Arua. Ms Idah Onziru, a trader, spends Shs70,000 on transporting her merchandise on a motorcycle to Arua Town because no car can use the broken Aji Bridge in Offaka Sub-county, Madi Okollo County.
She cannot afford to use an alternative route because it is far from her home.
Speaking to Daily Monitor at the weekend, Ms Onziru revealed that whereas she suffers the inconvenience of transporting her goods, pupils and mothers face the risk of drowning in the river, especially during the rainy seasons.
“It is painful to see expectant mothers struggling to cross the broken bridge as they rush to Offaka Health Centre. Sometimes I ask myself whether we have a government that cares for its citizens. Our people pass through the water as they fear falling,” she said.
In 2008 and 2011, floods swept off two bridges in the area and as a result, Aji Bridge was badly damaged with huge cracks developing on the pillar while some metallic bars were destroyed.
Since then, there has been no rehabilitation with pupils, patients and other road users being forced to cross directly into the wide river.
This, according to 43-year-old, Ms Angelina Driciru, is a recipe for disaster especially during rainy seasons.
“Our children risk crossing this river and we get worried whenever it rains. We wrote to our area Member of Parliament asking him to put pressure on government so that our cry is heard but in vain,” she said.
The basement of the bridge constructed about 40 years ago with a wooden decker is cracked. The dangling wood beneath the bridge are scary and keeps dropping in the water. The middle pillars are cracked into pieces, there are wide spaces between the woods and underneath, there are huge rocks.
Beside the bridge, a woman carrying her child crosses direct into the river for fear of falling off the wood.
About the bridge
The bridge is a link to Adraa Agricultural Institute, Offaka Catholic and Anglican churches, the Franciscan Brothers, Offaka and Uleppi health centres.
It also connects to the sub-county headquarters, primary schools and the markets in Offaka and Uleppi.
Even some traders from neighbouring Zombo District use the bridge as a shortcut to Arua Town.
In order to reconstruct the bridge, the district engineer, Mr Anson Draku, told Daily Monitor that it would need about Shs1.5 billion which funds, he said are not available. “Those people crying for [in need of] the bridge will one day receive it but we remain hopeful that our request to Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra) to build it materialises. It is unfortunate that funding for roads sector has always remained minimal and stagnant for the past five years. This has left people in that area and other parts of the district to suffer,” he said.
The works and engineering department has for the past five years been receiving about Shs1b for district and community roads maintenance, fuelling and rehabilitation.
The district has 32 bridges with nine in a sorry state.
The collapsed bridges in the district include Aji, Enyau on Katrini-Kijo Road, Awindiri-Ajono, Andelezu-Ajono, Linya-Uleppi-Alijodu, Adiki-Nyara-Adraa-Atyak and Osu-Ociba-Ombaci.
Speaking during the inspection of the roads and bridges, the executive director for Unra, Ms Allen Kagina, said most of the wooden bridges have become dangerous to passengers.
“We plan to replace 10 wooden bridges across the sub-region, work on the roads and also get a ferry for Rhino Camp connecting to Amuru. Some of the bridges are near completion while others are being designed,” she said.
Recently, the Upper Madi County MP, Mr Isaac Etuka, said the poor road network coupled with broken Aji Bridge has made transportation of their goods difficult.
“Our people have been cut off because of the Aji Bridge connects Ayiribu and Offaka sub-counties is broken. We also need the health centre IIIs to be upgraded to health centre IV so that people can get quick services,” he said.
There has been hope that when the district received the road equipment including the water bouzer, graders, wheel loader and a roller, there would be improvement. But the equipment is parked at the district yard since there is no money for road works.
Recently, the works department used Shs500 million from the Peace Recovery Development Programme to rehabilitate part of the Offaka-Uleppi roads, but the roads have again been run-down.