Zambia’s economic growth, like that of many developing countries, has been steady especially during the last ten years. It is expected to reach 7.4 per cent in 2015. But sustained growth has not led to significant job creation and poverty levels remain high with more than half of the population estimated to be living below the poverty line.
What’s more, much of the economic growth has come at a significant environmental cost. According to United Nations (UN) statistics, the proportion of area covered by forests decreased from 71 per cent in 1990 to 67 per cent in 2010. Most people in Zambia ─ 82%, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) ─ still depend on traditional fuels such as wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste to meet their daily energy needs. Household air pollution attributable deaths for all age groups and both genders in Zambia amounted to 8240 in 2012, according to WHO statistics published in May 2015, with more than half a million total years of life lost due to ill health, disability or early death in 2012.
This led authorities to look at the linkages between job creation and the greening of the economy, which resulted in the establishment of the Zambia Green Jobs Programme – a five-year US$ 12.1 million project developed jointly by the Government of Zambia and the UN. The Programme aims to support the creation of green jobs among small- and medium-sized enterprises in the Zambian building construction industry. It is led by the International Labour Organization (ILO) with financial assistance from the Government of Finland.
Entrepreneur learns eco-friendly building techniques
Omba Lacey is one of the many dynamic entrepreneurs from Lusaka who has joined the programme. She has been running a house construction business in the Zambian capital since 2007. Last year, she took part in an ILO training course “Start and improve your green construction business.” This was an eye-opener for her.
“I had never even considered using sustainable materials in my work before. Now I know I can use local material such as clay and earth bricks and timber in construction,” she said.
“We recently constructed a house where I could put what I learned into practice. I saved a lot of time and money.”
Omba Lacey who runs a house construction business in the Zambian capital
The training has changed Lacey’s business. Together with 15 men and women who also attended, she decided to found a green consortium to deliver green goods and services.
“We recently constructed a house where I could put what I learned into practice. I saved a lot of time and money by using locally-sourced materials such as timber for roofing, door and window frames, compressed earth bricks for the walls, rainwater harvesting for water and solar panels for energy. The cost of building a house can be slashed by up to 70 per cent, which also makes houses more affordable for everyone,” she explained.
She was also taught not to cut down all the trees at a construction site, and to use the timber of the trees she had to clear to build the house.
Previously, Lacey would import materials (such as aluminium and steel) from South Africa and China; this was costly and bad for the environment.
“The construction sector has played a central role in Zambia’s growth in recent years. It can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions through the promotion of eco-friendly building materials, services, goods and technologies such as energy saving, renewable energy and water conservation,” said Tapera Muzira, Chief Technical Advisor of the Zambia Green Jobs Programme.
“To facilitate this process, the ILO is currently implementing a specific programme to promote green jobs in the construction sector,” he added.
Better safety and social protection
According to ILO figures from 2012, Zambia requires 1.3 million new dwellings before 2030. That is one house every two minutes of each working day for the next 19 years. So the sector also offers good opportunities for job creation.
“We estimate that the programme will, facilitate the creation of 5,000 jobs by 2017 through its partners from the government and sector. It will also improve the quality of 2,000 existing jobs by enhancing productivity and working conditions,” added Muzira.
However, the building construction sector is among those prone to workplace accidents and injuries, so the ILO programme also includes a component aimed at promoting occupational health and safety in the construction industry.
Similarly, because the sector still faces many challenges in terms of decent work, with high levels of informal employment, few pension rights and the prevalence of many short term contracts − especially workers going from one construction site to another − a second component was added, this time looking at extending social protection to vulnerable workers in the construction sector.
As an entrepreneur, Lacey believes that training and awareness-raising in the green construction industry are essential for the sector to contribute to job creation and sustainable development.
“More people need to be trained so that more entrepreneurs such as myself can benefit and invest in eco-friendly techniques. Also, access to funds should be facilitated especially to purchase machinery adapted to green construction. As an employer, I also support efforts being made to improve occupational health and safety, as well as access to social protection for workers,” she added.
“Zambia needs more and better jobs for inclusive and green growth. The Green Jobs Programme in Zambia provides a good example of what can be done in developing countries to invest in sustainable development while also moving forward on occupational health and safety and extension of social protection. We want to show combining more decent work opportunities with environmental-friendly practices is feasible at a reasonable cost,” Muzira concluded.