By Chigumbu Warikandwa

Zimbabwe has lost thousands of breadwinners on its highways leaving orphans whose path of life will be left to the hands of fate. Together with poor driving, the poor state of the roads is a cause for alarm. Losses incurred on the roads also include property in transit and motor vehicles, most of which are on third party insurance schemes. This has  seen some people losing their vehicles in the event of accidents.

It is beyond dispute that the economy is faced with pressing financial commitments even in important sectors such as health. It is a fact that the combined resources required to replace and repair wear and tear on all vehicles on the roads is far more than the money required in repairing the roads. What is not certain is whether or not the road fund administered by ZINARA is enough to cater for the road needs in the near or remote future.

Lives lost on these highways cannot be given a monetary value. What is beyond dispute is that the roads are claiming human, monetary and financial resources from the economy. In this regard, the suggestion put forward to shift from asphalt (tarmac) road surfaces to concrete is quite plausible.  One recent article from an Iowa newspaper featured a town’s decision to pave their roads with either asphalt or concrete.  It was pointed out that while a concrete street would need little maintenance over a 30 year period, an asphalt street would require a major resurfacing in just 15 years.  A spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Transportation also stated that “asphalt pavement is projected to require major rehabilitation in approximately half the time as the concrete pavement.”  So paving with concrete means less need for maintenance over the life of your street.

Concrete is 100 percent recyclable, and the most recycled construction material in the world. So rather than ending up in your state’s landfills, it can be broken down and used in new pavement, or for other construction purposes. So speaking from an environmental point of view, concrete roads are ideal for environmental sustainability purposes.

According to a Federal Highway Administration technical advisory (T5080.3), it takes over five times as much diesel fuel to make asphalt than it does to make concrete for a road designed for the same amount of traffic.

America’s Federal Highway Administration also reported that roughly 1.2 billion gallons of diesel could be saved every year if paving was done with concrete instead of asphalt.  So how much fuel is 1.2 billion gallons, exactly?  Enough to fill up the tank on a Ford F-350 pick-up truck every day of the year, for 86 years straight.  And that’s just what is wasted on fuel in only one year.

Back to Zimbabwe’s needs, the country has enough cement to meet its needs. The country’s cement making limestone endowment has attracted Africa’s billionaire businessman Aliko Dangote of Nigeria who has expressed interest in investing in Zimbabwe’s cement industry. Zimbabwe has a combined road network of 77 868km; only 15000km is paved in tarmac. Putting these 15000km under concrete will ignite an economic boom whose epicenter will be the cement industry.

Since concrete pavement requires less repair and maintenance over time, less energy and fuel is needed for heavy construction equipment.  By reducing the amount of fuel used by cars, trucks and maintenance equipment, we reduce our  dependence on foreign currency demanding oil.  Not only that, but trucks use less fuel when traveling on concrete.  That keeps the cost of transporting goods down, and it means lower emissions from vehicles.

Known for its lesser demand for repair, other resources left will be channeled towards other pressing areas while an opportunity will be created to surface more roads. The land reform programme developed a new settlement structure with new service centres that are in serious want of roads. Given this background, there comes a need to rationalise expenditure in road infrastructure development in order to capacitate the development of new areas.

Continued wear and tear of the roads must be dealt with permanently before a whole generation disappears in the pot holes littering the roads in Zimbabwe.

May the responsible ministry expedite the shift from tarmac to concrete with visible speed.