THE Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) says the COVID-19 pandemic posed a challenge, as staff members who had to work remotely and internet connectivity was unreliable.

In an interview, ZEMA Corporate Affairs Manager Friday Phiri said the input and eventual output in the activities by members of staff who worked from home became limited.

“Of course at a personal level, I can say the rotations where you are all not at the office at the same time, sometimes there would be limitations with connectivity. It may not necessarily be an institutional issue but you know internet connectivity in our country is not sometimes very reliable. Sometimes our providers are not up to certain standards in terms of what is expected. So if you’re relying on online arrangements and meetings, doing work remotely became a little of a challenge. Even for those that are at home while the rotations are going on, their input and eventual output in the activities became a little limited. That also was another point of how we were affected,” he said.

Phiri said ZEMA encouraged members of staff to get fully vaccinated owing to their nature of work which required physical inspections.

“Most government offices were just operating under strict guidelines but did not close. For us, the only guidelines we followed was what basically the government put in place. Maybe in the private sector they closed some but public sector institutions like ourselves, we never closed. We needed to continue offering a service. It was just an issue of rotation,” he said.

“Of course, people were encouraged to get vaccinated but again that is a voluntary activity. So we just continued operating within the realm of the public health guidelines as they were given by the Ministry of Health. So the institution encouraged most of us to get vaccinated and I can safely say most of us are fully vaccinated. The nature of our work is to interact, so the institution did a lot in the background to encourage members of staff to get vaccinated.”

Phiri said COVID-19 restrictions negatively affected the institution’s ability to conduct awareness programmes in communities.

“As an institution obviously COVID has affected us as well, just like others. Our operations of compliance monitoring depend on inspections physically. We have to visit facilities and check whether they are complying with the license conditions given to them. When the restrictions were imposed due to COVID, our compliance activities were negatively affected to a large extent. We couldn’t move in our usual numbers to inspect and verify,” said Phiri.

“So we also needed to do a lot of community sensitization but we ended up not doing much because the implementation of the standard producer responsibility started in 2019 but by November the same year, COVID came. In 2019 we recorded our first case in Zambia and those restrictions started coming. That is how we were hugely affected with the implementation of those activities because they rely so much on awareness and community engagement so that people get to understand what it is in the law and how they can support us. I think those are the key areas that were affected.”