THE recent Cyclone Idai — which devastated parts of Manicaland, Masvingo and Mash East provinces of the country — has brought us face-to-face with the power of nature.
The natural disaster made us aware — in a very cruel way — of our glaring shortcomings as a nation, both in terms of our response strategies as well as startling ill-preparedness.
To make matters worse, we seem to have an insensitive leadership in central and local government as well as at political party levels.
These are the ones who were keen to turn the cyclone into a turf where they could slug it out for political relevance and mileage.
Cyclone Idai killed over 300 people although official figures put the toll around 180 while thousands of
families were left homeless after their homes were destroyed.
The cyclone also destroyed schools and infrastructure like roads, bridges, power lines and other communications facilities.
But first and foremost, Zimbabwe got wind of the approaching cyclone that was expected to strike the country’s eastern neighbours — Mozambique — first before pulverising arid Chimanimani and Chipinge, proceeding further inland towards Masvingo.
All this was already in the public domain yet our leadership behaved like ostriches, sticking their heads in the sand, pretending nothing would happen.
Whatever weird reasoning could explain the lack of timely information dissemination to alert the hapless villagers in the hardest hit Chimanimani, the unfortunate innocent souls of Ngangu Township in Chipinge, who all resigned to fate when disaster struck.
If information on the disaster had reached these unfortunate souls earlier, perhaps we would be talking about an entirely different story.
Local government structures available could have easily been utilised to communicate with the people while central government was to immediately spring into action, evacuating people from the possible Idai routes to higher ground where possible.
Political party leaders are prepared to spend thousands on campaign rallies but sadly are not prepared to spend a dime in life-saving processes like the evacuation of desperate people from possible danger. This was a worthy cause because of the sanctity of human life.
Some had the audacity to publicly say that the country had inadequate resources to carry out any evacuations yet we all know that those in power live plush lives and are flown out even when they complain of a simple headache.
Zimbabwe was also exposed for its grave ill-preparedness and shoddy response strategies during the time when the cyclone struck.
Without doubt, the cyclone-related deaths could have been minimised had prompt efforts to airlift people from disaster-struck areas had immediately been put in motion.
However, the Department of Civil Protection (DCP) — which got a measly $2,36 million in the 2019 national budget against the $10 million they require for their operations — was clearly resource-impaired.
Despite its pleas to have the allocation adjusted upwards to enable the department to functionally optimally, attending to disasters, which include road traffic accidents. Civil education, which should — under normal circumstances — remain a continuous process, is the mandate of the department.
Because of population growth and the shrinking of fertile land as well as shortage of water, people end up settling in risky places without considering the topography of the area in question.
Village heads in rural areas at times settle people anywhere for the lure of the dollar the land-seeker is always prepared to part with, compromising the lives of the innocent settlers who — out of a combination of ignorance and desperation — end up living in flood-prone areas. Such people could have been warned of the impending danger.
The DCP is expected to run an effective early warning system when prospects of a disaster loom. Their communication campaigns, which should reach the length and breadth of the country, cannot be visible when they operate on a shoestring budget.
The co-ordination of evacuation of people in harm’s way and to lead rescue efforts in times of disaster are also the mandate of the DCP something that was evidently absent during Cyclone Idai.
Government must adequately capacitate the DCP and also contribute optimally in the formulation of effective response strategies and evacuation processes as well as promptly mobilising assistance from non-governmental organisations and other international partners.