The Dilemma between Hunger and Staying Safe

Mulenga Chishala, Extractive Industries Transparency Alliance (EITA)
Lusaka, Zambia

Zambia so far has recorded 70 confirmed cases of COVID 19, 35 total recoveries and 3 confirmed deaths. The confirmed cases are spread across three provinces, Lusaka, Copperbelt and Kabwe. Among the confirmed 70 cases were 2 children of 8 and 10 years of age. There is a great concern among the Zambian people that, children may choose to play far from home and may contract the disease now that the schools are closed, especially in high-density areas.

In mining communities where there is Artisanal small-scale mining, there is an increase in child labour as the children are no longer in school and therefore help their parents earn some money, especially with the current economic situation. Unfortunately, the children are exposed to health hazards as well as contracting COVID 19. Now more than ever these communities need assistance to earn income in a safe and healthy environment. Most people in Zambia are involved in hand to month jobs and are faced with the choice to decide between hunger and survival from COVID 19 by staying home. This has resulted to resistance to stay home and go to the streets and look for some money to help them survive for the day. Rhoda from Northern resettlement in Kalumbila district, North western province, in sharing her story emphasised the effect of COVID 19 on her business and livelihood. “I run a small school in the resettlement area and a restaurant that has not given me income in the last month. My school is closed and my restaurant sales about two to three plates a day. A restaurant I just opened this month. How will I survive?”

Recently the president of Zambia Mr Edgar Chagwa Lungu made it mandatory for everyone to wear masks. There has been concern among the communities and CSOs that not all individuals, especially those in rural areas, will be able to afford a mask. However, for some women involved in tailoring as a means of earning income, this has helped them provide food on the table. A business lady and woman of all trades of Kalingalinga area in Lusaka province Josephine Shakwambwa expresses her delight in the little money she is able to make and help provide for her family due to the demand for masks. Majority of the people don’t believe they can contract the disease and are not adhering to the measures put in place to control COVID 19. The police have been vigilant in ensuring that all follow the measures in place but unfortunately, they have gone as far as beating those who are not adhering. This has been seen as a violation of human rights, while others feel it is necessary to ensure all are safe from COVID 19. In addition, Many of the Zambian citizens are terrified of the disease and there are those that do not want to accept that they may have symptoms for fear of dying from the disease. Among the 3 recorded deaths is a young lady of 19 years who attempted suicide because she was found with COVID 19.

The effects of COVID 19 is everywhere even in the mining sector especially the small-scale miners in Luapula province. Most of the companies owned by the Chinese companies, have closed mining activities due to COVID 19 and also due to the heavy rains experienced in the province. This has also contributed to the effects of hunger at household level because most of the mining sites were flooded. The rural people are not spared from the effects of COVID 19, some families can barely feed and the stay home. These families depend on the little money they make from selling the manganese. Furthermore, most of the people in the mining sites don’t have protective clothing, particularly for those daily workers that dig holes in the mining sites to get the minerals using buckets. These workers might be affected with COVID 19 because most of the companies are not providing protection for their workers.

Large scale mining companies particularly in North-western province like Kansanshi mine ,Kalumbila minerals and Barick Gold Lumwana are contributing to the fight against COVID 19 in making contributions, sensitizing communities and ensuring their workers are protected .Zambia is a landlocked country and most of its neighbouring countries have closed their boarders leading to supply disruption in the mining and agricultural sector and hence reduction in cash inflows. This has also led to forced leave and laying off of workers. Mining communities in such areas are faced with challenges on how they will continue to provide for their families. However, government has put in place measures especially incentives that can help lessen the burden on the mines and businesses and ensure that workers are not negatively affected.

EITA with support from Diakonia Zambia has been working towards social and economic empowerment by empowering women and youth in accessing and benefiting from existing empowerment initiatives and business opportunities for a sustainable livelihood in mining communities in Luapula and North western provinces. Amid the COVID 19 crisis, EITA and other organisations working alongside government and the private sector are working to ensure that as the negative effects of COVID 19 have a toll on the mining communities , they are able to venture in income generating activities that give a choice to stay safe and earn an income for the wellbeing of the family.Apart from the work already being done to end COVID 19 and address its effects, there is need for robust sensitization among community members with regards to COVID 19. We implore all players in the fight against COVID 19 to ensure that no one is left behind in this fight. General measures have been put in place to fight the disease. But what about the specific measures and interventions that tackle the needs of persons with disabilities, care givers, children and other social and vulnerable groups.