UNEXPECTED heavy rain and widespread flooding in much of Zambia, especially the capital Lusaka, has exposed the inadequacies of the multi-million dollar water and sanitation project that would have alleviated Lusaka’s long history of flooding.

Wedged on top of an impermeable table of dolomite rock and limestone, Lusaka is prone to widespread flooding, with much of the city’s sprawling high density townships lying in flood-prone areas.

A cyclist riding past the poster

The poster that announces the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)-funded project for Mtendere east in Lusaka is torn, and is unlikely to be repaired.  It is not only the signage that is crumbling, but the remaining part of the project too.

MakanDay has established that government’s failure to pay the contractor and the decision by the Millennium Challenge to terminate the contract for the firm that was earlier engaged to work on the same project are some of the reasons for the delay to complete the water and sanitation project for Mtendere east.

Lusaka has a long history of massive floods during seasonal rains and coupled with the high water table, poor garbage collection and sanitation infrastructure, perennial water-borne diseases are widespread. Many poor Zambians also lack access to water and sanitation services.

The MCC and the Zambian government signed an agreement worth $354.8 million in 2012 to fix these challenges. The project supported large-scale investments in water, drainage, and waste management infrastructure.

The iconic Bombay drainage in Lusaka is one of the completed projects – photo by Millennium Challenge

While it has improved water and sanitation in some urban areas, this is not the case for unplanned, high density peri-urban settlements like Mtendere east. Residents complain about lack of water and a haphazard road network which has contributed to a serious drainage problem.

An aerial view of the Kwamwena Reserviour, rehabilitated as part of MCC’s Zambia Compact - Photo by Millennium Challenge

Like other residents, Nelia Mumba, 42, a mother of three has spent her adult life contending with recurrent flooding, poor drainage, and a lack of toilets in Mtendere, where she has lived since 2012.

“They (government) said they would bring clean drinking water and waterborne toilets, not these pit latrines that we use, which they said contaminate underground water,” she told MakanDay Centre for investigative journalism.

She said, the abandoned project has created another problem for the residents of Mtendere. “Now these things (manholes) they put up are being opened, people throw garbage there, so the sewer lines have been blocked even before they start working.”

Uncovered manholes dug in inner township roads are now posing a risk to the residents

She added that there has been no attempt by the government to explain why the project has delayed. “They (government) told us, we will be connected in 2018, then they shifted to 2019, but now we are in 2021, we don’t know when.”

The works in Mtendere are part of the huge MCC-funded project which officially ended in November 2018. The Millennium Project Completion Agency (MPCA) funded by the Zambian government was set up to complete all outstanding projects.

“The works (in Mtendere) are not yet complete, and the contractor suspended works in February 2020. There have been several issues, one of the major ones is the funding challenge,” Pelekelo Chipango, the environment and social performance director told MakanDay.

He added that more than 87 percent of the work has been done on the Mtendere project.

Botswana-based Unik construction engineering PTY, is known to have been the company working on the project, but it has ignored an emailed query from Makanday asking why the works have stopped.

Elevolution Engenharia, a Portuguese company, was also working on the same project but had its contract terminated. Asked why, Chipango said: “The Portuguese one, we terminated, actually, they started under-performing, they were not meeting the deliverables ...and they also started having their own problems, at company level, where they were going into liquidation.”

But Noel Chiletso German Phumisa, Elovo’s company representative in Zambia, said in an emailed response that “liquidation was not advanced or notified as grounds for TERMINATION. Time is of the essence was advanced”.

Phumisa disclosed that Elevo had two contracts, each for 24 months.

In 2018, Millennium Challenge terminated two contracts with Elevo worth US $52.3 million under the Lusaka Water Supply, Sanitation and Drainage Project because the company was consistently failing to meet its construction targets.

According to then head of communication John Kunda, the underperformance by Elevo “was posing a risk of not completing the infrastructure works on schedule thereby denying the residents of Lusaka”.

MakanDay has established that the incomplete sewer system dug up in inner-township roads is a new threat to the residents as some of the manholes are being vandalized and left open by the residents.

Mtendere East

“I think it is because these things (manholes) have been idle for too long. If they were completed on time, there was going to be no problem with them,” said Ms Mumba.