The on-going construction of the Kabeza-Rubirizi road, Kigali, has forced businesses to close as a result of dust pollution.
Persistent sweeping, mopping, even blowing is unable to get rid of the dust that infects shops, stalls, and houses alike.
A short walk down the Kabeza-Rubirizi road, at any time of day, is enough for one to witness the problem residents and businesses now face. All buildings in the area now share the orange-brown colour of the dust. Cars are coated in dust, clothes in shops no longer look new, and within minutes one is covered from head to foot in dust.
Mary Niyonsaba, who runs Umucyo Restaurant along the road, is among the many business owners desperately worried for the future of their businesses. She has seen many similar businesses in the area close.
"Every time a vehicle passes along the road dust engulfs everyone and everything in the restaurant. The food is ruined," she explained.
The majority of customers have stopped eating at the restaurant ever since the construction began. With dramatically decreased profits, abject poverty looms.
"Those who do come, complain about the poor hygiene in the restaurant yet I do every thing I can to calm the dust," she lamented.
Alexia Mukandoli, who runs a salon by the side of the road, echoed these complaints. "I used to have many clients before the construction began. Now I am shut most of the time; clients are just not willing to sit in a room full of dust," said Mukandoli. In the past she was employed to do weddings and other functions but since the construction began appointments are no longer made. "All my appliances are very dusty and cannot perform well," she said.
Before the construction begun in July 2007 the road was covered in pot holes. Public outcry prompted a decision by the government to improve the situation. The Chinese construction company, China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), was employed to tarmac the road.
According to Stanislas Kamanzi, the Minister of Infrastructure, completion of the road is not behind schedule. Works will end in April 2008.
Most businesses along the road are in total disarray due to dust. The road works have led to the closure of an alarming number of small businesses.
Jackson Hararima, a shop attendant, said that he used to make Frw35000 per day before the construction began; now he collects a mere Frw4000. He is planning to close the shop and will reopen only once the road is tarmacked.
"We no longer sell maize flour, sugar, bread, samosas, and cakes because even though they are sold in polythene bags the dust still get in making the food unfit for human consumption," Hararima said.
"There is just no business. Our families are suffering as result. We are not sure whether our children will be able to go back to school when term starts," he said.
The widespread closure of companies in this area is affecting the community in general. There are fears that it might damage the reputation of the place as a hub of commercial activity situated as it is so close to the Kabeza market. Unsurprisingly the area has not attracted any new business in the past few months.
Numbers traveling to the area are even now diminishing as motorbike taxis are reluctant go there. "When you take a passenger to Kabeza, you come back with dust all over your bike and clothes. No other passenger will employ you," a motor bike taxi told Business Times. "So we need to ask for more money if we are to take the Kabeza-Rubirizi road."
John Bizimungu, a telephone operator along the road, said that he has suffered from unshakable flu for the past six months since the works began. There are severe implications for residents’ health if the dust continues. Respiratory complications in particular are a threat.
"We urgently need assistance from the authorities otherwise we will perish," Bizimungu lamented.
Residents and those who work in the area are becoming progressively more agitated. They are becoming increasingly eager to confront those who are responsible for the works.
"The construction company does not care for our suffering," Niyonsaba said with frustration. Another, who prefers to remain anonymous, complained that the Ministry of Infrastructure, seemed to be reluctant to accelerate the road works.
Efforts have been made by the contractors to reduce the dust by pouring water on the road. However, the completion of the work alone will end the suffering of Kabeza’s people.