Cost of poor roads
By Cathy Maulidi:
It was a normal day for 45- year-old Joseph Sitima, who left his place of work in Blantyre to visit his wife, Eliza Sitima in Mulanje.
Joseph was working as a guard in the City of Blantyre. He had secured the job and left his family in Mulanje with the hope that he would one day make it in the city and invite his family to stay with him in Blantyre.
However, this dream was shattered on February 25 2023 when he met his fate while trying to cross Mkokanguwo Bridge which is in traditional authority Juma in Mulanje district.
At the time he was visiting his family in the district. The bridge which was submerged, did not only take Joseph on the day as it also took another life, Chilekezo Suliwa, 41, who met his fate when he tried to save Joseph’s life.
This bridge is on Nkando – Mlomba – Phalombe road which has become a death trap, threatening business and interrupting education.
The road which is 52 kilometers long, has been neglected for years with authorities giving it a blind eye.
Joseph’s widow, Eliza is now left with the responsibility of taking care of six children which Joseph left behind.
As she narrates her story, Eliza and her children are struggling to get their daily needs met.
“If that road was given an eye by those in power, my husband could have been alive now. I lost my husband due to the poor state of that road. At the moment, my children and I are suffering. We can’t even afford three meals per day, sometimes my children go to bed on an empty stomach. When their father was alive, he used to send us money for food but now that support is gone,” Eliza said while sobbing.
Not only Eliza and the children relied on Joseph, as his aged mother Lucia Jackson, 84, also depended on Joseph for support.
“I cry for my son. Now I am suffering, I don’t have food. If my son was alive he could have sent a bag of maize and some money for relish. Now I go to bed hungry because he is no longer there to provide for me,” Jackson said with tears in her eyes.
Joseph’s uncle, Alfonso Chinangwa said Joseph and his friend Chilekezo died as a result of negligence on the part of the government to fix the Nkando-Mlomba- Phalombe road.
“I blame those in government for their deaths. To them, two lives may not mean anything but to us we lost men with responsibilities, we lost parents and abled sons,” he said.
On 26 February 2023, Joseph and Chilekezo were laid to rest on February 26, 2023.
Group Village Head Matekenya, said her village lost two able men who helped the village whenever there was need.
“When such things happen, it pains us as traditional leaders. I lost two subjects whom I always relied on when there was need. It is sad that our Member of Parliament and government have forgotten us. Mine is just a plea, can you come and help us before we lose more lives,” She said.
In January, World Bank Practice Manager responsible for Transport in the Eastern Region Almud Weitz called on the Malawi government to make tough choices and start investing in road infrastructure.
According to the World Bank, Malawi is failing to meet its commitments on road infrastructure, as it has a K1.57 trillion (70 percent) deficit for Medium-Term Investment commitments to the road sector.
A report by World Bank exposed that this far, donors have pumped in K703.1 billion (30 percent) for some road projects and with just two years remaining to 2025 which is deadline for the commitment, the country is yet to raise K1.57 trillion to meet the total Investment envisaged for paved and unpaved road projects.
In January this year, police released a report indicating that 1, 529 people lost their lives while 573 sustained injuries in 5,553 road accidents that happened between January and December 2022.
Apart from claiming lives, the poor Nkando-Mlomba-Phalombe road is in a shape where business activities have also been affected.
Farmers grow crops ranging from rice, tomatoes, cassava to fruits such as Coconut, pineapples, avocado and many more in Juma’s area.
But as businessman and farmer Rek Decco Minjolo explains, it is difficult to take his farm produce to the market due to the poor state of the road.
“With the state this road is in, it is difficult to transport farm produce to Nkando or Blantyre markets. It is not easy for a vehicle to get here. So this road has in a huge way affected business activities,” said Minjolo.
A recently released World Bank report titled, ‘Connecting people and markets for economic transformation’ faulted the country’s poor road network which has hugely affected access to markets and has contributed to loss of opportunities for the rural people.
The damage has not only affected the business sector, as education has also been affected.
Eliza Chintengo, a mother of four, said her children were failing to go to school due to the poor state of the road.
“The situation is much worse now that it is the rainy season. For the children to get to Mgumera Primary School they use the Nkando-Mlomba-Phalombe Road which has a bridge in a very poor state. So to protect my children’s lives I stopped them from going to school for now.
“It is better that I have them uneducated but alive. Government should help us; it should fix this road,” Chintengo said.