Construction of Shire Valley irrigation canal’s intake needs to be redesigned after been compromised by Cyclone Ana

The Shire Valley Transformation Programme (STVP), through the Ministry of Agriculture, has re-engaged the consultants who designed the irrigation canal’s intake to carry out an assessment of the damage caused by Tropical Cyclone Ana in order to redesign it to withstand any other future forces of nature.

This was disclosed on Sunday when Minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe visited the project to assess the extent of the damage where he was appraised that the decision to re-engage the consultant was done in collaboration with STVP and the contractor Conduril’s engineers; site consultant and the Ministry of Energy through Electricity Generation Company of Malawi (EGENCO).

Lowe appreciating progress of the unaffected siphon from intake

The collaborative assessments were also done in consultation with one of the financiers of the project, the World Bank whose representative — Joop Stoutjesdijk (Lead Irrigation and Drainage Specialist, Water Global Practice) — accompanied the Minister for the site visit.

Lowe was also accompanied by his deputy as well as chairperson of Parliamentary Committee of Agriculture & Irrigation Sameer Suleman (MP for Blantyre City South East) and delegations from the Ministry of Agriculture and District Councils.

The Minister was appraised that progress on construction of the Intake and first 6km of the main canal (MC1) being constructed by contractor Conduril is currently at 61% but it should have been at 81% by December — which was delayed due to several challenges that included CoVID-19 pandemic.

In his presentation, the project’s irrigation engineer, Martin Chizalema  told the Minister that Cyclone Ana affected construction works leading to a temporary suspension of works on two affected parts — the intake foundation and part of Siphon 1.

He assured the delegation that all other structures on the canal are intact and that so far, over 4kms of the canal has been lined with concrete with 2 of 3 bridge crossings completed and that works on bridge 3 have started.

Damage to the first siphon after the intake

“One of the three siphons is under construction, the flume has been completed and all the 14-drainage works have been completed,” Chizalema said.

“Works still continue on construction of the canal including the third bridge on the 6km route, including excavation of the fish barrier and the remaining parts of the stretch. Animal escape routes, drainages along the maintenance road along the canal, protection works along the canal embankment will also be constructed.”

The first part of the canal — whose total distance is 52kms from the intake at Kapichira Dam to Lengwe National Park — passes through Majete Game Reserve — thus the bridges and animal escape routes.

He said they engaged EGENCO — as owners of Kapichira Dam where the intake is being constructed — in the discussions with the World Bank for possible refinancing for the design review to come up with new detailed redesign options for the rehabilitation or complete construction of the affected works.

The floods breached Kapichira Dam’s dykes that control water flow and direction of the Shire River as well as STVP’s coffer dam which flooded the intake foundation.

The Shire River completely rediverted to its original course thus breaching the intake and damaged a section of the 750-meter siphon which connects the intake and the main canal.

Damage to the first siphon after the intake

Construction of the intake structure was at foundation stage together with two yet-to-be-completed superstructures of front wing walls. However, one incomplete wing wall was washed away.

Chizalema said all critical structures are intact including the flume, siphon, culverts and the main canal, whose deadline of completion was March this year but has since been extended to another 12 months.

He also said the contractor for the next stage of the 6km stretch, Synohydro was also involved in the collaborative assessment process in a spirit of team work.

In his remarks, Joop Stoutjesdijk assured the Minister that the World Bank is pleased with the progress of the project despite all the challenges faced, saying they are committed to continue supporting Malawi on this programme for the tragedy that came through the floods and for the next phase.

“The contractor Conduril has done an excellent work and the second contractor is on site with their equipment ready,” he said.

“The damage done here through floods, I must say, is a blessing in disguise that it has happened at construction stage. It would have been much more disastrous and costly to rebuild if the whole project had been completed and was in use.

“As the World Bank, we agree for a better design which should be much more resilient, thus we need more time for the redesign. We must accept that we shall experience recurring floods which are happening due to environmental degradation of watershed [in the upper lands].

“We need to adapt and make this project more resilient and needs more money, which the World Bank is willing to support.”

He urged the authorities to hasten in the reconstruction of Kapichira Dam for the reconstruction of the intake to being as well as restoration of the 130 megawatts that the Power Station lost — which is 32% of the power of the national grid.

After assessment, EGENCO announced that it needs over K18 billion to reconstruct its compromised infrastructure and the first and most important part of repair is the Kapichira Dam.

It is completely drenched with sand and its equipment destroyed and some washed away to over 14kms downstream and according to the damage assessment, it will take close to six months to repair.

The moment the floods became intense, EGENCO and its sister company ESCOM shut down their machines and plunged the Southern Region and other parts of the country into power blackout same night of the severe storm that started on the evening of Monday, January 24 to the following day.

From then on, EGENCO and ESCOM are rationing power supply due to the lost 130megawatts while the Shire Valley programme has engage the power generator since the reconstruction of the intake shall need to have the Shire under control to its course into the power stations generation infrastructure.

Lowe said President Lazarus Chakwera has all the passion for “this project to be completed in time and cannot afford to see it stalled”.

“Thats why he sent me here in the company of our chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee of Agriculture and Irrigation. I must say I am very encouraged by the swift measures that have been taken to get back on track — giving it some hope of bringing it back to life.

“Thus we agree with you for the extension of the completion period and there is no room for complacency — we must push forward with the new design which should indeed withstand any other forces of nature.

“Once the Shire is rediverted, we must make sure that it should never revert to its original course and as for the compromised watershed and effects of climate change need to be refocused seriously through public sensitization campaign against wanton cutting down of trees without replacing them. to manage the watershed that is heavily compromised,” he said.

Suleman assured the Minister and all the irrigation canal’s stakeholders that Parliament will do its best to factor the reconstruction of the intake in the national budget which the august House is already set to debate on.

“Its sad that we are here to visit the damage done instead of progress but it has opened our eyes that in our plans we must design better structures that should stand the test of nature of this magnitude.

“I must also applaud Shire Valley Transformation Programme and its contractor and consultants for the 61% progress under challenges that included CoVID-19 — this is good progress.

“We the MPs are in support of this project to the betterment of Malawians in the Lower Shire and we will certainly sort out anything coming to Parliament from the programme,” assured Suleman.

Excavations and clearing of the canal route from the 6kms to 46kms up to Lengwe National Park are currently underway which commenced in November 2021 as the construction works for the remainder of Main Canal 1 and Part of Main Canal 2 continue post Cyclone Ana.

The Shire Valley Transformation Programme was launched in March 2020 by former President Peter Mutharika, whose objective is for Malawi to increase agricultural productivity and commercialization for targeted households along the Shire Valley and to improve the sustainable management and utilization of natural resources.

The canal shall irrigate 43,700 hectares of land in the Valley for over 223,000 people (as according to 2016 census) including areas under Illovo Sugar, Phata, Kasinthula and all Cooperatives with irrigable areas especially on the eastern side of the canal.

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