Vice President Saulos Chilima on Thursday took utility providers to task faulting them for fueling the influx of illegal settlers by providing them with utility services such as electricity and water.
Chilima who is also the Minister responsible for Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma), further faulted the Blantyre City Council (BCC) for not acting swiftly to reallocate settlers from flood prone areas of the city.
Speaking when he toured disaster prone areas in Blantyre, Chilima was disappointment to see that people are still constructing houses along river banks with some survivors of the 2015 disasters in townships such as Chimwankhunda and Ndirande still living comfortably in such disastrous areas.
Escom regional manager for the south Davis Mbewe had a hard time trying to defend the service provider pushing the blame to the current Electricity Act.
“The Act stipulates that we should connect electricity to all applicants as long as the building is deemed safe for electricity, it does not have any clause on what should happen to illegal settlers.
“We are now planning to start sending all applications to city councils for verification to ascertain whether or not the buildings of the applicants are at a recommended area.” he explained.
But Chilima, visibly unconvinced, called for immediate action to address the situation.
“This is disaster in the making, if this area is to experience more than five days of heavy rainfall, it is going to be flooded again and people will likely die. These people must be relocated immediately and the good thing is that we have land already specifically for that in Machinjiri township,” he ordered.
Deputy Director for Planning and Estate Services at BCC Mathews Mwadzangati said on its part, the council is falling to act in as far as vacating the illegal settlers is concerned as they are restrained by a court injunction.
Explained Mwadzangati: “We have a court case running since 2012, a chief that we got arrested for sharing people land in our forest reserve connived with some settlers and took us to court, we cannot move, our hands are tied.”
However, the vice president brushed that aside reminding them that injunctions can always be vacated. He urged the council to move with speed in addressing the issue.
“A lot of money which could have been used for other development projects is being directed towards response to disaster occurrences, and for your own information, the money that is used in preventing disaster is lesser than that which is used when disasters strike,” he said.
But one of the residents we talked to in Chilobwe, Lucy Kayembe, a survivor of the January 13, 2015 flash floods that killed 48 people in the area and other parts of Southern Region remained adamant saying she cannot leave her house which she worked so hard for to build.
“Where do you think I can get money to build another house like this one? The cost of building materials is way too high these days. Let the floods come and kill me here, I do not care,” she challenged.
According to Mwadzangati, BCC registered 61 households over the three kilometer perimeter of Chilobwe Township to be relocated to Machinjiri and no compensation will be paid to the settlers.
“For those who settled in the forest reserves before the injunction, the land is there in Machinjiri, however, those who settled there after the injunction will not be allocated any land,” he hinted.
According to Dodma, the 2014/2015 floods killed 176 people and displaced 174 500 across the country.