How many must die before bridges get budgets?

OPINION |

The positive side of Kitui’s River Enziu tragedy that saw at least 33 people killed a week ago, is that the bus could not carry more than it did. It could have been worse.

A woman escaped this tragedy simply because she dashed to pick masks from a car.  When she returned, the bus had just left. Even before she could fathom how she missed the opportunity to cross with the rest, over a mask, disaster struck, right before her eyes. Her two sisters and their children drowned.

The 33 did not have to die this way. Not even one needed to. But we have seen nothing yet, if we do not proactively approach infrastructure maintenance, in view of unpredictable extreme weather, as well as wear and tear.

Just days after the tragedy, there are good things coming to users of the Enziu river bridge. This week Infrastructure PS Paul Mainga assured Parliamentary Committee on Roads and Transport that Sh500 million had been set aside for the construction of the bridge starting January. This should take two years, but the government will ensure it’s done faster. Good! 

Expect signposts and traffic marshals at the riverside “to caution” users whenever it is flooded. In fact, waiting areas will be constructed to ensure people have somewhere to rest as they wait for waters to subside if the river floods again. The PS did not mention the capacity of these shelters, but the idea is excellent. 

These are, however, only stop-gap measures, and cannot be replicated in other parts of the country. While responding to the Parliamentary committee’s queries after the Enziu tragedy, Prof Mainga said the Kenya National Highways Authority (KENHA) had no budget for the building of bridges. That means Kenyans would be unrealistic to expect bridges under KeNHA, or any other roads authority, to even have proper maintenance.

We may not want to debate on where the buck stops, but it surely does stop somewhere. Why let people perish?

Of urgency now is allocating a budget at the policy and other decision-making levels nationally and at the counties, for construction of proper bridges and maintenance of existing ones. It is not a favour, otherwise, politicians will continue to use the same as campaign tools, only to launch mediocre structures for applause.

Kenyans need protection from disaster relating to unpredictable rain patterns. Besides the construction of bridges, counties must budget for awareness creation on risks during flooding. Such information and alerts can be disseminated through vernacular radio stations, community leaders and trusted institutions such as churches and learning institutions.

Government should increase the number of climate-resilient bridges countrywide. They may be expensive to construct, but will never expose people to the pain those who lost loved ones in the Enziu tragedy endure. 

Lynet is Quality Assurance Editor at Standard Group.

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