May 15, 2007

New Zambezi waterway planned

Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique hope to navigate the mighty Zambezi river's waterways by 2009 as an alternative and cheap transport route for imports and exports from and to the three southern African countries. Malawi has been working on wooing its two neighbours to find funds to reopen the navigable Zambezi waterways to connect trade routes with Malawi's longest river, Shire. Zambia and Malawi are both landlocked. These efforts may now be coming to fruition following the signing of a trilateral memorandum of understanding (MOU) on April 25 2007.
"Once completed, the Shire-Zambezi Waterway will enable medium sea-going vessels to use the waterway. It will therefore drastically reduce the transportation costs of imports and exports as it would provide direct and short waterway access to the Indian Ocean," said Malawi's minister of transport, Henry Mussa. The decrease in transport costs would make the exports of the concerned countries more competitive in the international market, thereby earning more foreign exchange. The project would directly contribute towards macroeconomic growth and the reduction of poverty, he noted. In addition, he reveiled that the project would make agricultural inputs affordable to the local people. Food production would therefore increase, which would enhance food security.
The project will involve the construction of a port at Nsanje in Malawi and expansion and modernization of the port of Chinde in Mozambique. The Shire-Zambezi waterway will be dredged and converted into a modern canal. New roads are planned from Malawi into Zambia, Rwanda and Burundi. The planned Chiromo rail and road bridge in Malawi will be built and the railway line from Nsanje through Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mchinji to Chipata on the Zambian border will be upgraded. Barges will be provided on Lake Malawi to serve people in Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania. Malawi has since started constructing the waterway canal in Nsanje, which is on the southern border with Mozambique.
Zambian high commissioner to Malawi Joshua Simuyandi, who signed the MOU on behalf of his government, said his country had already started construction of a railway line to link Zambia to the Nsanje Port on the Shire River in Malawi. However, everything has not been sorted out yet. Mozambique's transport and communications minister Antonio Munguambe said that his government could not commit itself before a conclusive feasibility study has been done. "We would like, on behalf of the government of the Republic of Mozambique, to express our availability to co-operate within our limited capacity to ensure the feasibility study takes place as soon as possible to allow us to charter the next steps," Munguambe noted.
According to him, his government had signed the MOU to help facilitate the mobilization of resources to conduct the feasibility study, since there was a need to know the project's sustainability and to consider its financial, geographical and social aspects to see whether it would be beneficial to the people of the concerned countries.
Commenting on the stand of the Mozambican government, Malawian minister of transport Mussa says Comesa has contributed 500.000 US dollars towards the feasibility study. Comesa secretary-general Sindiso Ngwenya confirmed the funding, which he said would come from the European Development Fund and would be used for a hydro-graphic survey. Comesa estimated that Malawi's transportation costs alone took up 60 percent of the value of the country's exports and that the country spent a total of 250 million US dollars annually on transport costs for imports and exports. The regional body also indicates that the Shire-Zambezi waterway route would enable Mozambique, Zambia and other countries to save money. (Inter Press Service, Johannesburg)

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