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Mitzi Du Plessis
22 Jan 2009 11:48
Zambia’s wealth of diverse minerals, abundant water and land, agricultural production, culture and tourism make it one of the richest countries on the African continent.
Yet glimpses of life in the compounds (high-density areas, unplanned urban settlements) of Lusaka paint a disappointingly grim picture.
The Zambian capital provides an uncertain home to some of the continent’s poorest households.
Monthly surveys to monitor the situation are conducted by the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR), an active civil-society organisation with a church base involved in research, education, advocacy and consultation on economic, political and social development issues.
The surveys show that poverty in the compounds is rife, with low levels of economic activity. There is a high incidence of malaria, with resultant high medical costs to families. Prescribed drugs are expensive and not always available at medical centres. Children face many challenges in accessing education.
In the spirit of exposing the plight of the poor and raising their concerns, the JCTR produces the basic needs basket (BNB), an innovative monthly survey of how much it costs a family of six to meet its basic food and non-food essentials, compared with an average family income. Monthly research into the changes in cost of living helps the JCTR and many other stakeholders to remain connected to the present living conditions of the people.
It underlines the fact that the average person struggles to afford even the most basic of monthly commodities.
First developed in Lusaka in 1996, the urban BNB has since been produced on a monthly basis in the capital. Because of its success, it was implemented in six other cities in Zambia in 2005 and a pilot project was initiated in three remote areas in the country. After testing the BNB’s validity and relevance in these outlying areas, it was officially launched in 2007.
Today the BNB is the most cited statistical tool for a wide range of purposes in Zambia. The fact that the report is regular and consistent, released on a monthly basis and is simple to understand and use has made it a more helpful tool than any of the other surveys.
Accompanied by a press release every month highlighting some of the policy and attitude issues that need to be addressed to improve the quality of life of Zambians, the BNB is regularly published in newspapers, NGO newsletters and periodic reports, cited in scholarly studies, and circulated in government offices, international organisations, embassies, trade unions and businesses.
It has also become an instrument of advocacy for social justice for Zambian households. Trade unions, international organisations, churches and civil society groups have come to use it to lobby for just wages to meet basic needs. It has become a tool that receives wide attention and stirs considerable discussion.
The success of the BNB can be measured in three ways. The first of these is that it has consistently highlighted the gap between the actual needs of families and the wages offered in the formal sector. This has culminated in the BNB being used in wage negotiations within government and the private sector.
Second, the BNB has become increasingly used as an advocacy tool for promoting more effective responses to household security issues. The process has exposed household needs other than food, such as water and electricity rates, rentals and the availability of medicines. It has led to the conviction that HIV and Aids will not be dealt with effectively if there is no household food security. The use of antiretrovirals should be accompanied by good nutrition.
Third, the BNB has contributed to several gender considerations in countrywide studies. It has shown that the majority of households that are struggling to meet the basic requirements are women-headed. Moreover, women marketers use the BNB to note comparative pricing, which is improving their sales.
“A large measure of the success of the project is due to Muweme Muweme, the tireless coordinator of the research, and the BNB’s use as a tool of education and advocacy since 2001,” says Dr Peter Henriot, director of the JCTR.
“Due to Muweme’s efforts the BNB concept has now been implemented in other African countries such as Malawi, South Africa, Kenya and West Africa.”
Transforming civil society
Finalist—Drivers of Change Civil Society Award: Foundation of Civil Society
Since its establishment the Foundation of Civil Society—the largest grant-making and capacity-building organisation in Tanzania—has taken great strides in transforming the country’s civil society sector.
It has gained national and international recognition as a catalyst in developing effective support mechanisms and capacity-building initiatives to promote and support poverty reduction activities undertaken by civil society organisations (CSOs).
The judges found that the foundation “has set up a comprehensive model to enable civil society to deliver effectively on their mandate—notably, the adoption of a code of ethics to guide the activities of CSOs to promote good governance and accountability, recognition of best practices and financial support”.
Other milestones include a programme to enable civil society organisations (CSOs) to use ICT to maximum effect by facilitating the development and hosting of websites for these organisations, free of charge.
A directory of CSOs is in the pipeline. It will not only list all the addresses of CSOs in Tanzania, but will contain information on the geographical coverage of their work, sector, vision/mission, key activities and achievements, annual budget and number of employees.
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