guest column: David Mhlanga
Following a series of events in Zimbabwe, it is clear that the effects of climate change are visiting the southern African country with anger. One can safely say nature is angry with Zimbabwe.
The effects of climate change are felt almost every day in the country, with climate change defined as any significant changes in the measure of climate such as temperature, rainfall, or wind, lasting for an extended period of decades or longer.
Human activities are significantly contributing to climate change through emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
With the reality of climate change, and the possibility of disaster in Zimbabwe every year, disaster response and preparedness at all levels from community to national level is an important requirement.
The hazards Zimbabwe experiences are classified into hydro-meteorological, geological, biological, technological and those also that are related to environmental degradation.
For instance, floods are common in Zimbabwe and have been officially recorded over the last 100 years and occur yearly.
In 2000, Cyclone Eline-induced floods in the Zambezi Basin left 90 people dead, over 250 000 people affected and approximately US$7,5 million in economic losses.
Floods tend to occur in the southern and northern low-lying areas of Zimbabwe, paths of cyclones, in-between river confluences, and downstream of major dams, which include Middle Sabi, Muzarabani, Tsholotsho, Kamativi confluence of Gwayi and Shangani, Malipati-Mwenezi and Bubi, Gokwe, and recently Chimanimani.
This reality needs maximum disaster preparedness. But between 1980 and 2011, drought was the most common hazard and accounts for six out of 10 top major disasters in Zimbabwe.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the world’s largest humanitarian networks define disaster preparedness as measures taken to prepare for and reduce the effects of disasters.
That is, to predict and, where possible, prevent disasters, mitigate their impact on vulnerable populations, and respond to and effectively cope with their consequences.
Preparedness can also refer to a very concrete research-based set of actions that are taken as precautionary measures in the face of potential disasters.
These actions can include physical preparations such as putting up emergency supply depots, adapting buildings to survive earthquakes, storms and trainings for emergency action.
Preparedness is an important quality in achieving goals and in avoiding and mitigating negative outcomes.
There are different types of preparedness, such as public health preparedness and local emergency preparedness, but probably the most developed type is disaster preparedness, defined by the United Nations as forecasting and taking precautionary measures prior to an imminent threat where advance warnings are possible.
This includes not only natural disasters, but all kinds of severe damage caused in a relatively short period, including warfare. Preparedness is a major phase of emergency management.
Disaster preparedness provides a platform to design effective, realistic and co-ordinated planning.
It reduces duplication of efforts and increase the overall effectiveness of national societies’ household and community members’ disaster preparedness and response efforts.
Disaster preparedness activities embedded with risk reduction measures can prevent disaster situations and also result in saving maximum lives and livelihoods during any disaster situation, enabling the affected population to get back to normalcy within a short
Disaster preparedness is a continuous and integrated process resulting from a wide range of risk reduction activities and resources rather than from a distinct sectoral activity by itself.
It requires the contributions of many different areas ranging from training and logistics, to healthcare, recovery, livelihood to institutional development.
Methods of preparation include research, estimation, planning, resourcing, education, practising and rehearsing.
Disasters affect millions of people each year on a personal, business, local community or national level.
The golden rule for successful disaster management at all levels is to increase awareness, develop action plans and practise them.
Waiting for a disaster to take place is not the right time to plan. Below are important points to take into in consideration in relation to disaster preparedness.
These are actions to keep in mind when planning to mitigate disaster and resources in order to help to improve preparedness.
The government, independent organisations like non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and citizens should be ready all the time.
Preparation, planning and practice is essential and cannot be over-emphasised.
It is important for individuals and families to increase their awareness, get educated, engage in preparedness conversations and stay informed.
Organisations, companies, shops and communities must have an emergency and evacuation plan. This plan must be communicated with all the people in the organisation.
Organisations must stay in contact with local authorities to determine what to do in the event of disasters.
Community understanding of what types of disasters are most likely to affect their location will help inform planning.
This includes learning about agencies and roles as preparedness is a shared responsibility among all the people.
The government should always have a mitigation fund. A number of grant programmes exist to fund disaster mitigation activities, reduce losses and protect life and property from future disaster damages.
Conducting risk assessment is also necessary. Conduct risk assessment to identify potential hazards and consequences and follow through with action to mitigate the risks. Inform the plan with statistics.
Research, NGOs are key to every community’s preparedness as they assist with disaster response and recovery.
There is need for the government to be in close relationship and partnership with these organisations.
Legislation regarding preparedness should be enacted and respected.