GOVERNMENT’S capacity to deal with floods has been brought into question following its dismal failure to mitigate against the floods that wreaked havoc around the country in the last few weeks when incessant rains fell. With early warnings of the consequences of heavy rains that lashed most parts of the country in the past few weeks, it was expected government and its arm, the Civil Protection Unit (CPU), would be pro-active by preparing well for the threat of floods.
Disaster management experts said the recent flood, which claimed more than a dozen lives, leaving some more marooned on tiny islands for days, has exposed government’s lack of preparedness in dealing with calamity of this magnitude. Experts said the floods showed that Zimbabweans are dangerously exposed to multifaceted hazardous situations, compounded by a perilous combination of geographical and socio-political factors that complicate disaster and risk management.
An inquiry by the Financial Gazette established that the vulnerability of Zimbabweans to natural calamities is evident from the very lack of a proper disaster management institutional framework given that CPU is chronically weak owing to deficient functioning resulting from severe lack of funding and shortage of manpower and resources. Zimbabwe was also heavily affected by floods during the previous rainy season and experts say the failure to draw lessons from that experience is a stark reflection of the dysfunction of CPU.
The CPU depends on the Air force of Zimbabwe for helicopters to airlift marooned people from affected areas and its director, Madzudzo Pawadyira, has lamented poor funding from government saying it was hindering their operations. Scores of villagers in Mbire District were left marooned on an island for days without evacuation and only survived when the water level subsided while in Mashonaland West province, six people were marooned for two days as the Air Force failed to dispatch its helicopters citing bad weather.
“Our preparedness is compromised by lack of funding. We have asked for US$3,4 million but so far we have received only US$50 000 which we have immediately used to dispatch our rapid assessment teams to the worst affected areas in Mashonaland West and Central provinces which proves our sincere commitment.
“The major issue is getting money available for us to be able to operate effectively. Right now with the money available, we have fuelled our units in the provinces to do the assessment which will inform the response that we are going to take. This is an inter-agency assessment involving many players like the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), several United Nations agencies and other humanitarian organisations and the Air Force of Zimbabwe,” Pawadyira said.
Disaster management has many facets, key of which include early warning systems which consist mainly of weather forecasts and education of citizens, taking precautionary measures in advance, response, effective rescue, relief and rehabilitation among other aspects. Disaster and risk management expert, Albert Maipisi, who specializes in floods and their effects, said the government has been found wanting in all disaster management aspects.
“Disaster-specific action plans were found lacking in many ways and vulnerability assessment of blocks was only partial. The ideal situation would be instituting timely preparation of annual disaster management plans indicating specific work to be undertaken at all levels. Some of the areas like Mbire and Muzarabani that have been affected are known to be a perennial flooding zone which means that by now there should be a mechanism to deal with the situation but we still see the people getting affected all the time. The question is why are we always taken by surprise when the floods hit,” he queried.
“What has happened in the past ideally gives precedence to the disaster management framework but the CPU has clearly shown it is not up to the game. Its role has been reduced a mere coordinative role bringing in donor agencies in times of calamity and it is not doing anything,” he said.
Mapisi also said government did not have an effective monitoring mechanism to identify potential disasters and has no political will to urgently address the situation.
“If you look, for example at South Africa, they have got the disaster management act, a law designed to capacitate it to fight such disasters but we do not have that in Zimbabwe. The law should be put in place so that CPU can have the basis for financing of the unit as well as making it a legally operational unit with a clearly defined mandate,” he said.
He added that emergency operation centres at the district level were not working round-the-clock except during monsoon and lacked dedicated manpower, which should be rectified. He said the floods have also exposed the high levels of vulnerability of Zimbabweans. “The floods have also indicated that the government has failed to build disaster resilient lifestyles because where people have got strong livelihoods, they can withstand a disaster. In this case, affected people always wait for some to come as assist them and it follows that the government has failed to strong disaster management systems,” Maipisi said.
Red Cross head of marketing and public relations, Takemore Mazuruse, said the most effective way of dealing with the issue is to decentralise disaster management structures to empower communities so that they could withstand the disasters.
“While have are currently witnessing an unprecedented situation whereby areas that were not experiencing floods are now getting flooded, we have areas like Muzarabani that have been affected by floods for a long time. Why do we still have people in such dangerous low lying areas? The answer to that is to empower communities so that they can be able to prepare and respond effectively when disasters strike. Community leaders should be capacitated on how to handle such situations.
“Studies have shown that when communities are empowered and own the initiatives, it is easier for the people to respect early warning systems and makes information dissemination easier and faster other than relying on a such a highly centralised system which has limited reach because of some communities’ lack of access to radio, television and newspapers that are favourable to the system,” Mazuruse said.
The meteorological department, which is also a vital tool in disaster management and is part of the CPU, has also come under fire for failing to give early warning systems, especially considering that some areas that were hit by floods were experiencing abnormal rainfalls amount to 150mm in the case of areas upstream of Angwa River.
Principal Meteorogist, Linear Mashawi, was not immediately available for comment. Stakeholders have also called for the formation of the National Disaster Management Commission saying it would go a long way in managing disasters is an area which calls for technical expertise, ranging from early warning, to rescue, relief, recovery and rehabilitation.
“Given that government is handicapped on account of technical expertise to respond to the flood calamity the National Disaster Management Commission would be uthorised to constitute advisory committees for managing disasters comprising of experts in that field. Only strong and efficient institutions can help in managing disasters effectively,” said Maipisi.