The dilapidated state of the M1 continued to haunt the country on Wednesday night when part of Kyungu Bridge on Kyungu River in Karonga collapsed due to heavy rains, killing three people. The bridge is situated five kilometres from Songwe Border Post.
Meanwhile, authorities blame the incident on poor workmanship and negligence.
The M1, where most of the country’s fuel passes, is in bad shape. For instance, from Songwe Border Post to Mzuzu, the road is filled with potholes. It is even worse at Thekero in Rumphi where landslides occur each rainy day, sparking fears that heavy rocks from nearby hills will one day descend on human beings.
At Enukweni, government had to improvise a military bridge to cover up a section which collapsed after long calls to have it repaired fell on deaf ears.
Meanwhile, the collapse of the foundation of the Kyungu Bridge has brought business to a standstill. Goods from Tanzania to Malawi such as fuel, vehicles and others are stuck, so too are those heading to Tanzania from Malawi.
As a remedy, government has engaged Zhejiang Construction Communication Company (ZCCC), which is jointly working with Malawi Defence Force engineers to have the road reopened this morning.
Vice-President Saulos Chilima, who inspected the damaged bridge yesterday, said immediate action was needed to remedy the situation.
He decried that government ignored advice to redirect the river to its original course when the road was being rehabilitated two years ago, saying the collapse is the price for ignoring sound advice.
The road from Karonga to Songwe was rehabilitated two years ago by ZCCC.
Said Chilima: “We missed an opportunity to redirect the river when this was being done and for the future we have to put supporting structures [gabion baskets] to strengthen the bridge.
What the company will do now is fill the gap, compact it so that traffic can start flowing.
“However, we will have to put the gabion baskets to protect it from any further wear and tear. We are mindful that there are quality issues with contractors; we will not accept any substandard work. “
He said they will let the contractor do the work so that traffic starts flowing since further delays can have catastrophic results, especially on fuel availability in the country.
On his part, a visibly angry Paramount Chief Kyungu, who said he had advised the contractor and government two years ago to redirect the flow of water in the river, termed the incident a disaster.
He said: “It is a horrible disaster not only for Karonga, but the whole country. This is a lifeline road, especially to goods coming from East Africa. Now that we have been cut off. It is a terrible situation.
“I am humbly requesting government to ensure that priority attention should be paid to this bridge, otherwise the country will suffer in terms of fuel, commodities and the relationship with our East African friends.”
“They didn’t listen to me, maybe because I am a traditional leader, but I am a person who understands what development and construction is.
“But here we are, and have lost lives because of irresponsibility. I am very sorry for the losses, it is terrible.”
When the road was opened in 2019, Kyungu said he did not want it launched due to what he termed poor workmanship, but government went ahead and launched it.
Ministry, RA defend contractor
Deputy Minister of Transport and Public Works Nancy Chaola Mdooko said ZCCC was chosen to help due to its proximity and the urgency of the project.
“We thought of bringing the contractor here because this is an emergency. We have hope that the contractor will do a good job,” she said.
In a telephone interview, Roads Authority chief executive officer Engineer Emmanuel Matapa said the bridges were not part of the work that ZCCC did while rehabilitating the road.
He said a feasibility study on the rehabilitation of the road, found the bridges to be in good shape despite being old.
Said Matapa: “The contractor was rehabilitating the road only, 150 millimetres [mm] top fit. The contractor was only extending the bridges to have a footpath, but the bridges were built a long time ago.
“When we did the road, the feasibility study checked the durability of the bridges, and they were found to be structurally sound. But the issue there could be run-overs that are affecting embankments or road infrastructure.
“Meaning due to cultivation and use, there is more water coming to the bridge now than it used to be. So, the cause is not the soundness of the bridge, that is why the bridge is still intact, but it is the formation to the bridge.”
Three dead, as others cash in
Karonga Police spokesperson Enock Livason confirmed the death of three people.
While major business is at a standstill, canoe operators made a killing yesterday, ferrying each person across 10 metres at a K500 fee.
The Karonga-Songwe Road is part of the North-South Corridor that runs from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to the port of Durban in South Africa, whose renovation was made to improve the regional road network in eastern and southern parts of Africa. n