A structural engineer focusing on school designs and construction in the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), Rene John Dierkx, says Malawi needs a holistic approach to avert future effects of the recent floods’ magnitude.
Speaking after touring Namiyala and Chikonje full primary schools in Nsanje district to assess the extent of damage to school blocks and make recommendations from a structural engineering perspective, Dierkx said several factors contributed to the floods and their impact, hence remedies also need to come from these various factors.
“To prevent future occurrences, there is need to construct structures such as dykes along the river, but this is expensive so it will depend on availability of funds. Alternatively, there is need to put in place flood resistant measures such as building at higher levels. It would also help to avoid economic activities that endanger the environment as well as having coordinated planning in various sectors before, during and after the disaster,” said Dierkx during the tour of the hard to reach schools.
While he rated Namiyala as relatively stable structurally, Dierkx registered serious concern at Chikonje School where walls either fell or have gaping cracks and unstable roofing. The school blocks’ foundations could not be assessed since they are covered by over a metre of sediments deposited by the floodwater as it swept past.
Before the floods, Namiyala had over 700 learners while Chikonje had an enrolment of over 1 000. The two schools have since been closed for learning and pupils now learn in tents upland.
The local community is currently involved in efforts to relocate the schools from swamps to uplands. n