Time to overhaul our Disaster Management Protocol

Source: Time to overhaul our Disaster Management Protocol | The Herald July 29, 2019

Time to overhaul our Disaster Management ProtocolUnder-funding affects response not only during disaster, but also the aftermath

Jeffrey Gogo Climate Story
The devastation from Cyclone Idai will be etched in the minds of Zimbabweans for a very long time. If not for the hundreds of innocents who died, then from the freakish manner nature pronounced itself on a calmly community, combining what turned out to be an earthquake, boulder-strewn mudslides and a torrent of rain.

It was the stuff of nightmares, survivors riffed in agony. Everso helpful, ordinary Zimbabweans responded swiftly, chipping in with a paraphernalia of aid that included pots and pans, clothing, food and tents for shelter.

The most enduring image from the period is that of a grandmother who is supposed to have walked from Mbare, with an oversized sack of aid hanging loosely above her old head, to deliver it at a Church 20km away.

But beyond the damage and loss, the hearty individuals responses and all, a far much bigger debate about Cyclone Idai, and any other future cyclones, continues to rage on – that of Zimbabwe’s preparedness to prevent and respond to disasters triggered by climate change, seeing that they have become frequent, intense and deadly.

It is now a public secret that the Civil Protection Unit (CPU) handedly Idai badly, being caught flat-footed, even when meteorologists had provided warnings about the cyclone threat well in advance, at least two weeks before disaster struck. The failure is partly because the CPU operates on a measly budget, but also because the leadership fails to look that much into the future.

Under-funding affects response not only during disaster, but also the aftermath. Sometimes blame has been laid on meteorologists for failing to provide adequate early warning information relating to a climate event, which might degenerate into a disaster.

President Mnangagwa acknowledged in an address at State House on March 21 that Zimbabwe needed to raise the stakes. He spoke of the need to undertake an exhaustive disaster mapping throughout the country, as a direct response to the shortcomings witnessed during Idai.

The President committed to revamping the national disaster management plan, hoping to help make Zimbabwe better prepared to tackle any climate-related extreme events in the future. He also promised to create a national disaster fund to bankroll future disaster situations, even though its not yet clear how that fund will be capitalised.

In an interview last week, Simon Bere, a Harare-based disaster risk expert, commented that Zimbabwe’s disaster response approach was in shambles, requiring to be patched up during times of calm like now,  and then deployed in times of tumult, like Idai. Often times, the implementation starts way before the eventual disaster, he said.

“ . . . the cyclone (Idai) caught Zimbabwe ill prepared for it,” Bere told The Herald Business. “While the CPU was aware that a cyclone was brewing and the country’s weather experts knew at least fourteen days before both strength and the probable trajectory of Cyclone Idai, something did not go on well in the response.”

He highlights what he thinks went wrong. “Given the severity of the cyclone, it most probably was not enough to issue warnings to the Manicaland population about the impending disaster,” Bere observed.

“A more massive response ought to have been activated including forced evacuations of the most vulnerable targets and the movement of people from the most vulnerable locations based on their local geology and local geography,” he opines.

According to research, deadly climatic events such as Idai are likely to become common and more deadly in Southern Africa in future. Researchers found that the sea surface temperatures in the Indian ocean have risen to a level that triggers cyclones, meaning the Indian Ocean is now a more frequent and more efficient breeder of cyclones.

Bere recommends a total overhaul of Zimbabwe’s disaster management strategy and approach. That will include wholesale changes at all levels, from the strategic, operational and to the tactical.

“The technical composition of the Civil Protection Unit needs a review,” he said. “Cyclones are part of environmental hazards and their impacts are not just dependent on their weather characteristics, but on the interplay of many factors that also include the geology, the culture, the geography and the economic and infrastructural factors.”

He continued: “This means a robust CPU must have the right composition of different expertise so that a holistic disaster management framework has the relevant strategic, technical and operational dimensions required for both proactive and reactive management of such environmental hazards.”

Bere suggested, “effective disaster management especially for environmental hazards requires the right protocols and procedures for dealing with the threats at all its stages.

“This also includes the direct, continual involvement of the vulnerable communities, starting with raising awareness on the threats and hazards communities face so they can play apart – first in preventing disasters associated with those hazards and second, minimising the impacts of the environmental hazards . . . ” he added.

God is faithful.