By Cate Inverso
At the top of Gwembe valley’s Siavonga district, in Zambia, lies Lusitu, an area of harsh climate and little opportunities for social and economic development. This is where the original inhabitants of Chipepo area were sent to in 1958, due to the construction of Kariba Dam.
Thousands were brought, mostly against their will to this alien place, where they had little affinity with the local chiefdom’s people, and had to adapt themselves almost overnight to a whole new existence.
As of today, the area lacks all infrastructures promised back in the day.
The Basic school built in the same year of the resettlement has never been restored or upgraded, as the lack of teachers is also great, electricity is virtually non-existent in the households and the only paved road is soon to suffer from the increasing soil erosion advancing in the sideways.
While Harvest Help Zambia moves into the scene to try and mobilize the community before is too late, another issue comes to attention: the pipes in the boreholes are failing to reach the water, and when they do, the water comes out salty, says the teachers. Meanwhile, Lusitu River runs nearly dry.
Even though a small dam was built, the lack of water flow, according to Alexander Kasenzi from Harvest Help Zambia, is due to soil erosion.
His charismatic approach and environmental knowledge of local conditions earns him full attention from the students at the school, who are now engaging in the ‘Regreening Lusitu’ project. However, it is still a concern, whether such initiative, given the further climate change experienced in Lusitu can come to the rescue of the farming population.
The fall in the cotton price has made farmers conclude that “it is not even worth picking [cotton] up”, referring to the recent drop from K 3000 per kilo to K1,600 of the commodity (£1= K8.791).
And as Zambia runs into growing internal problems of land scarcity, the situation of farmers depending on it for their food production and to graze their livestock gets worse.
The closest water resource from the Zambezi River is about 8km away.
For the majority of the people living in such areas, they move on living on politicians’ promises at times of elections, “ They [politicians] come here every year and say they will help us…but them we never see them again”, bemoans Mr. Tilika, an elder in one of the villages.
In a nutshell, the Lusitu story is just one small example of the inadequate social and economic impact from large scale infrastructure projects such as the Kariba Dam. The scheme, bypassed the local communities in every aspect as the decades went on, leaving the place and its people unnoticed.
NB: The author is a student at SOAS with years of experience in the rural areas around Monze, Southern province, Zambia.