Footbridges are a matter of life and death for villagers of Pae-la-Itlhatsoa



Mokhotlong – Chief ’Mamasiphola Sekonyela of the Pae-la-Itlhatsoa community constantly worries about how much her villagers have lost crossing the Khubelu River to access services. In her village, the only way they use to go to other villages and access services is by crossing the river which does not have footbridges. Children and adults often drown when the river is flooded, a challenge compounded by the fact that the roads are largely practically impassable.

Chief Sekonyela says they often have to endure unnecessarily longer distances in cases of emergencies such as when people are injured and need to be attended to by a doctor. To save lives they have to carry them on makeshift stretchers. “It is also a huge challenge for pregnant women when they need to be urgently taken to the clinic when it is time for them to give birth. They are also carried with a stretcher to the nearest destination where they can find a car to drive them to the clinic as it is also a challenge to access health facilities. The nearest clinic from us is in Molika-liko. “Learners are also facing the same challenge as they cannot go to school when the river is flooded. We have also had an incident of a child who was swept away by the river and passed on. Learners miss classes for a week or more and that impacts their school performance a lot. This is why many of them end up becoming herd boys because they believe it is not going to be of use going back to school after they have missed so much,” she says. She urges the government to see to it that they assist them in building foot bridges for them. She says they cannot survive without having to cross the river to access services that they need daily as they are forced to cross the river even when they do not want to. She also requested their clinic to be improved as there is no accommodation for visiting doctors. Pae-la-Itlhatsoa Councillor ‘Mapakalitha Lesia said the village is almost inaccessible due to absence of roads but through the assistance of other companies such as the Letšeng Diamond Mine there is at least a road although it takes a long route. She added that they still take longer distances to access services such clinics which takes them longer to get assistance. She mentioned that even taking deceased to mortuaries is a challenge as they carry them on stretchers. “We take a longer time to access health services as the closest clinic is in Molika-liko which takes us six hours to reach to. Although we have never had pregnant women dying due to the distance taken to access health facilities, most of the time children do not finish their injections.

“We always try by all means to seek assistance from the government that at least this health post that we have should be open every day. We were told that we can get nurses to assist us but the only problem is accommodation for them as there are no houses for them to stay,” she says.

Studies show that many rural areas in Lesotho are isolated therefore people residing in them find it difficult to access basic social services such as health, education and other basic social services leading to a low literacy rate, inequality and leaving communities prone to diseases, maternal mortality and other socio-economic problems due to absence of roads.

Lack of road infrastructure hinders access to necessities of life, she says, and further argues that poor access affects the cost of living and the wellbeing of the rural people.

Most African governments focus on provision of roads networks for economic benefits while ignoring the needs of the rural based populations.

In 2021 September, the Road Directorate issued a press release titled “Rural communities to benefit from footbridges construction”. It read that rural communities in some parts of Leribe, Quthing and Mafeteng districts will soon have easier access to trading centres, towns, health centres and schools once six footbridges are completed.

The six footbridges are, Lenyakoane – Pelele Footbridge (21m) awarded to ATM Construction Ramotjalotjalo – Menyameng Footbridge (24m) awarded to Sure Do Construction Mamaebana Footbridge (6m) awarded to Platinum Construction (Pty) Ltd Mahareng – Malimong Footbridge (30m) awarded to Selemela Construction Motlokoa – Ntsie Footbridge (39m) awarded to All In One Construction Mphamo – Malaleng Footbridge (27m) awarded to Monjo Construction.

The footbridges will shorten travel distances that the beneficiary communities walk to get basic social and economic services. The six footbridges are part of Component I of the Transport Infrastructure and Connectivity Project (TICP) under which a total of 35 footbridges funded by the World Bank will be constructed in communities located in areas that are isolated and cut off from road access.

The footbridges are the third batch of footbridges to be constructed under the TICP Project. The first lot consisting of 12 footbridges was constructed in 2018, while the second was constructed in 2020.

Out of the thirty-five (35) footbridges, two (2) will be constructed over the big rivers of Senqu in Quthing and Hlotse in Leribe districts. Due to their longer span, a consultant, Aurecon Lesotho has been engaged for their design. The other 33 footbridges will be of standard design.

TICP is a World Bank funded project whose objectives are: to improve access to social services and markets in targeted rural areas, and strengthen road safety management capacity and improve the Ministry of Public Works’ capacity to respond promptly and effectively to eligible crises or emergencies, according to the press release.

Lack of roads is a major impediment to sound health delivery for many hard-to-reach areas making this one of the major drivers of high maternal nortality for expecting mothers in Lesotho.

According to the World Bank Lesotho has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world with estimates ranging anywhere from 600 to 1,200 deaths per 100,000 live births. Maternal death in Lesotho is frequently due to complications around delivery that can be handled at hospital level: 34% due to sepsis, 20% due to post-abortion complication, 14% due to obstructed or prolonged labour and 12% due to eclampsia. Village health workers often have to walk three hours over the winding, mountainous terrain of Lesotho. They scramble across loose rock, over boulders and through creeks in both blazing summer and freezing winters. Foot bridges could therefore be characterised as a matter of life and death for most residents of these hard-to-reach communities.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *