The Civil Protection Unit (CPU) is on high alert over possible flooding downstream of Tugwi-Mukosi Dam in southern Masvingo, with an Air Force of Zimbabwe helicopter being put on standby to airlift affected families, as the dam nears spilling, allowing the Tugwi River to flow unimpeded.
Tugwi-Mukosi, Zimbabwe’s largest interior dam situated in Chivi district near Ngundu Growth Point, was yesterday afternoon 89 percent full, raising prospects that it could spill in the next few days.
When the dam spills, there are fears that the extra flow from upstream will cause the already-swollen Tugwi River downstream of the reservoir to burst its banks and affect communities in Chivi and Chiredzi districts.
Records show that the river can burst its banks in seasons where there is heavy abnormal rain and seven years ago, there was need for evacuations.
The 1,8 billion cubic metre reservoir has been getting substantial inflows following incessant rains in the catchment area and while those remain impounded, there will be no further controls or impediments to the river flowing in flood after rainfall above normal.
Muzhwi Dam upstream in Chivi North has been releasing significant inflows into Tugwi-Mukosi downstream after it started spilling over a month ago, leaving the large dam as the only barrier holding back the river in flood.
Masvingo Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution Ezra Chadzamira said the province had started preparing for the worst as Tugwi-Mukosi nears spilling.
He thanked Government for putting a helicopter on standby to assist families that could be affected by flooding in the dam’s downstream areas.
“Tugwi-Mukosi water levels have been rising significantly over the past few weeks and the water level is now near 90 percent, meaning the dam will likely spill in the coming few days, hence the need to prepare for our people downstream in the event of flooding,” said Minister Chadzamira.
“We want to thank Government for giving us a helicopter which is now on standby to rescue and airlift families who might be affected by floods in Tugwi-Mukosi downstream areas.”
Civil Protection Unit teams had been carrying out awareness campaigns to warn communities close to Tugwi and Runde rivers of impending rising water levels.
Tugwi River is a tributary of Runde River and the two rivers are among the biggest in Masvingo province in terms of volume of flow.
“We want to warn our people close to Runde and Tugwi rivers in Chivi, Mwenezi and Chiredzi to be wary of floods and to avoid unnecessary movements and crossings as they might rise in flood anytime if Tugwi-Mukosi Dam spills,” said Minister Chadzamira.
Chiredzi CPU head and district development coordinator Mr Lovemore Chisema urged communities near the two big rivers to prepare for the worst in the coming few days.
“We have been doing awareness campaigns using our usual structures and I am happy that some of the people likely to be affected by floods have already started moving to higher ground while others are preparing to do so,” he said.
“We are in the process of coming up with a figure of those who might be affected by flooding in Runde and Tugwi rivers, but we hope to have the figure soon. We are still computing.”
Mr Chisema said they had designated Chilonga Secondary School in Chikombedzi and Chingwizi Camp in Mwenezi as temporary shelters for families displaced by floods.
“We also appeal to our development partners to chip in, especially with tents for families likely to be affected by flooding if Tugwi-Mukosi spills,” he said.
Seven years ago, Government was forced to evacuate people following flooding in the Tugwi-Mukosi basin.
More than 3 000 families, livestock and property were evacuated to Chingwizi temporary camp in Mwenezi, about 180km away, in an operation where Zimbabwe got assistance from Namibia and Mozambique.
Water levels in the dam then had risen significantly while construction was still underway, threatening to breach the concrete-faced rockfill dam.
Fears were further heightened after water started seeping through the wall, but the contractor, Salini Impregilo, an Italian company, gave assurances the dam project was safe.
Tugwi-Mukosi is located at the confluence of Tugwi and Mukosi rivers and the dam bisects Chivi and Masvingo districts.
It was built by the Government and cost nearly US$270 million.
Initially, Tugwi-Mukosi was billed to irrigate 25 000 hectares of land, but advances in irrigation technology have seen the figure being revised to 40 000ha.