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Thriving on Death
(Mabvuto Zulu, Africana.com, February 1, 2004)
To pass through any market or street in any Zambian town reveals an unusual industry that is thriving when many others in the country are collapsing. . . . "Business is good and in the next few years, it is going to be even better," he says as he attends to his next clients. . . . Bupe sells coffins, and his is just one of the several businesses that have sprung up around the country to serve the ever-growing number of deaths as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria claim more lives every day. . . . It is estimated that malaria claims about 37 percent of Zambian deaths, while the rest are TB/AIDS-related. And according to Family Health International, only 10 percent of the predicted AIDS-related deaths have yet occurred the vast majority of people with AIDS in the country are still living with the disease, with new infections every day. Family Health International estimates that Zambia will face more than 200 AIDS-related deaths each day in 2004. Annually, 40,000 new TB cases are reported. In this country, where 80 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, death rates from TB are very high as well. . . . Plagued by widespread unemployment, many youths have taught themselves the art of making low-cost but impressive headstones and caskets that they sell at street corners, markets and hospitals. Today, many youths are enrolling for carpentry lessons at local colleges for the sole purpose of specializing in making coffins. It is a big industry. . . . "We used to treat death as something unusual. But look around. There is death everywhere," Tembo says. . . . Indeed there is death at every other fifth house in the country. . . . Even mourning families say the fly-by-night operators provide a useful service in their time and grief. On the street, a good, well-decorated coffin fetches between $150 and $200, while the same would cost twice as much at a registered funeral parlor. . . . The sad fact is there is enough business for everyone. Bupe, for instance, says he sells at least 90 coffins in a good month, and predicts that sales will increase throughout 2004. . . . It may be the only business that finds itself in good health. With the HIV infection rate at 27% in urban areas and 13% in rural areas, the illegal coffin industry will continue to grow while economic uncertainties and a shrinking labor force spell doom for conventional businesses.

posted by Lorenzo 11:09 AM

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