Joseph Pamtunda, 22, takes a comfortable lean on his bicycle and looks out with admiration to the construction works taking place to some area close to his home village.
In front of him is a new road under construction where a new bridge with silver metals sparkle with majestic beauty.
The Thabwa-Chitseko Road in Nsanje is receiving some face lifting and he looks in awe with how the road is shaping.
“I cannot believe this is really happening” says Pamtunda his face glowing with excitement.
“This road was a nightmare to travel through because of potholes and gullies that developed because of floods.”
In 2015, a heavy downpour resulted in floods that heavily damaged many parts of the road including washing away some bridges.
The damage left many locals, who solely depend on the road for their social and economic activities, utterly guttered and trapped in isolation.
“The destruction was hindrance to many business people who travel to Blantyre to order goods to sell here,” says Pamtunda, a resident of Maphura Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Maphwira in Nsanje.
The young man runs his own enterprise of providing computer services such as loading music in people’s mobile phones, burning discs and shooting videos. He says his business was affected too.
Travelling to Blantyre to purchase items for business becomes costly.
“As a result, goods and services back home becomes expensive too and this scares away many customers,” Pamtunda says.
But the current maintenance of the road is offering new hopes of improved economic activities and income generation to people of Maphura Village and other areas.
The Thabwa – Chitseko stretch is one of several roads that are under rehabilitation through the Malawi Floods Emergency Recovery Project (MFERP).
With financial support from the World Bank worth US$80 million (about MK58.6 billion), the Malawi government is implementing MFERP to fast track the recovery process in the aftermath of natural disasters such as floods, heavy winds and drought.
Reconstruction and improvement of roads and bridges damaged during flood disasters in recent years is one of the several components under this recovery programme.
This component has been allocated US$26.5 million (about MK19.8 billion) targeting the improvement of approximately 100 kilometres of secondary roads, 850 metres of bridges and drainage structures that were partially or totally destroyed during floods.
So far, 239 bridges, 749 culverts and works on roads with an accumulative stretch of 17.4 kilometers have already been completed in 12 districts. Around 790 000 people are already benefiting from these structures, according to MFERP progress report.
The Thabwa-Chitseko Road is the longest stretch covering 60 km and is expected to cost around US$13.1 million (about MK9.5 billion). Rehabilitation works will cover from Thabwa along the M1 in Chikwawa to Seveni Trading Centre near Fatima in Nsanje district.
The improvement of this road is good for business, most locals say.
“The new road will definitely improve the flow of goods and services and boost economic activities in most areas close to this structure,” says Pamtunda who is looking forward to expand his business in video production by procuring a video camera and another set of desktop computer.
“After the road was damaged, we were disconnected from many parts. People from other areas were not able to come here and buy various products especially crop produce,” says another local Emmanuel Salimanja, 34, from Mitawi Village.
“But this road will surely change that.”
MFERP National Coordinator Dickxie Kampani says rehabilitation of the Thabwa – Chitseko road will see it getting to the level where it is economically viable for the people.
“Right now, it takes you close to three hours to travel between Thabwa and Fatima, which is not economically sound.
“So, the current investment in this road and the rest of similar structures will help to reduce operational time and cost while at the same boosting economic activities in concerned areas,” Kampani says.
The road is expected to have three new bridges over Nkhate, Phala and Chizimbi Rivers which cut through it.
Similar construction works are also under way in Phalombe and Thyolo among other districts in the southern region.
One of the major highlight in Phalombe is construction of Phalombe-Chitekesa bridge. The new bridge, which will connect people of Chitekesa, T/A Jenala in Phalombe North and those from Matiya in Zomba, replaces the old and feeble bridge that was swept away by gushing floods in 2015.
Director of public works at Phalombe District Council Fackson Chidzalo says the current bridge has all the strength to withstand the force of water during a heavy downpour or flooding.
“This is a better bridge than the previous one. During construction, engineers had to dig deep and find a rock that acts like a natural foundation. Even the steel itself is strong,” Chidzalo says.
He urges communities to take care of the bridge and the surrounding environment by planting more trees.
Chitekesa Bridge, just like Livunzu in Chikwawa, is expected to improve the livelihoods of people in so many areas associated with it.
For locals such as Joseph Pamtunda, who currently rakes at least K20, 000 per day through his businesses, it is time to smile again and be hopeful for the best.
“I foresee my business peaking and my daily earnings doubling,” Pamtunda says.
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