CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka
SOMEONE once said development knows no tribe, nationality or race, and the saying is playing itself out in Milenge district in Luapula Province.
Not long ago the people of Milenge, especially those living in Kapala and surrounding villages, used to cross the Luapula River into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), about two kilometres from the border, for healthcare services.
Now the Zambian government has built a state-of-the art district hospital, which is now functional although the last phase is still under construction.
Congolese are now crossing Luapula River, which also serves as the border between the two neighbouring countries, into Zambia to seek healthcare services at the modern hospital.
Milenge District Hospital acting nursing officer Godfrey Banda says the facility is reciprocating what the health centre across the border used to do.
“We are grateful to the government for building us such a nice hospital, which has become a huge blessing not only to the people of Milenge but to our neighbours across the Luapula River as well,” Mr Banda said.
He said under international health protocols the Zambian hospital is obliged to provide healthcare services to the Congolese.
“Now that we have a big and modern hospital Congolese villagers are coming here from across the river and we are attending to them also,” Mr Banda said.
However, despite its beautiful and imposing outlook the hospital is not connected to the national electricity grid and is operating at less than half of its capacity.
It has an operating theatre, laboratory, a mortuary, a kitchen and fully equipped dental unit which are not fully operational.
Most of the equipment is lying idle because of the lack of electricity.
“We are happy that we now have a functional hospital, but we are unable to use most of these expensive equipment. We are relying on a generator set, which we only use for short periods because it is too expensive,” Mr Banda said.
He said solar power was unreliable because of the huge cost involved in the maintenance of batteries.
Some of the new equipment that is lying idle is industrial pots for the kitchen, chest freezers, laundry machine, oxygen machines, cardiac monitor and dental gear.
But there is hope. The Rural Electrification Authority (REA) has started the fourth and last phase of the K30 million Milenge Grid Extension Project.
The authority is working round the clock to ensure the 164-kilometre power line from Musaila in Samfya district is completed by December.
REA chief executive officer Geoffrey Musonda, who was recently in the district on a fact-finding tour, said the district is expected to be fully electrified by December instead of next year as the schedule indicates.
Mr Musonda was speaking when he paid a courtesy call on Milenge district commissioner Emmanuel Kunda at his office.
“I have come here to personally assure you that we want this district to have electricity by December, ahead of schedule, because we have seen the beautiful and expensive infrastructure the government has built here which needs electricity,” he said.
“This work is scheduled to end next year, but we will work with our sister company, Zesco Limited, and the Ministry of Energy to have it completed by December,” he said.
And Mr Kunda thanked Mr Musonda and his team for personally travelling to the area to appreciate the challenges the people of Milenge, which is predominantly a farming area and is the shortest route between Luapula and Copperbelt provinces, have been facing as a result of lack of electricity.
“Your coming has energised our morale. People have been dying here because the hospital has no electricity. We are happy with your assurance that we will have electricity by December. The people of Milenge have waited for it for too long,” Mr Kunda said.
Milenge Member of Parliament Mwansa Mbulakulima, who was also in the area to check on development projects, could not hide his excitement at the progress REA has made so far towards the electrification of the district.
“When President Lungu came here the people made two requests: that they wanted electricity and a tarred road. The people of Milenge are excited.
“We are grateful to His Excellency, President Edgar Lungu, for the personal interest he has shown in ensuring this project is completed. Where there is power there is development and I am urging those with money to hurry now and come and invest here,” Mr Mbulakulima said.
Workers of one of the contractors were found planting electricity poles near and around the district administrative centre.
And Mr Musonda assured the administration at the new Milenge Boarding Secondary School that it will be connected to hydro-electricity by the end of the year.
The news elated head teacher Matula Sichone, who said the electrification of the newly built institution of learning would save the government a lot of money as authorities were using a generator set.
“We want to thank the government for what it has done for the people of Milenge. It is unbelievable to find such a beautiful school with high-standard infrastructure in a remote rural area like this. When we are connected to the national grid we will be very happier,” Mr Sichone said.
He said the school was among the best in Luapula Province with a pass rate of 80 percent for Grade 12 and 83 percent for Grade Nine in the last examinations.
One of the pupils, Christine Chilengeshi, urged the government to ensure the school is electrified to make learning easier for her and her colleagues.
“We are currently only studying for a short time, between 18:00 hours and 20:00 hours, which is not enough. It may affect our performance. So we will be happy if they bring electricity quickly,” she said.
Community mobilisation leader Brighton Ng’andwe of Chimba village reported that already 150 households had already applied to be connected to electricity under the project.
“We are grateful to REA for this project because it will bring development in our villages as people will be able to engage in income-generating activities and buy electrical appliances,” Mr Ng’andwe said.
Should Milenge district be electrified by December it will accelerate development and transform the area.