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Communities which hate rain

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Rainy seasons are times when farmers are assured of precious water that germinate their crops. But to communities around Mzimba South East, such periods are moments of pain, despair and torture. As people in religious gatherings pray for good rainfall, for villagers under Traditional Authority Khonsolo, the rains that are expected to give them bumper harvests turn out to be a pain in the neck.

This is all due to mobility problems that have been brought by lack of bridges on Dwangwa and Lupachi rivers which border Nkhotakota and Mzimba districts. The communities around Kabuwa area lie almost 100 kilometres from Mzimba Boma thus making it almost impossible for people to walk such a distance to sell their farm produces, buy needy commodities and access other services. The other trading centres of Jenda and Khonsolo are not easy to reach either. For instance, the villagers say it takes one almost 10 hours to walk to Khonsolo which is considered as a ‘fairer’ distance between the two. Poor road network makes it impossible for vehicles to reach the area.

A turn to the other side takes them to the bordering area of Dwangwa in Nkhotakota. From a distance, people of Kabuwa can throw their eyes and catch iron sheet-roofed houses glaring from Dwangwa area. But the 30-kilometre distance to Dwangwa is not as easy and short as the eyes can deceive. As one with swank embarks on this alternative destination of Dwangwa Trading Centre, barely half-way into the journey, the angry Dwangwa river appears from nowhere to halt the journey. Frustrated and annoyed, one is forced to make a return and take the other route but, there is no hope either as sound of water waves is heard from a distance. It is Lupachi River that finally underlines that there is nowhere to run.

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On a heavy rainy day, the water reaches neck-level and one is left with two options; either to take the risk to cross the river, or return home. This is how the absence of bridges on both rivers continues to negatively impact the lives of the people around the area. The rivers, almost 100 metres wide, are always full during the rainy season until when water levels drop in the dry season.

“Rainy season is our moment of pain,” Josephat Banda, a charcoal seller said. Dwangwa residents are his reliable customers and when these rivers swell, his source of income is cut off. He cannot dare to cross the river with a bag of charcoal on his head.

“Our suffering because of lack of bridges is not only during rainy times but it is throughout the year, only that during rainy periods the problem reaches its climax. The distance to Mzimba Boma is long. Dwangwa remains our only option. During rainy times one can sleep without eating yet they have money but can’t go to the maize mill, can’t buy relish and in short, can’t buy anything. Life is really hard,” said Village Headman Andrea Kaunda.

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Kaunda said concerned with the problem, Anglican Church officials built a bridge on Lupachi river in 1994 but the bridge only lasted five years as it was washed away by water in 1999. The chief said since then, government, politicians and some organisations have been promising them to construct another bridge but the waiting continues.

On both rivers, paying boats are sometimes available for one to cross but they are not only unaffordable to a common man but also risky.

“For one to cross the river, you are charged K300 which is a lot for a villager. Apart from that the water moves at high speed making it difficult for the boats to sail properly, which is also risky,” Kaunda said.

Absence of the bridge across the rivers is negatively affecting almost everything in the surrounding communities. Even delivery of public services is affected as people who are transferred to work in the area, are always reluctant to stay longer. Health delivery services are not spared either. For instance, at Kabuwa Health Centre, when they run out of drugs and other consumables, patients have to bear the burden as it requires one to travel to Mzimba District Health Office (DHO) to collect the drugs.

The hospital’s Medical Assistant Samuel Sukani said mobility challenges are greatly affecting their services.

“When one travels to Mzimba to collect drugs, it is not only time consuming but also risky since he can be attacked and robbed of the drugs. But had it been that there was a bridge in one of these rivers, vehicles from the DHO could have been reaching the hospital’s door step,” Sukani said.

Sukani also said another challenge is referring patients to district hospitals since ambulances cannot get to the health facility.

“In such cases one has to find his own means of travelling to the hospital. Other nearest hospitals are Nkhunga [at Dwangwa] and Nkhotakota [District Hospital],” Sukani said.

If one is referred to one of the hospitals, relatives have to organise a stretcher and carry the sick person across one of the rivers. What if on that day the river is full? Such scenarios have led to loss of lives on the way to the hospital. At the mention of this subject, a 78-year-old, Elube Nyamithi, will surely shed tears as she is reminded of the loss of her expectant granddaughter on the way to the hospital.

“My granddaughter was due for delivery and when we went to Kabuwa hospital, we were referred to Nkhunga. So, we had to find a stretcher to carry her. When we reached Dwangwa River, we found it full and the struggle to cross it took time. After we had crossed, labour started and my granddaughter gave birth on the way but unfortunately, we lost her and the child. I saw my granddaughter dying but could not do anything to save her life,” said the helpless granny, who was looking up to the deceased for daily food.

In desperation, people around the area have knocked on several doors to bail them out of the predicament by constructing a bridge across one of the rivers. One such door is the area’s Member of Parliament Rabson Chihaula Shawa, who continues to give people false hopes.

Banda who is a member of Kabuwa Area Development Committee, said they invited the MP and asked him to use part of the Constituency Development Funds (CDF) to buy a boat so that people should be paying an affordable fee to cross the river.

“He accepted but he is yet to buy the boat. It is now sometime since we made the plea. We only hope that one day he will understand what his people are going through, due to the absence of the bridge, so that he can act,” Banda said.

On his part, Shawa said he bought the boat and was expecting to hand it over to the people anytime. He said construction of a bridge is not a thing that can be done overnight as the project requires millions of money.

“We cannot use CDF to construct a bridge because the money is too little. Much as I appreciate the need for a bridge on those rivers, we need the government and other organisations to fund the project. Some five years ago when I enquired how much was needed to construct a bridge at Dwangwa river, it was about K40 million so you can imagine how much it is now,” Shawa said.

He said he has written funding proposals to several partners and was hopeful that one day, the bridge will be constructed.

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