A FEW days ago Zambia President Edgar Lungu did something unusual – he asked his people to pray for the kwacha on a national day of devotion and fasting this Sunday to reverse a decline in the world’s worst currency and fix a litany of problems from plunging copper prices to electricity shortages.
But then Zambia is unique in it own way:
Climate change champion
Zambia is one of the very few African countries which is facing up to the very real threat of climate change particularly since it’s already beginning to feel the effects in the form of higher temperatures and an increase in frequency of droughts and floods. Featuring heavily in national newspapers, these issues weigh heavily on the minds of the country’s leaders – President Lungu recently said that global warming was partly to blame for the “unprecedented” power crisis in the country and is known for his public declarations in urging the global community to address climate change.
But it’s not all lip service at home. The government put in place the National Disaster Management Policy and the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit under the Office of the Vice President in order to respond to the disasters at the national level, it established a public and privately resourced fund for supporting the implementation of climate change programmes, established the Climate Change Secretariat which carries out a lot of preparatory work with communities and the Ministries in order to prepare for implementation of adaptation activities and, when it comes to channeling adaptation resources to the local level to help communities, the Adaptation Finance Accountability Initiative is there to address challenges. The country has even launched a “International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction” which focuses on the use of traditional, indigenous and local knowledge in disaster risk management.
Though tourism contributes only around 5% of Zambia’s GDP, its significant world class tourism attractions including the Victoria Falls to the South and 19 national game parks strewn around the country, are making it an increasingly important foreign exchange earner. Partially, because the country has taken tourism to a whole new level. Instead of simply looking at animals or taking photographs of a river, the industry has developed into something of a magnet for adventurers.
The Victoria Falls offer the perfect opportunities for bungee jumping and abseiling. The mighty Zambezi river, which snakes through the south of the country with some of the largest river waves in the world, has operators offering river boarding, kayaking and river rafting.
The river has some spectacular gorges around it which give adventurers the added opportunity to strap on a full body harness and swoop across like a bird in flight! This should be done at the Bakota gorge, which is the world’s first commercial High Wire – a cable is spanned across the gorge which is 135m long and 75m above the ground. The country also takes gaming viewing to a new level with the opportunity to ride elephants on their elephant trails or walk with lions and cheetahs.
Zambia is one of the few countries in Africa making determined efforts at achieving universal free health care. The effort goes way back to the 1970s although fees were reintroduced in the ‘90s before once again being phased out again. In 2006, as a first step in making healthcare universal and accessible to all, user fees were abolished in health centres and districts hospitals of rural and peri – urban areas. The immediate impact of the reform was dramatic – an average 40% increase in use of health services.
Unfortunately the impact was been patchy and hard to sustain but the government didn’t give up. It has worked hard at improving transport, constructing new health facilities, improving existing buildings, increasing health promotion activities and increasing funding – for example, its expenditure on family planning increased by 70% from 2012 to 2013. It also created a “Human Resources for Health Strategic Plan 2006-2010” to deal with critical shortages in health care workers – one result from this was the training of 5,000 community health workers by 2015.
Since then, though still far from perfect, the country has been responsive and made some incredible gains. Zambia’s maternal mortality ratio went down from 729 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2001/2002 to 398 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2013/2014 – reflecting a 54% decline. These figures show how more mothers were able to access maternal health services as reflected by a 74% increase in births assisted by a skilled provider – from 43% in 2001/2002 to 64% in 2013/2014. This has significantly reduced life threatening complications during childbirth.This reflects 15 years of hard work by the Government of Zambia and other non-state actors in addressing barriers which prevent people from accessing quality healthcare.
Island of peace
Despite having 72 different ethnic groups, and being surrounded by neighbours afflicted by insecurity, war and instability, Zambia is one of Africa’s most peaceful countries. The country consistently features in Africa’s top 10 on the Global Peace Index due to its negligible scores in internal and external conflict and because it is able to have peaceful transfers of power happen, the latest being in 2015 when Edgar Lungu won the presidency.
Lungu is the missing one if you hadn’t worked it out.
Rare animal encounters
Zambia offers the lesser known animal migrations whose rarity make it extremely exciting for even the most well-travelled bush adventurer. In Kasanka National Park between November and December, eight million fruit bats darken the skies. Also in November, tens of thousands of blue wildebeest gather on the plains of Liuwa Plain National Park.
Aside from these incredible migrations, visitors can have some unique experiences with sitatungas, a semi-aquatic and highly elusive antelope, herds of thousands of black lechwe – the only place in Africa you can see the antelope in large numbers and in Kafue National Park lions can be seen exhibiting unusual behaviour, swimming in swamps and even climbing sycamore trees. In both of these parks you also have a chance to see wild dogs, a hard to spot carnivore endangered throughout Africa.
It is estimated that approximately 40% of the water resources in Central and Southern Africa are found in Zambia, which gives the country immense irrigation and hydro-power potential.
The government is now really starting to tap into this incredible resource with irrigation programmes allocated K56.7 million ($5 million) of the K53.14 billion ($4.5 billion) 2016 national budget. The government has also scrapped import duty on irrigation equipment and established three irrigation infrastructure projects, aimed at attracting private resources and expertise into irrigation development and management for the benefit of smallholder farmers. All of these efforts will be further boosted by a World Bank loan of $115 million for irrigation purposes.