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Travel scare on M5 Road

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RISKY—Motorists using the M5 Road

When rains fall, it is a blessing to many people including farmers who rely on rain-fed agriculture. However, the same rains bring chaos on the M5 Road mainly the Salima-Nkhotakota stretch. As AUDREY KAPALAMULA explores, authorities’ disregard of the road continues to endanger lives of motorists and pedestrians.

It is over a month since the onset of the rainy season and fear has already griped motorists and other road users about what may become of the M5 Road due to the heavy downpour which has already wreaked havoc in other areas.

This is because every year, heavy rains cause severe damage to the road, making it impassable and forcing authorities to close it out from motorists.

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Some motorists put the blame on authorities, saying they have disregarded the road for so long.

Driver Owen Gerald Mapulanga, who operates a passenger bus between Salima and Nkhotakota says the cracks and yawning potholes on the road makes driving very uncomfortable.

“There are a lot of potholes on the road. During the rainy season, we normally experience heavy rains which wash away curvets. Even some bridges collapse, forcing us to find alternative routes,” Mapulanga said.

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Another motorist, Augustine Kasakula, said the status of the road leaves a lot to be desired.

“This road has a lot of problems, too many potholes. To make matters worse, the road has bridges that were constructed using timber. When disasters strike, the road becomes impassable, affecting our daily business. We really need this road to be reconstructed,” he said.

On top of the road developing cracks and potholes, the single-lane bridges also pose threats to motorists.

For instance, in December, 2017, heavy rains cut off a section of the road at Lisozi, 50 kilometers from Kaphatenga in Salima, after a curvet was vandalised.

Motorists had to use the Kasungu-Nkhotakota Road, through Nkhotakota Game Reserve, as an alternative.

While the bridge was revived, people in Traditional Authority (T/A) Mwanza fear that Lingadzi Bridge, which is under maintenance, may collapse again due to heavy rains as the contractor assigned to maintain the bridge is yet to complete the work.

The bridge, according locals around the area, collapsed in March 2018 and authorities temporarily used a berry bridge to reconnect the separated parts of the road.

Rabson Banda, of T/A Mwanza in Salima, said since March this year, there have been temporary maintenance works on some bridges on the road.

The situation is, however, worse on a stretch that goes through T/A Mwadzaama, particularly at Lifyodzi River.

A major section of a bridge there has had its wooden planks broken, leaving part of the surface bare and unfavourable for road users.

Beneath the bridge are steel and concrete blocks that have protruded into the river.

Minister of Transport and Public Works, Jappie Mhango, admitted that the M5 Road is too old and that it needs to be reconstructed.

Mhango said the government has sourced funds for the project and that it awaits procurement of a contractor.

“The M5 Road is in bad shape and it has been giving the government a lot of problems. As we have been looking for donor support which is not readily available, the government decided that we should start the construction works using locally generated resources and start working on the project in phases,” Mhango said.

He added that his ministry is about to secure a contractor to start working on the first 20 kilometers of the road.

He could, however, not disclose how much has been set aside for the project and the date of commencement.

“What is important is that resources have been committed to make sure that we start the work on the road. As soon as the contractor has been identified, we should be able to commence work on the road,” he said.

Currently, according to the minister, there is a road maintenance programme with contractors already identified to attend to problematic areas on the road.

Another casualty is the M1 Road which also has potholes and cracks, especially on the stretch between Mponela in Dowa and Kasungu Boma.

Goal Number Nine of the Sustainable Development Goals seeks to develop quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure including regional and trans-border infrastructure to support economic development and human well-being with a focus on affordable and equitable access for all.

It is clear that major roads in the country, including the M5, have their own share in the economic development of the country and there is need for government to live up to its duty of providing sustainable and reliable road infrastructure for all.

Nkhotakota Police report indicates that in the year 2018 there have been 57 road accidents among them 16 were fatal.

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