LUSAKA (ILO INFO) – Zambia’s economic growth, like that of many developing countries, has been steady, especially over the past decade. It is expected to reach 7.4 percent in 2015. But this sustained growth has not led to significant job creations and poverty levels remain high with more than half of the estimated population living below the poverty line.

What is more, most of the economic growth comes at a considerable cost to the environment. According to United Nations statistics, the proportion of land covered by forests increased from 71 to 67 percent between 1990 and 2010. Most Zambians – 82 percent according to the World Health Organization (WHO) – still depend on traditional fuels like wood, hard coal and charcoal, or animal waste, to meet their daily energy needs. In Zambia, the number of deaths attributable to household air pollution, for all age groups and both sexes, was 8,240 in 2012, according to statistics from the WHO published in May 2015, with over half a million years of life lost due to illness, disability or premature death in 2012.

This led the authorities to take an interest in the links between job creation and the greening of the economy, which resulted in the establishment of the Zambia Green Jobs Program , a five-year, $ 12.1 million project jointly developed by the Government of Zambia and the UN. The aim of the program is to support the creation of green jobs in small and medium-sized enterprises in the Zambian construction sector. It is run by the International Labor Organization (ILO), with financial support from the Finnish government.

Entrepreneur learns environmentally friendly construction techniques

Omba Lacey is one of the dynamic entrepreneurs from Lusaka who has joined the program. She has been running a house building company in the Zambian capital since 2007. Last year, she participated in an ILO training “Starting your green building business”. It was a revelation for her.

“I had never even considered using sustainable materials in my work before. Now I know I can use local materials like clay and terracotta bricks and wood for construction, ”she explains.

The training changed Ms. Lacey’s business. With about fifteen men and women who also participated, she decided to found a green consortium to provide green products and services.

“We recently built a house where I was able to put what I had learned into practice. I saved a lot of time and money by using materials that can be found on site such as wood for the frame, door and window frames, compressed earth bricks for the walls, water collection rain for water and solar panels for energy. The cost of building a house can be reduced by up to 70 percent, which also puts houses within reach, ”she continues.

She was also taught not to cut down all the trees on the construction site and to use wood from the trees she had to cut to build the house.

Previously, Ms. Lacey would have imported materials (such as aluminum and steel) from South Africa and China; it was both costly and bad for the environment.

“The construction sector has played a central role in Zambia’s growth in recent years. It can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by promoting environmentally friendly construction materials, services, goods and technologies such as energy saving, renewable energies and water conservation ”, explains Tapera Muzira, Chief Technical Advisor of the Green Jobs Program in Zambia.

“To facilitate this process, the ILO is currently implementing a specific program to promote green jobs in the construction sector,” he adds.

More security and social protection

According to ILO figures from 2012, Zambia will need 1.3 million new dwellings by 2030. This equates to building a house every two minutes for every working day for the next 19 years. The sector therefore offers excellent prospects for job creation.

“We estimate that the program will foster the creation of 5,000 jobs by 2017 through its government and industry partners. It will also increase the quality of the 2,000 jobs that already exist by improving productivity and working conditions ”, underlines Mr. Muzira.

However, the construction sector is among the most affected by occupational accidents and injuries, which is why the ILO program also incorporates a component to promote occupational safety and health (OSH) in the construction industry. construction industry.

Likewise, as the sector still faces many challenges in terms of decent work, with high levels of informal employment, low pension rights and the prevalence of many short-term contracts – especially for blue-collar workers which go from one site to another – a second component has been added, this time focusing on the extension of social protection to vulnerable workers in the construction sector.

As an entrepreneur, Ms. Lacey believes that in the green construction industry, training and awareness are essential for the sector to contribute to job creation and sustainable development.

“More people need to be trained so that more entrepreneurs like me can benefit and invest in green building techniques. In addition, access to finance should be facilitated, above all to buy machines suitable for green construction. As an employer, I also support the efforts made to improve occupational safety and health and give workers access to social protection, ”she explains.

“Zambia needs more good quality jobs for green and inclusive growth. The green jobs program in Zambia provides a good example of what can be done in developing countries to invest in sustainable development while advancing OSH and expanding social protection. We want to show that it is possible to combine more decent jobs with environmentally friendly practices at a reasonable cost, ”concludes Muzira.