Joseph Pamtunda, 22, a resident of Maphura Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Maphwira in Nsanje, leans comfortably on his bicycle and looks out with admiration to the construction works taking place a few metres from his house.
In front of him is a new road under construction and a new bridge with silver metals sparkles with majestic beauty. The Thabwa-Chitseko Road in the district is receiving some face lifting.
“I cannot believe this is really happening,” says Pamtunda. “This road has been a nightmare to both passengers and motorists due to potholes and gullies caused by floods. It is worse during rainy season.”
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 mainly affected businesspeople who travel to Blantyre to buy goods for sale,” says Pamtunda.
He is a vendor and provides computer services such as loading music in people’s mobile phones and shooting videos. He gets his supplies from Blantyre and says since the floods the costs of travel to and from Blantyre has been too high.
“This also affects prices of goods and services down here because we raise the prices to accommodate additional costs incurred and avoid losses, but this scares away many customers and slow business,” Pamtunda says.
There is now hope for improved economic activities and income generation once the rehabilitation works are complete.
The Thabwa-Chitseko stretch is one of several roads being rehabilitated under the Malawi Floods Emergency Recovery Project (Mferp). With an $80 million (about MK58.6 billion) financial support from the World Bank, 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 floods in recent years is one of the several components under this recovery programme.
This component has been allocated $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 (km) 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 project is the longest stretch covering 60 km and is expected to cost around $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.
“This will definitely improve the flow of goods and services and boost economic activities in most areas close to this structure,” says Pamtunda, who plans to expand his business.
“People from other areas have been unable to access our products, especially farm produce, because of the condition of the road,” says another local Emmanuel Salimanja, 34, from the area.
Mferp national coordinator Dickxie Kampani says: “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 under way in Phalombe and Thyolo among other districts in the Southern Region.
One of the major highlights in Phalombe is the 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.
Phalombe District Council director of public works, 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 the affected areas. For locals such as Pamtunda, who currently makes about K20 000 a 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,” he says.