Columnists Features

Substandard infrastructure sabotage on development

EMELDA Musonda

Those who have been to developed parts of the world like Europe will tell you that one of the most distinct and common features easily spotted is the quality of their infrastructure.

It is amazing how buildings that were built in the 18th and 19th century still stand strong even today.
Actually these buildings do not only stand strong but even in their ancient nature, they still look fashionable adding to the variety of building designs and beauty of cities.
Spain is one of the European countries with astounding infrastructure, which despite being constructed centuries ago, still glow with antique splendour.
This can also be said of South Africa’s Rhodes University. Despite being built in 1904, its frame still stands firm competing favourably with new structures.
From the durability and unfading beauty of the infrastructure in most of these countries, it is evident that the engineers or designers who worked on them did a terrific job and had strong foresight.
It reveals the designers’ unique capabilities to plan centuries ahead. This is why over 100 years after the buildings were erected, they are still solid and pleasant to look at.
It is however disheartening that in this advanced era, as a country we have continued to allow construction of some substandard structures such as houses, schools, roads, churches, among others.
This can be deduced from the massive collapse of houses, schools and other infrastructure during the just ended rainy season.
While we acknowledge that the heavy downpours and floods experienced last rainy season are as a result of climate change, it is also indisputable that the structures affected were not strong enough to withstand climatic pressure.
For instance, in Kabwe over 200 houses collapsed after the town experienced some heavy rains over a few days. Over 1,000 people were left homeless.
And just last month, as the rainy season was winding down, 150 houses collapsed in Chibombo.
The newly tarred Luangwa-Feira road was also not spared by the heavy rains experienced last season.
Throughout the rainy season, collapse of houses and other infrastructure was the order of the day.
This is why during the recently held two-day housing and infrastructure symposium under the theme ‘Towards smart and resilient infrastructure, President Lungu took a swipe at Zambian engineers.
He is not happy, and justifiably so, by the casual approach the country has taken towards the kind of infrastructure being put up.
While Government has prioritised infrastructure development in a bid to accelerate development, it is clear those charged with responsibility of implementing the projects do not pay much attention to the quality of structures being constructed.
For instance, among the roads, schools and health posts being constructed across the country, it is common to hear reports of either abandoned or substandard projects.
Given the growing climate change effects as experienced during the just ended rainy season, one is left to wonder if most of these structures can stand the test of time and much more hostile climatic conditions.
It is saddening that most of these substandard structures have been constructed by local contractors, many of whom have been in the limelight for their misconduct.
More saddening is the fact that these substandard structures are sprouting right under the noses of engineers who are charged with the responsibility of looking into their design and durability.
This has prompted the head of State to challenge them to up their game and ensure that they design and build resilient infrastructure which will withstand the devastating effects of climate change.
Mr Lungu is concerned that climate change, which is already adversely affecting Zambia, has the potential to erode the country’s strides to expand and modernise its infrastructure.
By now one would have thought our engineers are in touch with happenings around and are aware of threats that climate change poses to infrastructure.
Engineers and other technocrats are therefore expected to be on top of things by ensuring that infrastructure withstands excessive pressure.
As a country it is irresponsible for us to keep on spending huge sums of money on substandard structures which do not last, given the many competing needs yawning for resources.
The most taxing part is that even after spending huge sums of money on substandard structures, it does not take long before Government is required to provide funding for the same project due to dilapidation or collapse in case of heavy rains.
And as long as we keep on allowing substandard structures, it means Government will also keep on spending on the same projects without progress.
It is therefore in national interest and a recipe for development to ensure that only quality structures are constructed.
The Engineering Institution of Zambia, as a professional body, should work out ways of encouraging innovation, professionalism and quality works among engineers in the country.
And as Zambian citizens, engineers and other stakeholders in construction need to be more patriotic to our motherland by putting national interest first and preventing loss of huge sums of money through substandard structures.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.


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