The Challenges

Living in poverty means lacking basic human rights – water, nutrition, health, education – that should be inherited at birth, but are prevented by forces outside of one's control. For us who have always had these rights secured, it is impossible to empathize fully. But that makes it no less important to try. Here are some of the things poverty in Zimba District, Southern Province, Zambia entails...

Food and Income Insecurity

The small window of erratic rainfall allows for one annual harvest of field crops, which the villagers rely on to survive throughout the rest of the year. It must feed them and pay for school, healthcare, and additional nutrition. Recently, the harvests have been failing to do that, increasing food insecurity, malnutrition, disease, and poor education rates.

Through colonial encouragement, Zambia’s economy, diet, and palate have become reliant on maize (corn) production. Compared to other field crops, maize is low-yielding, susceptible to drought, and non-nutritious. It relies on expensive seeds and fertilizers to perform. The cost of these have more than doubled recently because of a failing currency. One way farmers remain profitability is by cultivating more fields, but this only magnifies issues like deforestation, erosion, soil degradation, and the inability of the watershed to retain water.  

A Land of Extremes

Zimba District, where we perform a most of our work, is one of the driest parts of the country, receiving only 700mm mean annual rainfall. It is a land of extremes. For four months of the year, flooding rains destroy roads and deport soils. The other eight months are taxingly rainless. Rivers that raged 100m wide dry in a matter of months, cueing the search for water.

 

To survive in these conditions – to grow food and find healthy water, to establish health, economy, and education – is very difficult. Climate change is magnifying these extremes, increasing temperatures and concentrating rains it into an even shorter, more destructive period.

Malnutrition

Malnutrition occurs when you don’t get enough of the nutrients needed to grow and sustain your body. It is especially dangerous to those under two years of age – the most important period for physical and mental development. There are many ways a parent can struggle to feed their child. Sometimes, the food and income is available, but the mother doesn’t know how to prepare a balanced meal or why it’s important. In other situations, the income is available and the mother informed, but she doesn’t have financial freedom from a husband who chooses not to invest in nutrition. In other situations, there simply is no vitamin-rich or protein-rich foods available.

Malnutrition is the point where the poverty cycle completes and restarts itself. Children who are malnourished do not grow properly, both physically and mentally. Although malnourished children have no control over their diet, they enter childhood and adulthood permanently disadvantaged. In the worst situations, malnutrition is lethal – it makes children vulnerable to otherwise survivable sicknesses. Notably, the combination of water-borne disease and malnutrition form a large contribution to under 5 mortality.

Malnutrition occurs when you don’t get enough of the nutrients needed to grow and sustain your body. It is especially dangerous to those under two years of age – the most important period for physical and mental development. There are many ways a parent can struggle to feed their child. Sometimes, the food and income is available, but the mother doesn’t know how to prepare a balanced meal or why it’s important. In other situations, the income is available and the mother informed, but she doesn’t have financial freedom from a husband who chooses not to invest in nutrition. In other situations, there simply is no vitamin-rich or protein-rich foods available.

Malnutrition is the point where the poverty cycle completes and restarts itself. Children who are malnourished do not grow properly, both physically and mentally. Although malnourished children have no control over their diet, they enter childhood and adulthood permanently disadvantaged. In the worst situations, malnutrition is lethal – it makes children vulnerable to otherwise survivable sicknesses. Notably, the combination of water-borne disease and malnutrition form a large contribution to under 5 mortality.

Not only is Zimba’s surface dry for most of the year, but its groundwater resources are especially low-yielding and hard to access. This has undermined the success of the traditional route to rural water – hand pumps atop drilled wells. Instead, women and children walk kilometers to dried stream beds to dig for their family’s water supply. With the diminishing rain fall, increasing population, and changes in land use, the water resources are shrinking as the distance to them grows.

The consequences of water insecurity run deeper than the incredibly strenuous task of carrying many kilograms over many kilometers. The daily trek also consumes huge amounts of valuable time - time needed to attend school, generate income, or, simply, be a kid. Contaminants in the unprotected water increase rates of illness. The fact that the task is deemed the females’ responsibility severely suppresses their chances at equality and wellbeing.

Water Scarcity

The majority of these challenges are shouldered by a portion of the population – the women. They are expected to walk, dig, and spoon for their family’s drinking, cooking, bathing, and cleaning water; perform a majority of the labor in the fields; maintain the household; cook for the family; and raise the children. They are subject to gender-based violence and sexual assault.  Schoolgirls are forced to miss class to collect water. Sometimes they’re forced to drop out completely because of early marriage. At the end of it all, they have little control over the fruits of their efforts

Gender Inequality

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