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The dicey dyke

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President Saulos Chilima expressed disquiet over the quality of a dyke meant to buff residents of Nsanje district against effects of flash floods.

The Veep, a kind of a nonconformist as he preaches for a business unusual approach to development, said he did not believe that K298 million was used to construct the mound of earth and gravel that he saw.

Since the stories were published in the papers, the issue went viral on social media networks. The general consensus is that money may have changed hands, leading to a compromise in quality of the works. This kind of anger is expected as Malawians are smarting out of the infamous plunder of the national kitty, commonly called the Cashgate.

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However, most of the comments are emanating from blind windows as the commentators do not have the premise on which to ground their arguments.

Let us put back the horse in front of the cart. Malawi, just like all other countries on the planet is battered by the effects of climate change. As such, the country is searching for measures to either avoid disasters or mitigate their effects.

There are a few models that countries adopt to insulate themselves from effects of climate change. The options include the no-regret climate change adaptation strategy, the low regret and the win-win strategy. The strategies are chosen depending on variables such as buying power, nature and pattern of disasters as well as the intended outcomes.

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In the Nsanje dykes, the chosen model was the no regret. This is an adaptation strategy that is cost effective under a range of present and future scenarios and does not involve hard trade-offs with other policy objectives.

No regret model optimizes positives while minimizing the negatives of nature based adaptation.

No regret interventions are generally temporary in nature as the stakeholders look for better solutions.

It must also be put on record that the K298 million that has alarmed the commentators was spent on building three dykes. The dykes stretch for a distance of 823 metres and are about a metre or so high.

The dykes are complementing other interventions such as cell phones, bicycles and devices that should be used to detect if water levels are rising.

It would be difficult for anyone to comment intelligently on whether a

‘Dykegate’ has happened because the terms of reference for the project are not known.

But the fiasco exposes the extent of deficiencies in our public projects management systems.

Granted, this project is funded by the World Bank through the Shire River Basin Management Programme.

But it is interesting to note that the Veep who is Minister responsible for Disaster

Management is surprised with the quality of the project so far.

We all know that the country adopted a decentralized approach to public affairs management where district councils are expected to be on top of the heap on public works. Ironically, Chairperson of Nsanje District Council is also frustrated that the project was just dropped on him.

Legislator for the area, Francis Kasaila, also claims he was reduced to a mere spectator. Now if Kasaila who is a Cabinet Minister has no clue about the project, then who should be? Besides, Kasaila is a spokesperson for the Democratic Progressive Party and he would have, ordinarily, led his people to demand ownership of the project through consultation.

Each project starts with preparatory works including designs of the works. These designs must be approved.

Even beneficiaries of the Joyce Banda’s Mudzi Transformation Programme had a say in those houses.

Some elderly beneficiaries would ask for a reduction of the number of windows for fear of thieves. What more with government agents such and the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma), Kasaila and the Nsanje District Council?

One would have expected engineers from Dodma and the directorates of planning as well as works at the district council to involve themselves in the project.

It is clear that most of us expected to see concrete walls to hedge the dykes from the anger of flood waves that may lick the dykes. But as an adaptation measure, the residents do not have to be trapped in a pool of water made by the concrete walls. In the event that water spills over the dykes, the residents or rescuers must be able to drill through the dykes to let water out. Again that must be clearly reflected in the terms of reference of the project.

It is clear that someone is sleeping on the wheels and if the engineers or contractors have cut corners, it is because the major stakeholders have played into their hands. We also expect the World Bank to explain how it paid for works that other stakeholders deem substandard. Otherwise this issue of the dyke is so dicey.

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