Zambia is one of the continent’s largest and most sparsely populated countries, shaped like a huge butterfly. Much of the country is an undulating plateau and the most interesting sights are round the edge – the Victoria Falls and Lake Kariba in the south; the Luangwa Valley game reserves in the east; Lake Tanganyika, Kasaba Bay and the Kalambo Falls in the north. There are 70 different ethnic groups and seven main languages, as well as English, which is widely spoken.


Although it is the world’s fourth largest supplier of copper (accounting for 75 per cent of its foreign currency), Zambia is a poor country; but after many years of industrial decline the economy has grown in recent years thanks to high prices for copper, cobalt and other exports and to good management, which has led to much of its debt being cancelled as a highly indebted poor country (HIPC). The currency, the kwacha, even appreciated for a time. In one of his last speeches, President Mwanawasa, who died in 2008, regretted that poverty remained as widespread as ever, both in rural areas and urban slums. Two-thirds of the population live on less than US$1 a day and 85 per cent are subsistence farmers.

Zambia has always tried to promote tourism, but it has never taken off in a big way. The country’s 19 national parks are being improved and you will not find too many tourists between you and the animals. A speciality in Zambia is walking safaris in the Luangwa Valley. Zambia has the opportunity to learn how to develop tourism from other nations’ mistakes and, in a country where there are few tourists, there is a responsibility on the visitor to tread lightly.

Ethical Travel Issues and advice

Displacement of local peoples:

Tourism development has caused many communities to be forcibly displaced. Indigenous groups, people living in informal settlements, or people who lack official title deeds to their lands are particularly vulnerable to displacement or loss of access to lands and waters essential for their livelihoods. This often happens with little or no warning, compensation or alternative provision.

Governments and private companies have forced many tribal peoples from their ancestral lands to make way for national parks and so called ‘eco-tourism’. Fishing communities are removed from their coastal villages and blocked from accessing the sea as hotels are built and beaches are privatised, destroying livelihoods and traditional ways of life. Informal settlements are bulldozed under beautification projects in the lead up to major international sporting events.

Environmental activists in Zambia are worried about the role that poor people, especially those in rural areas, are going to play in the growing Zambian economy. A community-based organisation called Save the Environment and People Agency (SEPA), advocates for sustainable environmental management and believes that there is a need to look into the plight of rural communities, which are often relocated to pave the way for the establishment of commercial & tourism activities.

“More investment also means increased displacements for rural people.”

“We also know the high impact mining has had in terms of land degradation, water and air pollution and the wellbeing of our mining communities. To ensure a sustainable future for our mining sector and the communities who serve it, government and our mining partners must work together for the wellbeing of all involved with Zambia’s economic engine,” reads part of the message, called “The Zambia We Want”.

To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on Land displacement:

Ethical Photography:

Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.

Taking photos of friendly local people can be a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities.

To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on ethical photography:

Elephant Rides:

An elephant ride is a popular tourist activity, especially in many parts of Asia and parts and some regions of Africa. The appeal of such treks is clear – the elephant is the largest land mammal, it’s intelligent, social and emotional. Trekking elephants are often mistreated and harshly trained and many people now believe that tourist elephant trekking should be avoided (many Ethical tour operators have stopped offering Elephant trekking altogether).

The tradition of using elephants in industry has mostly ended, mainly due to irresponsible over-logging. The collapse of the industry created huge problems for the mahouts who had to find a way to pay for the care and upkeep of their elephants, which can consume up to 200 kilograms of food a day. Mahouts had to find other ways to support their huge charges, which is why many began begging in the streets or turned to tourism via trekking, rides or entertainment.

To make a wild animal such as an elephant compliant and able to be controlled by humans they are often deprived of food and sleep, they are subject to regular beatings using the ankus or billhook, and physical restraint such as chaining and shackling. According to right tourism, the training that’s required to make them safe around people is often akin to torture, as demonstrated by the traditional Thai “phajaan” or “crush,” where young animals spirits are systematically broken through torture and social isolation.

Do you really want to be supporting such a cruel activity?

To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on Elephant riding:

Water Equity:

Fact: Tourists use more water than the ordinary consumer. Indeed, the water ‘footprint’ of the Western world, as in our carbon footprint, is very high. There are already serious water shortages worldwide and a prediction of ‘water wars’.

The United Nations has claimed that ‘The average tourist uses as much water in 24 hours as a third world villager would use to produce rice for 100 days.’ Tourists need unlimited supplies of water – they are used to it at home and desire copious amounts on holiday: for drinking, baths and showers, swimming pools, overflowing fountains and green manicured lawns.

But water, in developing countries, is often a precious commodity. More than 2 billion people lack access to clean water and sanitation, and 80 per cent of all deaths in the developing world are water related. Put a hotel near a local community and the pressure on the water supply is acute.

Tourism Concern has extensively campaigned on water equity and have published reports & articles on the topic. To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles:

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