Facing Water Challenges in Zambia

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Zambia is facing difficult challenges such as persistent poverty and increasing climatic variability. Although it has sufficient land and water resources, its success in addressing its problems depends largely on how it implements its plans and strategies for water resources.


Focus Areas

Water Supply and sanitation and IWRM

Geographic Scope




Background and Significance

The Experience: Challenges and Solutions

Combating poverty
Source:United Nations World Water Development Report 3 (2009)

Zambia is among the world’s least developed countries, ranked by the United Nations Development Programme as 163rd out of 179 countries on the Human Development Index. Since 2005, under the Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative, Zambia has received debt relief equivalent to some US$6 billion. This has had a positive impact on the national budget and hence on poverty. Nevertheless, 63.8% of the population still lives on less than US$1 a day, and 46% of Zambians are undernourished. Conflicts in neighbouring countries have caused movement of refugees into Zambia, further aggravating the situation. Extreme poverty is especially significant in rural areas, where the majority of households depend on subsistence farming.

Meeting public health needs

Water-related diseases such as malaria and diarrhoea are major health problems in Zambia. The toll of malaria alone is nearly 4 million clinical cases and 50,000 deaths per year: it accounts for as much as 20% of maternal mortality and 23% of all deaths. Diarrhoea accounts for 6.9% of all illness reported (2003). Zambia has also been affected by HIV and AIDS, with about 9% of the population being HIV positive (2000). The 2008 Health Survey indicated that HIV and AIDS affected 14% of people aged 15 to 49 – the country’s prime workforce. Another issue is that increasing environmental degradation, affecting forests, wildlife and fish populations, especially hurts the livelihoods of the poor, who depend the most on these resources. Wealthier communities are less affected.

Addressing environmental concerns

Copper mining is an important source of income in Zambia, but it involves pumping water out of mines and into natural waterways, which degrades the environment and water quality. For example, Konkola Copper Mine discharges some 300,000 m3 of water per day into the Kafue River, which supports most of the country’s economic activities and over 40% of the population. The Copperbelt Environment Project has aimed at addressing environmental consequences of mining. Stronger regulation is needed for mines and other industries whose effluents affect the environment. Although there are some positive effects from mine discharges, such as making more water available in the Kafue River for downstream users, particularly in drought years, these have not received much attention. Furthermore, the effects of mine pumping on groundwater have not been studied in detail yet.

Deforestation in Zambia is advancing at a rate of 3,000 km2 per year. It has resulted in localized flooding, increased erosion, reduction in surface and groundwater availability and loss of aquatic life. Accurate estimates are hampered by the lack of an updated forest resources inventory.

Decreasing surface and groundwater quality, due to an increasing nutrient load, industrial and agricultural pollutants and a falling groundwater table, is a growing problem in highly populated urban areas. Sanitation and solid waste management are also major concerns. Waste collection and management are inadequate, posing a serious threat to groundwater quality, particularly in periurban areas and informal settlements, where between 40% and 80% of the urban population resides.

In summary, Zambia is a country with enough water and land resources to facilitate development. However, inadequate data and capacity, in every dimension, seriously impair the government’s ability to address many challenges, most notably poverty and hunger. Increasing the share of the population with access to safe water and improved sanitation, especially for people living in periurban and rural settings, would help curb the spread of preventable diseases that claim too many lives and reduce productivity. Application of IWRM, which is awaiting the necessary legal and institutional structure, will help combat poverty and malnutrition while assuring sustainable socio-economic development and preserving a healthy ecosystem.

Results and Impact

Lessons for Replication

Testimonies and Stakeholder Perceptions


See also

Nyambe, I. A. and Feilberg, M. 2008. Zambia National Water Resources Report, executive summary. Lusaka. (Draft.)

External Resources

United Nations World Water Development Report 3 (2009)


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