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Storm exposes government neglect

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Hit by floods almost every year, Nsanje and Chikwawa are the poorest districts in Malawi, according to their social and economic profiles. And the recent Tropical Storm Ana has just exposed how successive governments have abandoned the two districts to their fate

By Serah Chilora:

The recent cut off of the M1 Road leading to the Lower Shire following the Tropical Storm Ana has exposed government’s age-old neglect of the two districts of Nsanje and Chikwawa in terms of transportation infrastructure, evidence on the ground shows.

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As the floods raged, victims stayed in camps without relief supplies for nearly a week as there was no access to the two districts following the cutting off of the only viable access route, the M1 Road.

The despair left Chikwawa Diocese of the Catholic Church describing it as degradation of the human life.

“The dignity of human life has been greatly degraded and man no longer seems to be the image that tells of the beauty that is God,” said the diocese in a statement on its website about the disaster.

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In a preliminary report released on February 1, almost 7 days after the floods hit, Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) said transportation of relief supplies and humanitarian workers to the affected areas especially Nsanje and Chikwawa districts had been a challenge due to the cut off of M1 Road between Blantyre and Nsanje districts.

 

At the time of the release of the report, Dodma said there was no movement of vehicles to and from Blantyre and Chikwawa and Nsanje.

Dodma said it had engaged MDF to provide air services to support search and rescue services while African Parks’ plane was engaged to transport humanitarian workers conducting disaster impact and needs assessment.

“The MDF helicopter has developed a fault and currently not in use. The helicopter from the African Parks is small and cannot be for airlifting supplies. It can only be used to carry (4) people,” it said.

 

This meant that for nearly a week, there were little or no aid to victims in camps.

Yet, as details show, there are several alternatives to reach the Lower Shire, only that successive governments have not developed them.

There is the 109-km S136 Mwanza-Chapanga-Chikwawa Road difficult to pass through during rains.

The 83-km S151 Thyolo-Thekerani-Muona- Bangula whose construction government launched in August 2016 is yet to be completed.

The other alternative would have been rail transport but since Chiromo Bridge was washed away in 1997, leading to the collapse of railway passage to Nsanje, successive governments have not fixed the route.

 

That has left M1 Road as the only road access route to the Lower Shire. Now the flood cut it in several places.

In an interview on Thursday, Christopher Guta, Board Chairperson for the Nsanje and Chikwawa Socio- Economic Development Trust, said failure of continuity of development policies arising from competitive politics have cost the country.

 

Guta further said the impact of the floods on the people of the Lower Shire is really due to failures of economic and social development.

“The failure to develop alternative means of transport led to over-reliance on the poorly maintained M1 Road not only in Lower Shire but elsewhere in the country.

“Look at the stretch from Lumbadzi to Kasungu. What of the stretch from Ekwendeni to Chiweta? The recently reported failures of the Nsanje to Marka road where a new bridge failed is an example of governance failure,” Guta said.

 

Commissioner of Disasters, Charles Kalemba, admitted that not much has been done to improve the country’s infrastructure in readiness for floods.

Minister of Transport and Public Works Jacob Hara admitted that the country’s road network needs to be reworked.

“It is not just Lower Shire that has that issue. We should just be looking at the nation as a whole. We had a similar incident in the North when they were cut off because of the cut off at Enukweni.

 

“We are basically trying to review the road network countrywide and trying to see if we can have three parallel running lines running across the country even with tollgates. It threw us off track and our colleagues were cut off for days and that showed the flaw in our road network,” he said.

Following the floods, President Lazarus Chakwera declared a State of National Disaster on 26th January, 2022.

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