The US$20 million being sought by government from the international community to meet urgent humanitarian needs of the affected communities in the Tokwe-Mukosi basin clearly shows that when disasters occur, the speed and effectiveness of response depends very critically on local organisations that represent the needs of those most impacted and most vulnerable, and not on local government alone.
Sunday View with Tonderai Matonho
Media reports reveal that current efforts through the Civil Protection Unit which require international support have seen government mobilising transport to ferry the affected families to relocation sites. Some international organisations such as the International Organisation for Migration mission in Zimbabwe responded by providing shelter, food and non-food items.
Approximately 20 000 people living upstream the Tokwe-Mukosi dam area were reported to be at high risk, while another 40 000 downstream were reported to be at moderate risk of flooding. Water levels at the Tokwe-Mukosi dam, which is currently under construction, have risen to dangerous levels, threatening many communities around it. Experts in disaster preparedness note that it is at the local level that many risks can be addressed before disasters strike.
Interestingly, much of the responsibility for disaster risk reduction falls on local governments and much of the displacements, deaths and destruction from disasters expose the unpreparedness of local government in conjunction with local organisations. The success of post-disaster action is also to a large extent determined by pre-disaster planning and awareness and urgency within local government and civil society organisations.
The Tokwe-Mukosi dam construction project has taken ages to complete. No one appears to know exactly why. Community action and partnerships with local government have not been central, not just to speed-up and reduce risk but also in responding to impact and shaping recovery in ways that can strengthen local livelihoods and quality of life.
Based on the experiences of the flooding disaster as reported by both local authorities and the affected people, there is need to formulate a policy framework to cope with this kind of calamity, in both rural and urban areas, particularly low-lying areas like Muzarabani, Mwenezi and also urban communities’ wetland zones.
It is critical to disseminate before-hand, information and warnings on the likely scope of flooding, based on the amount of rainfall and other factors expected. Zimbabwe has recently received some above normal rainfall patterns as compared to previous seasons and communities and the general public should receive credible information and warnings. Many times, people find it difficult to fathom how dangerous a looming disaster can be.
Experts note that long in advance of any calamity, the local governance structures must institute a coordinating mechanism with media and civil society to help out in managing the rescue and relief operations. Government assistance, which should at the very least be equitably applied, should include a broader framework for restoring livelihoods and compensating for loss of income and household and community property or assets.
Experts note that as a result of climate change, there is more than 90% probability of heavier precipitation events in the 21st century with an increase in both frequency and the proportion of total rainfall from heavy falls.
Floods will be by far the most frequent and devastating natural disasters, particularly in Africa and Asia.
Land-use changes and surface degradation have been identified as the main reasons for rural and urban flooding in Africa.