Ethanol deaths prompt call for safer transport

Following a major road accident that claimed the lives of 24 family members two weeks ago, there are calls for safer ways of transporting ethanol.

The accident involved a tanker carrying the fuel from a new plant at Chisumbanje.

Claris Madhuku, a rights activist, has suggested a temporary stop to the movement of ethanol until the community’s safety concerns are addressed.

Madhuku, of the Muyambo clan that lost 24 relatives in the inferno caused by the ethanol spillage, said the roads linking the production unit and major centres were too narrow to handle the tankers and ordinary vehicles at the same time.

“The road from Chisumbanje to Mutare is too narrow and the surface has not been resurfaced or widened despite an increase in the volume of traffic since the company resumed full-scale operations. This was not the first accident involving these trucks,” he said.

Madhuku is a community representative on the District Ethanol Project Implementation Committee, which facilitates communication between the community, government and plant operator Green Fuels.

“People have also lost donkeys and cattle on that road. These animals are vital to people’s livelihoods in rural communities,” he said. He said both the company and the government should look into the issue seriously.

“(Ethanol is) a highly inflammable substance, and the community needed to know what was before them. They thought it was at the same level as paraffin, but information we are gathering shows that it’s much more dangerous and should be handled with extreme caution,” he said.

“We anticipate the volume of traffic to increase as the percentage of ethanol blended with petrol increases. Currently it’s 15 per cent, but it should reach 20 per cent by March.”

One of the alternatives is to transport the fuel by road to Chiredzi, which is a shorter route. It could then go on to Harare by rail. Madhuku said earlier this year an accident involving an ethanol tanker claimed the lives of a couple from Katanga secondary school.

“The vehicles were going in opposite directions but the road was not wide enough for them to pass each other and the smaller car paid dearly,” he said.

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