70 die in floods, as citizens continue to take risks

Source: 70 die in floods, as citizens continue to take risks | The Herald January 30, 2017

Jeffrey Gogo Climate Story
AT LEAST 70 people have died from severe flooding that has submerged much of Zimbabwe since last October, as the country’s disaster response systems continue to face tough tests year after year, with limited success.

By Wednesday last week, more than 1 038 rural homesteads had been damaged, about 40 schools destroyed and 73 families rendered homeless, according to the Civil Protection Unit (CPU) deputy director, Mrs Sibusiwe Ndlovu.

The flooding waters breached the walls of some 67 small dams countrywide, she said, while several rivers had their banks burst, leaving communities to deal with huge amounts of excess water in their homes and fields.

The financial and asset losses from the flooding, which has also ransacked bridges and roads, could run into millions of dollars, coming as it does barely a few months after a drought forced on by the periodic weather pattern El Nino cost Zimbabwe severely in economic growth and income generation.

Now, as the skies refuse to clear, the CPU has enlisted the use of new technologies – considered by experts as effectively quick tools for communication – to bring the message home

“You are in danger of floods if your home is close to a river, on a low lying area, or on a wetland, timely move to higher ground,” it warns in one of its countless SMS blasts, through a local mobile network carrier.

But communities aren’t making the Civil Protection Unit’s job any easier.

“The country has an elaborate early warning system,” Mrs Ndlovu told The Herald Business, by email, adding that “however, there is a tendency for risk taking behaviour in some instances.

“Some families refuse outright to timely move to safety and eventually are marooned and have to be rescued.”

Hunger at a time of plenty

Some 250km away from Ndlovu’s Harare office along the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border in Gomo Village, Dande, Mrs Dorothy Kapasura (47), watches as the deluge slowly turns hope into despair.

Sandwiched between Matombwe and Serere rivers, Mrs Kapasura’s two-hectare plot – a mosaic of maize, cowpeas, cotton, sorghum and groundnuts – has been swamped for weeks, as the two rivers on either side of the plot are flooded.

“The cowpeas is beginning to rot, and the maize crop is not growing properly at all,” complained the mother of four, who harvested only three-months’ worth of food in 2016, as a devastating El-Nino triggered drought cut farm produce sharply.

“We planted the maize crop on December 8 (last year), but because of too much rain, the crop has turned yellow and stands only at the kneel level (height).

“It should be at flowering stage now.”

She added: “If it continues like this (torrential rain), I do not think we will be able to harvest anything. We do not want hunger in a season of so much rain.”

Low-lying Dande district is highly susceptible to flooding. It is one of the several high risk areas across Zimbabwe, typically dry and hot, with annual precipitation averaging 300mm to 350mm.

Last year the Matombwe and Serere rivers ran dry, said Mrs Kapasura, but rain of over 300mm in a matter of weeks had turned the area into swamp-land, with rivers overflowing.

A local political leader had started taking down names of families who are at risk of hunger and might be in need of food aid in the coming months due to the flooding, she said, hoping, however, the situation will not get to that.

But with limited foot soldiers from the CPU in Dande to prepare communities on disaster response, even the Unit’s get-to communication strategy is faltering because of the language barrier.

“I have seen some messages on my phone about floods, but sometimes the language used (English) is not easy to understand,” Mrs Kapasura mourned.

More rain

After weeks of torrential rain, which have inundated much of Zimbabwe killing at least 70 people by drowning, nearly a dozen struck dead by lighting, 11 marooned and leaving thousands of homes in rural and urban areas flooded, the Meteorological Services Department is warning of worse things to come.

In a statement Thursday, the MSD said the rain will intensify nationwide during the four-day period to tomorrow, which could extend to the middle of February, with rain of as much as 90mm expected to fall in just 24 hours in some areas in the east.

Worried the deluge is causing an increasing number of fatalities, the Department has called for “more vigilance and preparedness, particularly for rescue operations by those responsible”.

In the past few weeks Zimbabweans have been shocked to see videos on social media of motorists taking on foolish risks, crossing flooded narrow bridges, with expected fatal outcomes, including one of a popular radio personality, who in all fairness must be knowledgeable about the dangers of crossing flooded rivers.

Villagers have also met a similar fate, while others were left stranded on islands, as the waters raged around them.

With scientists predicting extreme events like drought and floods to worsen in the future due to climate change, it is now clear Zimbabwe’s disaster preparedness and management will have to go several notches higher to be able to deal with existing and future risks.

Development strategist, Simon Bere, believes there is still a lot of work to be done.

“In terms of disaster preparedness and disaster response, we need to do a lot more in terms of resourcing programs, periodically testing the state of preparedness and early warning systems,” he said, by text message.

The Civil Protection Unit’s Ndlovu lamented a shortage of funding, delays in review of legislation as well as “low levels of risk aversion due to high levels of poverty” as the biggest drawbacks to effective disaster management in Zimbabwe.

As though to drive the point home, the livelihoods of those left homeless in the current flooding are at the mercy of the kind-hearted, she said.

“There has been no formal evacuation to date,” said Mrs Ndlovu of those affected, adding “however, those whose homes were decimated are in temporal shelter or living with relatives…”

The CPU survives on a threadbare budget of a few hundred thousand dollars allocated by Treasury each year.

But under-funding affects response not only during disaster, but also the aftermath.

Post-disaster, there are issues of dealing with victims psychologically and materially to restore normalcy.

If the costs for material restoration are not known in advance, and there are no strategic reserves to help the situation, the post-disaster period can be difficult. Lives can be impaired permanently, say experts.

God is faithful.

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