By Elvis Tah
You will see them - banana plants, tre es, grass, billboards, houses, human beings and animals alike - along the Mutengene-Muea road - all soaked in brown dust that billows from the caterpillars resurfacing the highway.
You will see Kumba-bound passengers masked, some veiled, to keep the invading dust out of their nostrils and eyes. And whenever a heavy truck zooms along the road, clouds of dust reduce visibility to zero.
The whole scenario is one of breaking eggs to make omelette. And SATOM is doing the egg breaking. But while the people who live along the highway as well as travellers wait for the omelette in the making, they have to swallow up tons of dust, thanks to the construction company executing the job.
The people say the major problem with the road works is the rather negligent attitude of the engineers. Said a Buea-based taxi driver Paul Mathias Atemkeng: "the main problem about the road construction work is the fact that the workers do not water the road often and so we suffer a lot from dust especially those of us who ply the Muea-Mile 16 road.
At the end of the day, we have to drink Peak milk. At times we wrap our nostrils with handkerchiefs. Right now as I am talking to you, I have catarrh and cough caused by the dust from this road."
Anthony Akari, an inhabitant of Bomaka said: "We are suffering a lot from the dust caused by the road construction. The workers go about their job without watering the road. Dust gets into our houses and soils our dresses right into our wardrobes. It has given us chronic catarrh and cough."
An inhabitant of Mile 16, Peter Bin Geh, said the dust that ensues from the road is unbearable and is causing untold suffering to the inhabitants of that locality. He said "they should try and water the road as many times as possible," since the workers usually water the road only three times a week.
For that matter the locals said they mobilised at one moment and blocked the road to compel the road builders to start watering the road, "but they instead alerted the Commissioner of Police who came and spoke with us. So far, the people are now watering the road but not frequently and that is why there is still a lot of dust right now as I am talking to you," said Akari.
It is not only drivers choking on the dust. The dust itself is choking businesses. A certain a restaurant owner in Bomaka, Fonny Atangwa, wailed his plight: "I have been operating this restaurant under difficult conditions. I even closed the place because people could not sit and eat comfortably as dust entered into their food.
"We had to mobilise and block the road until the Commissioner of Police and the Provincial Delegate of Transport probed into the matter, and told the people to always water the road. Now, the road construction workers water the road at most three times daily."
Motor Park Workers Grumble
Your reporter also met some workers of the Buea Motor Park Union, FESTRAW, aka "Air Force" at Mile 14 checkpoint to comment on the dusty nature of the road.
Simon Ekema, a FESTRAW member, had this to say: "I am very disappointed with the nature of work on this road.
The workers do not care about the well being of the people around. They do not water the road, they simply allow the dust to intoxicate us."
He said they were considering suing the construction company for intoxicating them because "right now I have caught catarrh and cough because of the dust I inhale from this road every day."
Quizzed on whether the speed brakes mounted across the road have caused any accident, Simon said they are rather a noble development."It has never caused any accident, instead what causes accidents is the dust raised by moving vehicles," he said.
He said about ten cases of accidents have been recorded on the road since construction work started.
Construction Workers' Story
Not particularly defending the road construction company, Kayeh Penuel, a caterpillar driver, said they have trucks that spray the road with water in order to dampen the dust while they work.
"We have also been provided with masks to wear on our noses as we go about our job," he explained.He also said so far none of the workers have been attacked by any dust-associated illness.
A driver of a water tanker, Paul Nkemasong, seemed to corroborate his colleague when he said: "We water the road as many times as possible. We begin from 5 am right up to 11 pm."
As to what it takes to fetch water from the stream at Mile 16, Nkemasong said: "We do not pay money before fetching water from the stream. The only problem we had was when the car washers once told us that since they clean the pool, we would have to employ some of them to work with us before they allow us to fetch water from the stream."
As the population along the Mutengene-Muea road are being fed on dust so are their counterparts in Small Soppo on the eastern slope of Mt. Fako. They too, are scooping catarrh from the dust bowl.
Graded a few years ago, the stretch of road after Long Street towards Bishop Rogan College is another dust blower. The locals in a bid to slow down speeding vehicles that churn up the dust have arranged stones on the road. Thus, motorists are forced to slow down and dodge around them.
The Quarter Head of Small Soppo, Wovila Street, Michael Akara said: "We have quite a lot of problems especially now that it is dry season and the road is dusty."He said they were very surprised that the road was bulldozed but it was not tarred.
"We spoke to the Divisional Officer, DO; we equally spoke to the municipal administrators, but we have not made any headway at all." He said since some rascals disconnected their water pipes, they cannot water the road. That is why they resorted to placing stones on the road to slow down traffic.
Akara, however, said the DO for Buea advised them to put proper speed brakes instead of stones and, "we are going to do that."
A question to the health authorities at the Buea Provincial Hospital Annex as to whether dust is a health hazard, elicited a timid response from one Dr. Pascal Nji Atanga who said he was not in good shape to grant audience to the press.
Nevertheless, the Director of the Hospital, Dr. John Chuwanga, said too much dust causes upper respiratory infection such as flu and common cold.He explained that when an individual inhales dust, it carries along pathogens into the respiratory tract and contaminates it.
On the number of people possibly hospitalised because of the dust along the Mutengene-Muea road, he said respiratory tract diseases is a general phenomenon during the dry season, and many people are infected from everywhere and not just from a particular area.