440 pits on 23km road

Bad roads drive away tourists, our Features Editor JAMES CHAVULA writes.

It is the topmost tourist destination in the Central Region.

But a trip to the stunning shores of Lake Malawi in Salima is one to forget.

The narrow road is shattered to pits, with both edges broken.

Some of the deepening pits on the 23km Salima-Livingstonia Beach Road

We counted about 440 potholes on the 23km tarmac from Salima Boma to Sunbird Livingstonia Beach Resort.

This is just over 19 pits per kilometre.

No single sign warns motorists about the surge in potholes.

But Salima District Council chairperson Everson Mpayani has a Christmas surprise for those who care.

In an interview, he said: “The road generates a lot of money, but it is heartbreaking that it is has numerous, accident-prone potholes.

“We have no money for repairs. But before the festive season, we will erect ‘Potholes Ahead’ signs to warn drivers to slow down. Productive people are dying needlessly,” he said.

The councillor is worried that authorities do not seem to care about travellers to the lakeside resorts.

Even Roads Authority (RA) appears to be in no hurry to fix the craters. They deepen and multiply.

RA spokesperson Portia Kajanga says they are searching for funds to upgrade the S122 Road from Kaphatenga to Livingstonia Beach.

But the wait for smooth rides lengthens as funds are not available.

Meanwhile, the outbreak of neglected pits keeps spreading. Some scattered all over the cracked surface. Others clustered on the white line.

They harm lives and vehicles.

Infuriated travellers lamented how it messes up their vehicles, speaking of tyre bursts, bent rims and dislocated axles.

The blowouts sometimes end in deadly accidents.

At Salima District Hospital, we saw victims of the road which needs no more patching—but a new finish.

Health workers raced past the outpatients lobby, carrying pints of blood as stretchers roared to a waiting ambulance. Then came the grinding, ear-splitting din of giant oxygen cylinders pounding the cement floor as masked clinicians put the casualties in the ambulance.

The gas cylinders resembled props of a roadside welder, but they were handy oxygen concentrators for emergency cases.

“Push them in, open the oxygen and bring more blood,” a doctor barked orders.

The bleeding patients gasped to breathe.

“Call a clinician,” orders bellowed. “Anyone nearby.”

The ambulance sped off to Kamuzu Central Hospital, almost 103km away, with deafening sirens announcing a familiar run to save victims of bloodshed on the narrow road where yawning potholes swallow tyres of vehicles.

“Most accidents happen at night and during weekends, when tourists visit the lake to unwind from everyday business,” says a minibus driver who shuttles schoolchildren from Livingstonia Beach to Salima Town five days a week.

He attributes the carnage to drink-driving.

“There are too many potholes for any sober driver. Drunken drivers cannot dodge them all. You just hear boom!” he explains.

Save for workshops and lodgers, many visits the lake to drink sunny days away.

Even the sober ones are not safe.

Bad roads endanger travellers’ lives.

Accidents, which killed almost 1122 people, last year, scare away tourists from the lake once listed among the Top 10 Places to Go by Lonely Planet travel magazine.

This is why RA and the Department of Tourism constructed roads to open up shoreline resorts in Mangochi, Salima and Nkhata Bay.

But distraught pilgrims to Salima wonder why the potholed 23km is being reduced to a single-lane affair.

Patch over patch. Pothole next to pothole. Jagged edges slitting tyres. Motorists have nowhere to run.

Vehicles perilously race to the faint midline to avoid bumps—and we run the ruler over a randomly selected pit measuring almost 26cm deep and 1-4m wide.

Someone hurriedly filled it with bricks, but civil engineers still have to do the right job. n

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