A joint press statement by several Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) has expressed deep concern over the escalating cost of living in Zambia. The statement, signed by various CSOs, highlights the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflections (JCTR) Basic Needs and Nutrition Basket (BNNB) as an indicator of the growing challenges faced by citizens in meeting their basic needs.
According to the JCTR, the cost of living has risen steadily, with the mid-year average reaching K9,126.40 in Lusaka, while the national average stands at K6,466.04 for a family of five. Factors such as inflation, which remained in double digits at 10.3% in June 2023, and the depreciation of the Kwacha against major global currencies, averaging K19.05 per US Dollar in the first half of the year, have contributed to the situation.
The rising prices of commodities, including the staple food mealie meal and retail fuel, have further exacerbated the economic hardship faced by Zambians. The cost of a 25kg bag of mealie meal has reached a record high of K300 in some regions, and recent fuel price hikes have also been announced, with petrol and low Sulphur diesel increasing by 2.57% and 6.81%, respectively.
The CSOs also expressed concern regarding the government’s approach to removing vendors from the streets. While they supported the idea of relocating vendors to designated marketplaces, they called for adequate sensitization and clear alternative trading spaces. The informal sector is a significant source of livelihood for many Zambians, and the sudden removal of street vendors without suitable alternatives may worsen the already difficult circumstances faced by vulnerable citizens.
The CSOs highlighted that the escalating cost of living could have severe consequences for ordinary Zambians and might create fertile ground for civil unrest and populist expressions. They reminded the government that the country had recently emerged from a prolonged period of economic decline, and citizens were still feeling the impact of past challenges.
In light of these concerns, the CSOs made several calls to the Zambian government. They urged the government to effectively communicate with the public on the state of the economy and the measures being taken to address emerging challenges. They also proposed involving the Zambia National Service and the Zambia Correctional Service in maize production to mitigate the rising costs of mealie meal and create job opportunities for the youth.
Regarding the cleanup exercise on street vending, the CSOs called for clear communication on alternative trading spaces and their carrying capacity. They also suggested convening an economic indaba to communicate the state of economic and social affairs and engage with stakeholders from industry and civil society to build consensus on the social and economic reforms being undertaken.
The joint press statement reflects the growing concerns among various CSOs about the rising cost of living and its impact on the well-being of the Zambian population. As the situation continues to unfold, citizens await government responses to address the challenges and pave the way for a more sustainable and inclusive economy.