from cigarette lighters to chickens and goats in the city of 1.5 million people. The vendors, mainly unemployed youths and women, have created makeshift stalls on the sides of busy roads, even selling food next to piles of uncleared rubbish. "This is because of the unhygienic nature of people living in Lusaka," said Zambian Health Minister Sylvia Masebo and added that the situation was likely to get worse as they got into the rainy season."
Lusaka's newly elected Mayor Mike Mposha had before launched a "Keep Lusaka Clean" campaign to put more rubbish bins out on the streets and open up new dump sites. "But the moment you put rubbish bins on the streets, the following day you find they are all stolen," said Mposha. "It's a total mess," he noticed. "I am losing hope because our efforts to clean the city have just been going to waste."
Hawkers have also resisted appeals to do business in designated marketplaces as they prefer the streets. A previous attempt to remove the vendors from the streets resulted in rioting, with looters going on a spree and vendors throwing stones at cars. "Now all legal markets have been deserted in preference for street vending," said Nyambe Nyambe, the official responsible for the city markets. Former president Frederick Chiluba, who stepped down in 2001, stopped local authorities from removing the vendors from the streets, saying they were merely earning a living. "Politicians have taken advantage of the vendors by assuring them that they will not be removed from the streets if they vote for them," said Mposha, who has recently been criticized by some politicians for trying to remove the hawkers.
The problem worsened as several squatter camps mushroomed near the city centre, where the majority of the vendors live. Like many other African cities, Lusaka is drawing rural dwellers in search of jobs. "It's a cultural problem, which cannot be addressed by mere slogans. We must begin teaching children when they are still young on the need of cleanliness," opined civic leader Rinos Simbulo. (AFP)

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