THE last few months leading to February 2014 saw Alice Namuunda of Chieftainess Chiawa's area make frequent visits to and from Mtendere Mission Hospital in Chirundu. All this was done with the hopes that the health of her ailing 88-year-old mother would improve, but alas, this was not the case.
On the material day, her mother died about 16:30 hours, at her home, and frantic efforts were made to ferry the body to Mtendere Hospital mortury to prepare for burial. However, by the time they got to the river, the pontoon had closed its operations for the day meaning that she and her husband had the unenviable responsibility to return home with the body!
This experience was like 'adding salt to injury', because it was already hard enough to accept the death of her beloved mother. "It was so painful to accept that she was no more, but what was even more painful was to have to deal with the pain of spending a night with her body in our house. It was a tormenting experience," Ms Namuunda recounted.
This is because the pontoon is only operational between 8:00 hours and 18:00 hours everyday, in this case, emergency cases that require immediate evacuation across the river have to wait until the next morning.
Despite the Chiawa Bridge site being only approximately 120 kilometers south of Lusaka City, people in this area, have had to live with challenges of crossing the river since 1965.
There are many other examples that can be cited as emergencies among them ferrying of sick children, and maternal cases referred to Mtendere Hospital.
Even the business community in the area is alive to the fact that they need to conduct their business in line with the operating hours of the pontoon.
The restricted operating hours of the pontoon has negatively impacted on the socio-economic development of the area which, according to the 2010 census report, has an estimated population of 48,000 people.
However, Government has embarked on the construction of the K43 million ultra-modern bridge across the Kafue River at Chiawa, which is envisaged to ease the movement of people and goods, as well as enhance the delivery of various services.
This is just one of the projects under Roads Development Agency (RDA)'s Link Zambia 8000 project. This bridge is expected to serve as the main linkage between the Lower Zambezi and Lusaka and is poised to support, tourism and agricultural transportation between the two regions.
Chiawa Bridge, whose lifespan is estimated between 40 to 80 years, is expected to contain loads of up to about 40 tonnes.
During a recent tour by deputy Lusaka provincial permanent secretary Bright Nundwe, the site contractor from China-Henan, a Mr Ji assured Government that works at Chiawa Bridge, which borders Kafue and Chirundu districts, is expected to be completed in the next two weeks.
Mr Nundwe is of the view that Lusaka Province should have a start-of-the-art face that should act as a mirror of infrastructure develop ment.
In expressing his pleasure with the progression of the construction of the 140 meter Chiawa Bridge across the Kafue River, Mr Nundwe commended government for its efforts in scaling up infrastructural development in the province.
"Lusaka should have the best face in this country, because it acts as the front office of any organisation," he said.
"I am impressed with works at the Chiawa Bridge, because it is the first of its kind in the area, since the country gained independence 50 years ago," Mr Nundwe added.
He implored citizens in the province to support government's developmental projects.
"This is the kind of development that people are eying," he added. This has elated Kafue District Commissioner Grace Ngulube who is confident that once completed, the bridge will enhance trading and tourism activities in the area.
"We are a proud government because this is the first bridge since independence. The government has invested a lot of funds to serve the people of Chiawa by promoting their trading activities, through eased transportation of people, goods and services," she said.
She has however appealed to the Rural Roads Unit (RRU) to work on the feeder roads as a matter of urgency to open up the area to other forms of development. She explained that a good road network is vital to enhancing health service delivery in the far flung areas.
According to her, making the area accessible through a good road network will also assist in the retention of government employees in rural areas. "We have now been provided with ambulances for Kafue district, but the bad roads are a major hindrance to evacuation of patients," she lamented.
However, Mr Nundwe who assured the district commissioner of stringent monitoring mechanisms to ensure infrastructure development of the area. Development is that which meets the aspirations of people in the immediate society, and should be economically viable, socially just, and should ultimately lead to improved livelihoods for people.
The construction of the Chiawa Bridge is a concrete example of the many developmental projects that government has embarked on it its quest to enhance infrastructure development in different parts of the country.
The hardships of transportation and accessibility faced by residents of Chiawa, Chirundu and Kafue districts will soon be history, when what seemed as a far fetched dream-Chiawa is made reality.