VICTOR KUMWENDA, Chama
LOCATED in the Luangwa Rift Valley, Chama South, a remote constituency about 100 kilometres from Chama district, is undoubtedly the largest but also one of the least developed constituencies in Muchinga Province.
One of the least populated districts in the province, its geography has to an extent contributed to the area lagging behind in development due to its unfriendly terrain.
Most of the roads are impassable during the rainy season, and also require hours of hard four-wheel drive travel to access most of the places.
The district was formerly part of Eastern Province and majority of the population live close to the Malawi border and share tribal and cultural links with the people of the northern highlands of that country.
It is depressing that 53 years after independence the area has remained under-developed.
The constituency has no modern infrastructure because the United National Independence Party (UNIP) and the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) governments neglected the area.
But now, area member of Parliament Davison Mungâ€™andu says the Patriotic Front (PF) government is determined to change the situation.
The government has since embarked on a number of infrastructure projects in the area such as health, education and road infrastructure meant to transform the place and improve peopleâ€™s livelihood.
Mungâ€™andu points out the construction of Chama District Hospital as an indication that Government is committed to developing the area.
The MP said despite the 150-bed capacity hospital being located in Chama North constituency, its opening has brought relief to people who previously used to transport patients to Lundazi District Hospital on bicycles despite being in critical condition. Lundazi is about 80 kilometres from Chama South.
President Lungu commissioned the K23 million Chama District Hospital in April last year.
Chama South has been allocated six health posts from the 650 that Government is constructing across the country, but none has been built so far, a situation that has saddened the people.
Godfrey Lungu, a retired teacher who has lived in chief Tembweâ€™s area for six years, expressed disappointment with the delay in constructing the health facilities.
â€œWe have been told by our MP [Mungâ€™andu] that Government is supposed to construct six health posts, but we are all wondering what is happening because up to now, nothing has been done. Anyway, we are still confident the government will build the health posts as promised,â€ Mr Lungu said.
However, the constituency has about six rural health centres – Chikwa, Chifunda, Chigoma, Kasele, Mapamba and Tembwe. The Ministry of Health has since deployed clinical officers and nurses to man most of the facilities.
But what worries the area MP and the people is that most of these health facilities which were previously manned by classified daily employees who have no formal medical training have no accommodation.
Mr Mungâ€™andu also notes that most of the health centres are inaccessible during the rainy season because the streams get flooded at crossing points, making it difficult for people to access medical services.
â€œOur communities rely mainly on agriculture and completion of the road will make a huge difference regarding the speedy delivery of goods. It will also make a difference with regard to public transport. We want our people to have easy access to health services and this has always been Governmentâ€™s desire,â€ he said.
It is also difficult to access drugs during the rainy season because they are off- loaded long distances away from the health centres where staff have to ferry them on bicycles. Ambulances can access the areas in the dry season although they only respond to emergency cases.
He appealed to the Ministry of Health to send more staff to the area to improve access to quality health care.
In the education sector, the area has received a boost with the construction of Chama South Boarding School. The school is, however, not connected to the national grid and has no piped water as teachers and pupils use one hand pump.
There is a submersible pump at the school but it is not functioning due to lack of electricity.
Teachers are shunning the school due to non-availability of electricity, among other reasons.
Mungâ€™andu is appealing to authorities to consider connecting the facility to the national grid and erect a communication tower at the school to enable pupils use the internet.
There is also need to complete works on the 45-kilometre gravel road from Chaseto to the school.
Despite all these challenges, the school recorded an impressive 85 percent pass rate at grade 12, which is remarkable considering that it has only been operational for one year.
Chama South also has a critical shortage of school places. At Manga Basic School, pupils sit on the floor, while Pondo Basic has no roof and the situation has 2017been like that for the last six years.
The people of Chama South are in need of a police station and have appealed to Government to consider building the facility in the area to curb criminal activities. However, a police post is being built at Manga using the Constituency Development Fund (CDF).
But they want the government to help them build houses for police officers.
The MP, who has assured the people in his constituency that he will lobby government to consider constructing a police post and houses, noted that K200,000 is needed to finish the structure.
The Ministry of Local Government has embarked on the construction of a 230-kilometre Chama-Mapamba road which will pass through chiefs Tembwe, Chikwa and Chifunda. The road has been divided into two sections to accelerate the works.
Jonda Construction Company and another construction company have been engaged to execute the works from Chikwa to Mapamba although not much has been done and works have stalled due to the rains.
The Chipata-based contractor, Jonda, has done bush clearing on the Chikwa to Mapamba stretch while there is little progress on the stretch from Chama Boma to Chikwa, which is under another contractor.
Even though the construction of Chama-Matumbo road had brought excitement among the people, it will have no impact on Chama South because the road does not pass through the area, just like the Lundazi-Chama road.
Acting Chama district commissioner Noel Simulunga, however, says the two contractors will complete the works on the road in a stipulated time frame, and that Jonda will resume work after the rainy season.
Simulunga has urged the contractors to put proper culverts on all the streams.
Chama South is predominantly an agricultural area and maize is the most common crop. The area is renowned as a rice-growing belt. Despite its unfriendly terrain, the area has potential for development especially in agriculture and tourism sectors.
The North Luangwa Conservation Programme aimed at protecting the wildlife and habitats of the North Luangwa National Park and surrounding areas is located in Chama South. It is home to the countryâ€™s only black rhinos which were reintroduced in 2003.
These infrastructure projects will improve access to health care, schools, water, sanitation and electricity. On the other hand, construction of roads will contribute to faster economic growth in the area.
It is evident the place is in need of accelerated infrastructure development to keep pace with other constituencies in the province, especially Chama North.
Bridging infrastructure gaps in rural areas is key to reducing extreme poverty among the population, and such infrastructural developments are empowering local communities through job creation.
VICTOR KUMWENDA, Chama