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Floods in Zimbabwe: How prepared are we for climate change effects?

OPINION

By Marshall Bwanya

Government’s failure to effectively prepare for the recent wave of floods that ravaged some parts of Binga, destroying, homes, crops and property could be a classic case of history repeating itself.

It is in this season, though different months that saw the deadly Cyclone Idai ravaging through Chimannimani and Chipinge last year (March), leaving trails of destruction to infrastructure, property and lives among many other things.

These two disasters worsened issues of food insecurity and accommodation and it means that there are more mouths to feed for the government and development partners that are providing relief aid in the country.

READ: FLOODS RAVAGE BINGA

Floods in Chimanimani and Binga have helped expose how the Zimbabwean government is constantly failing to anticipate and cope with the effects of climate change which is now a reality more than ever and has been showing itself through erratic rains and floods.

Questions have to be asked by the public and government must take to the stand and answer whether they are prepared to effectively mitigate the effects of climate change on the back of their lukewarm effort and lack of preparedness in handling the flooding crises.

Government’s wing responsible for responding to such crises the Civil Protection Unit (CPU) seems always ill-prepared to respond to crises under their mandate, but we cannot blame them, they are under-funded and under-staffed.

CPUpreparedness requires a robust mechanism that alerts and evacuates citizens before a national disaster occurs.

However, CPU director Nathan Nkomo argued that government was prepared to tackle disasters of this calibre (floods) if the Meteorological Services Department had robust communication mechanism in place.

“Government, through the Department of Civil Protection is prepared to handle all disasters whether man-made or natural.

“However, there is a need for robust early warning systems for example in the case of the Binga flashfloods. The Meteorological Department report was not a forecast but rather an advisory.

READ: CYCLONE IDAI ANALYSIS

“Preparedness is very important as it is a function of multi-faceted factors. Once the early system is not giving the exact information it becomes difficult to prepare,” he said.

Nkomo reiterated that the Civil Protection Department was working tirelessly in doing its statutory function of protecting the citizens.

The CPU boss added that during floods there is need to establish proper evacuation centres which he says are an important component of evacuation strategy.

He said lack of evacuation centres and limited resources usually make it difficult for the government to quickly and effectively assist the victims in a crisis.

CPU has dismally failed to display their state of preparedness to deal with crises since the Tokwe-Mukosi floods in 2014 in Masvingo Province.

There is no doubt Zimbabwe is experiencing climate change effects, whose impacts are getting worse by the day and this situation calls for the CPU to up their game in terms of preparing for disasters.

Climate change will not only destabilise infrastructure, but also the agriculture sector which is the mainstay of the economy, and the government must act and act now because the effects will also affect their economic recovery efforts.

If they choose to ignore climate change, then they must at the same time prepare to import more maize and wheat, they must prepare to import more electricity and they must also buy drugs and medicine for cholera.

Already the United Nations 2019 report said more than 5 million people in Zimbabwe (out of a population of 13 million people), are currently facing food shortage due to droughts and cyclone effects.

Erratic rainfall patterns over the years have been attributed to reducing water levels at Lake Kariba which has seen Zimbabwe being forced to reduce its electricity generation output thereby affecting a business through load shedding while at the same time forcing the government to import power to augment shortages.

When there is not power for energy, citizens are then forced to resort to such things as firewood as an alternative source of energy leading to deforestation and land degradation which then affects the ecosystems.

Legislators should also take part of the blame as they have been mum on the issues of climate change, leaving the CSO to do climate change battle on their own

However, as we approach the month of March which is Cyclone Idai’s anniversary, Chimanimani legislator said last year’s floods revealed to him how citizens are affected by climate change.

“I believe that as a nation we have learnt a lot from the national disaster Cyclone Idai. The government should invest in water harvesting mechanisms upstream like dams to reduce the velocity of water, as well as catch as much runoff as possible for later use.

“Subsidies on replanting of forests should be accessed as reforestation will increase the stability of our mountainsides reducing the occurrence of landslides.

“Relocation of communities where necessary should be done to areas that are safe to reduce the risk during future cyclones,” he said.

Speaking on the same issue, Binga North legislator Honourable Prince Dubeko Sibanda said the absence of adequate network coverage in some parts of his constituency was depriving his constituency of valuable communication about potential threats and dangers ahead.

“I would urge the government, through its various agents of communication to make sure they put up network boosters, so that network providers can then be able to have network in the area.

“This will help that when there is a problem it will be easy for people to seek help,” he said.

Dubeko-Sibanda reiterated that the recent Binga floods had destroyed infrastructure and the Gokwe-Binga highway which local retailers relied on as an economic route for reduced costs for trade.

Binga is located in Matabeleland North just south of Lack Kariba and according to the Zimstats 2012 census, the area has a total population of 139 092 (63 736 males and 75 356 females).

Binga is largely populated by the Tonga people who originally relocated to the area after their homeland was flooded by the Kariba reservoir in the late1950s.

Cyclone Idai and the Binga floods are signs that anything worse can happen and the government need to start taking climate change issues seriously to avoid losing more lives and property.

In most cases, all it requires is just adequate funding to CPU and the Met Department to ensure they have everything they require to effectively respond. REMEMBER TO SUBSCRIBE

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Daniel Chigundu

Daniel Chigundu is the news editor for OpenParlyZW an online platform that covers Parliament of Zimbabwe activities using social media (Twitter and Facebook). He is currently the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Parliamentary Journalists Forum and a board member of Digital Communication Network.

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