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Zambia is a landlocked country located in southern Africa with a population of approximately 18 million. It is around ten times the size of Ireland. In 2011, the country was classified as a lower-middle income status country following impressive economic growth, and levels of development assistance declining. Despite this, inequality is extremely high and deep poverty persists. With an uneven growth trajectory and recent economic shocks, enormous challenges remain and the middle-income trap of stagnation is a real risk. 

With approximately 54.4% of the population living below the poverty line, reducing poverty and inequality, especially in rural areas, remains the biggest challenge facing the country. Climate change also poses an enormous obstacle to Zambia’s efforts to combat poverty and food insecurity. The impact of COVID-19, like elsewhere in the region, is likely to exacerbate these challenges and will require innovative thinking to avoid progress in achieving the SDGs being delayed or reversed.

Private sector development, the diversification of the economy, and the creation of jobs for a rapidly growing population will be essential for the country’s sustainable and inclusive development. Irish Aid is helping to get more children, especially girls, enrolled in school, supporting extremely poor households to get enough income to meet their basic daily needs and helping ensure that the people of Zambia have a greater say in decisions that affect their lives.

  • Overview
  • Background
  • Our Work
  • Results


Zambia at a glance

Population:  14.5 million
Proportion of population living on less than $1.25 a day:  68.5%
Ranking on UN Human Development Index:  141 of 187
Partner Country since: 1980


Ireland and Zambia

Since opening the Irish Embassy in Zambia in 1980 and the establishment of the official aid programme, Irish Aid has worked with a variety of partner organisations including government, the UN, international research institutions and aid agencies to deliver on our development objectives.

These are set out in our Embassy Lusaka Mission Strategy 2018 – 2022 which promotes Ireland’s values and interests in Zambia. The Strategy aims to contribute towards poverty reduction especially with the rural poor, women and youth; while at the same time endeavouring to deepen relationships with Zambia through dialogue, influencing and development of linkages and networks. The foundation of the strategy was built on strengthened political, economic and cultural relations; and women and girls living in poverty benefitting from and contributing to sustainable development.


Our strategy priorities are aligned with Zambia’s 7th National Development Plan 2017 – 2021, the key outcomes of which include economic diversification and job creation; reduced poverty vulnerability, and developmental inequalities, as well as the enhancement of human development, governance environment and a diversified and inclusive economy.

Our programme builds on the long tradition of Irish missionary and development work in Zambia. Irish missionary societies were among the main providers of services in health and education throughout much of the twentieth century. Many Irish volunteers and technical advisors have also assisted in Zambia’s development throughout the years.  

As well as the support we provide through the bilateral aid programme, we support the work of local and international aid agencies and missionary organisations in Zambia through our civil society funding schemes.

We are also working to improve trade relations between Ireland and Zambia and we support a number of research and learning partnerships between higher education institutions in Ireland and Zambia through the Programme for Strategic Partnerships.

A number of Zambian students working with Irish Aid’s partners are also supported every year to pursue courses in third level institutions in Ireland and elsewhere. 

Download Zambia Mission Strategy

The Embassy of Ireland Mission Strategy in Zambia 2018-2022 sets out how we respond to the changing development environment in Zambia.


Children Sihuetted in front of a sun-set.


Zambia has been one of the most politically stable and peaceful countries in the southern Africa. It became independent from Great Britain in 1964, and Kenneth Kaunda became its first President under the United National Independence Party (UNIP). 

The country became a one-party state in 1972 before reverting to multiparty democracy  with the elections in 1991, which had a smooth transfer of power from UNIP to the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy. Since then, there has been two transitions of power the first being in 2011 from MMD to Patriotic Front (PF) led by late Michael Sata and most recently in 2021 when Edgar Lungu presided over a peaceful transition to a new government led by President Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development (UPND). In total, the country has held seven presidential elections since 1991 and, despite two of those being prompted by the deaths of the incumbents, Levy Mwanawasa and Michael Sata in 2008 and 2014 respectively, the country oversaw successful by-elections.

An unsustainable debt, high poverty levels, high unemployment and inequality levels remain the biggest challenges confronting the Government. Improving the quality of public services will be critical, especially in the rural areas where poverty rates are high.


Zambia’s economy experienced steady growth in averaging 7% since 2003. However, the economy went into recession in 2020 recording -2.8% growth due to a confluence of factors among them effects of COVID-19 and an unsustainable public debt. In 2021 the economy is expected to grow by 3.3% due to renewed optimism following the change of government and an IMF programme which is imminent. Despite steady growth rates, poverty remains a significant problem in Zambia and income inequality is extremely high.

Zambia has been heavily reliant on copper, which currently generates over 70% of export earnings. However, the economy has potential to grow faster through better use of its underutilised mineral, agricultural and other resources.

Agricultural households tend to be characterised by low productivity. Many are unable to sustain their livelihoods due to poor agricultural practices, geographical isolation and lack of access to agricultural markets and to credit.  

Although other food crops such as cassava are becoming increasingly important, Zambia’s dependence on maize remains very high. The development context in Zambia is changing and aid now accounts for only about 1% of the 2021 budget resources, down from 15% in 2010.

TRobert Silanda in the offices of his radio station.


Zambia is ranked 146 out of 189 countries on the United Nation’s Human Development Index 2019. It has made progress towards a number of the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly in, inter alia, the prevalence of wasting in children under 5 years of age (SDG2), ratio of female-to-male labour force participation rate (SDG5), on good health and wellbeing (SDG3), on Affordable and Clean energy (SDG7), on decent work and economic growth (SDG8). On Climate Action (SDG13), Zambia is fully on track and can maintain the SDG achievement. However, Zambia is facing major challenges towards achieving SDG1 on ending poverty as the poverty headcount ratio at $1.90/day is at 59.1%. Other challenges include SDG2 on Zero Hunger,  SDG5 on Gender Equality, SDG6 on Clean Water and Sanitation, SDG9 on Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, SDG11 on Sustainable Cities and Communities, SDG15 on Life on Land, SDG16 on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions and SDG17 on Partnerships.

Between 1990 and 2019, Zambia’s life expectancy at birth increased by 14.6 years, mean years of schooling increased by 2.5 years and expected years of schooling increased by 4.0 years. Zambia’s GNI per capita increased by about 65.0 percent between 1990 and 2019.

Around 54.4% of Zambia’s population is defined as poor. This is especially true of the elderly, women and children, who constitute the most vulnerable. Poverty is significantly worse in rural areas.**

With a prevalence rate of 11%, HIV and AIDS continue to compound poverty and vulnerability. There are high geographical and gender variations with women bearing disproportionately higher rates of infection than men.

Zambia is also vulnerable to the effects of climate change because of its geographic exposure, low incomes and dependence on subsistence farming.

 *Source:   World Development Indicators

**Source: Central Statistics office (2018) The 2016 Living Conditions Monitoring Survey

Our Work

Our Work

Ireland’s 2018-2022 Strategy for Zambia seeks to encompass the broader dimensions of Ireland’s foreign policy in our relations with Zambia, while maintaining our important and long-standing focus on reducing poverty and inequality.  Our Aid programme remains the most important reflection of our values in Zambia.   

Notwithstanding the COVID-19 outbreak, the Embassy delivered a substantial and relevant aid programme. This included enhancement of our bursary scheme, improving the learning environment of primary and secondary schools and availing skills training to disadvantaged youths.  Further, the programme supported the strengthening of agricultural supply chains of nutritious products by stimulating agricultural market development and investments in smallholder farmers, especially women. 

Supporting increased availability of locally-produced, diverse, nutritious foods

Ireland works closely with smallholder farmers, especially women, to help them develop agricultural value chains that contribute to greater dietary diversity at the household level.  To achieve this, Ireland supported the development of robust and inclusive private sector-driven supply chain models for nutritious food products from agricultural production to processing and marketing functions. The aim is to shift towards nutrition-sensitive agriculture and align rural and urban food consumption patterns to better nutrition outcomes.

Supporting enhanced access to education and relevant skills training by women and youth

Ireland believes that quality education in Zambia is an essential key to unlocking the country’s potential.  Ireland continues to build on its extensive knowledge and understanding of the education sector in Zambia to prioritise support for access to secondary education for girls and orphaned and vulnerable children. In addition, Ireland provides support to girls and vulnerable youths to access skills training aimed at empowering them for jobs or entrepreneurship.  Ireland works in close collaboration with other stakeholders in the education sector for lesson learning and mitigation of duplication of support.    

Support to COVID-19 mitigation measures 

The economic impact of COVID-19 has been severe and Zambia continues to suffer from the global aftershocks of the pandemic especially in the tourism and hospitality industry.  COVID-19 is not only threatening lives but also affecting livelihoods and food security, and further exacerbating vulnerability. To respond to this, the Embassy, together with other Cooperating Partners, supported a COVID-19 Emergency Cash Transfer (C-ECT) to benefit 130,000 households in 14 districts.

A rice farmer stands in front of his fields in Kabwe

Protecting the poorest families 

We are helping to reduce the vulnerability of the poorest communities through a social protection programme, which mainly involves the provision of cash transfers to extremely poor households, providing bursaries to complete secondary education for vulnerable girls and women’s empowerment and livelihoods.


Theresa attends Chifwani primary school

Increasing accountability to citizens

Cutting across all our work is the promotion of greater citizen participation and an accountable government. Ireland also supports Governance through support to the elections- Democracy Strengthening in Zambia and to SEPA on land rights for women.

How we spend our budget

An indicative budget of €45m for the duration of the strategy (2018-2022) was approved. The strategic framework reflected Zambia’s lower middle income status as well as the shift in focus from a predominantly aid relationship to a broader deeper relationship across different priorities. It was also influenced by the changed donor landscape, the fiduciary risks and the more strategic interventions that the new programme envisaged. Ireland spent circa €4.7 million in support of our development programmes in 2020.

Zambia Expenditure Chart 2014



Zambia’s progress

At a national level, Zambia has made progress in a number of areas:  

  • The 2019 UNDP Human Development Report moves Zambia from the Low to the Medium Human Development category.
  • Over 93% of Zambian children now go on to secondary school. This is an increase of nearly 10% since 2010.
  • New school curriculum – designed to improve quality – rolled out in 2014.
  • 400,000 people have access to clean and safe drinking water and sanitation facilities thanks partly to Irish Aid’s programme in Northern Province.
  • The prevalence of stunting has reduced from 45% in 2007 to 35% in 2018.

How we have helped

Irish Aid has played its part in the progress made by Zambia:

  • The number of households who only had one meal per day reduced from 23.5% in 2010 to 15.5% in 2015 in Social Cash Transfer districts.
  • There has been some improvement in the nutritional status of children in Zambia with a decline in stunting (low height for age 40% in 2014 to 35% in 2020).
  • Zambia’s Human Development Index increased by 38.7% between 1990 and 2019, as a result of ongoing investment in education and health and poverty reduction measures, with the assistance of donors, including Ireland.
  • Ireland supports 1,808 girls and 248 boys to access secondary education.
  • The Embassy is supporting 90 girls from vulnerable families to access skills training.
  • In response to COVID-19 the Mission supports 130,000 Households with emergency cash transfers to mitigate against the socio economic impacts of the pandemic.
  • Ireland’s earlier support for a water and sanitation programme is now providing safe clean water to over 113,000 people and improved sanitation for over 80,000 people in Northern Province.
  • With Irish Aid support, the Social Cash Transfer Scheme in Zambia has expanded, reaching over 800,000 households in all the 116 districts at the end of 2020. Results show that there was a reduction in poverty, and improvements in food security, health and nutrition amongst the beneficiary households.

Download the Irish Aid Country Strategy Paper

Irish Aid’s Zambia Country Strategy Paper 2018-2022 sets out how we respond to the changing development environment in Zambia.