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Lusaka-Chirundu Road: From ‘Vehicle Graveyard’ to a Modern Thoroughfare

August 5, 2014

Kerim Ekal

  • Once billed as one of the most dangerous roads in Zambia, the Lusaka-Chirundu Road is being rehabilitated through a project supported by the World Bank Group
  • The road connects countries to the north and south of Zambia and serves as a critical trade route
  • The rehabilitation project will be completed by May 2015

LUSAKA, August 5, 2014 – Once dubbed a vehicle graveyard, the Lusaka-Chirundu Road is not only one of the most heavily used roads in Zambia, but it was also known to be one of the most dangerous.

The road, which connects the country to Zimbabwe and South Africa to the south, and Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes region to the north, crosses a scenic but treacherous stretch of verdant hills and mountains. It is through these difficult peaks and troughs that trucks carrying goods often veer off the road and fall off the cliffs. As a result of the high mortality along this route, the section of the road that meanders through this treacherous terrain is infamously dubbed as Kapili Ngozi or “Hills of Danger” in the local language.

But with an average of about 1,700 vehicles traveling the road daily, 20% of which are carrying heavy goods from neighboring countries, it is also Zambia’s most critical trade route between northern and southern African countries. According to the Zambian Central Statistical Office (CSO), Zambia’s import from South Africa alone has significantly increased to top $10 billion in 2013, up from $871 million in 2000. Most of the country’s imports are transported through the Chirundu Road.

The traffic volume is heaviest close to the capital of Lusaka, with peak-flows of 2,300 vehicles per hour, especially in the morning. With traffic volumes increasing in tandem with the growth in new mining activities in the resource rich Copperbelt region in the north, the punishing wear and tear has compromised the   integrity of the road, significantly reducing its carrying capacity. Further, the pavement has experienced different modes of failure including potholing, rutting and localized depressions in several sections, making the current rehabilitation and expansion of the road a national priority.

At a cost of $81 million, the World Bank Group is supporting the rehabilitation of about 100 km of the 135 km of this international trunk road between Lusaka and Chirundu, as part of the activities under a two-phased road rehabilitation project, the Zambia Road Rehabilitation and Maintenance Project. The ongoing rehabilitation between Kafue and Lusaka is scheduled to be completed in May 2015.

Dr. Denny Kalyalya, World Bank Group Executive Director for Zambia, visited the route on a recent trip.

“I am very impressed with the progress being made on this regional vital trade route,” he said, referring to the progress being made on the second phase of road construction. “Most importantly this road will also improve traffic flows, reduce travel times and improve road safety. Not only will it improve ride quality for road users, but also reduce vehicle operating costs. Landlocked Zambia can now safely claim that it is land-linked.”

Justin Runji, World Bank senior transport specialist said that investments in road rehabilitation will also help to safeguard the service life of the road, giving it at least 15 years of low maintenance.

“The rehabilitation has introduced better intersections, passing lanes, bus bays and facilities for non-motorized traffic,” he said.

During the road inspection, Edith Muwana, district commissioner for Chilanga, said she was impressed by the quality of work being done.

“The rehabilitation of this vital link road is another testimony of the World Bank’s continued support to Zambia’s economic development," she said.