WEATHER experts have warned of a tropical storm that is building up in the Indian Ocean and could make landfall in Madagascar at the weekend and proceed towards the Mozambique Channel early next week with the possibility of extending into Zimbabwe’s Eastern province of Manicaland.
We are still healing from the painful Idai trail of destruction for which Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri acknowledged failure to plan and anticipate gravity. But seeing other countries being affected could have just given us a heads up.
Villagers are still haunted by traumatic recollections of the aftermath of Idai. They were forced to bury their loved ones in a rush, using makeshift coffins; some never found their loved ones.
Even though two days of mourning were declared by President Mnangagwa, the affected people are mourning for a lifetime.
Despite official warnings of an approaching cyclone, Idai cometh as a thief in the night.
Cyclone Idai struck Zimbabwe in March 2019, affecting 270 000 people. The storm and subsequent flooding and landslides left 340 people dead and over 300 missing. Agriculture, schools and infrastructure all suffered heavy impacts; many people lost their homes. Chimanimani and Chipinge districts were hardest hit.
Today, many are still in tents; they have not recovered or healed. Hearing of another Idai sends shivers down their spines.
According to Sadc, tropical Cyclone Idai affected three million people in the Republics of Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe leaving 839 people dead, the figure continued to rise as the rains stopped and water subsided. To date, it is reported that 201 476 people have been displaced and about 317 camps established. A total of 2 347 people have been reported injured and over 300 people still missing in the affected countries.
The loss extended to food stocks and livestock making food accessibility and availability more difficult after the cyclone. But, did we learn anything from the Idai situation as a country? Generally, local and national government in affected areas were invisible and ill-prepared at the onset of the disaster.
The situation was made worse by inadequate and dwindling financial support for recovery programmes as well as the slow pace of rebuilding efforts by government. This has left a lot of people stranded in inhabitable makeshift accommodation risking diseases like cholera and malaria.
Now the Meteorological Department tells us to be calm. They say once bitten twice shy isn’t it? People know what happens in Zimbabwe when disaster strikes, we are on our own.
Right now we do not need calming messages; we need an efficient disaster risk management plan, not a document plan but a practical effect of it. We do not want to repeat a situation where there will be appeals for technical, financial and logistical assistance in the midst of a disaster. Yet the Civil Protection Unit (CPU) is said to be on high alert, high alert doing what exactly?
Is there an evacuation plan, how much is available in terms of monetary value for assistance? These issues should be communicated openly so as to restore confidence in people who have long lost it. Zimbabweans live in fear of social, economic and natural disasters because they all leave an unforeseeable trail of distraction.
The recent Ran Mine disaster, where dozens of miners were trapped after a shaft collapsed exposed government’s under preparedness when disaster strikes. We did not learn from the Battlefields incident, we certainly didn’t learn from Shurugwi’s Wanderer Mine, which trapped over 50 artisanal and illegal gold miners underground, the Nugget gold mine collapse in May, which killed eight people, as well as the blast at Mazowe Mine in which eight people died.
If we had learnt something, our response could have improved. Each time there is disaster we hold huge begging bowls and appeal for donations. This has become the norm. Sadly, our “enemies” are our biggest donors. Are we not ashamed?
When we heard of COVID-19 reports, and other countries having a rise in cases. Muchinguri at a rally in Chinhoyi said: “This coronavirus that has come are sanctions against the countries that have imposed sanctions on us. God is punishing them now and they are staying indoors while their economies are screaming like what they did to ours by imposing sanctions on us.”
But where are we now? Many have died including prominent figures like Perrance Shiri and Zororo Makamba. We later learnt that the government was not prepared at all despite learning of a looming disaster across the world.
Right now people are coming from South Africa amid concerns that there is a new variant from South Africa. “The new 501.V2 variant has troubling details: it seems to spread faster, has a higher viral load and [is] possibly more severe among young adults,” experts say.
Even European countries have rushed to impose bans on South African travellers a few days ago, but our Beitbridge border is still open yet we are not prepared. The government will read from usual checks and balances speech, “We are prepared”.
When Cholera hit us in 2008, the then Information minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu said: “Cholera is a calculated, racist, terrorist attack on Zimbabwe by the unrepentant former colonial power, which has enlisted support from its American and Western allies so that they can invade the country.”
And in December 2008, in a televised speech, the late former President Mugabe again said: “I am happy to say our doctors have been assisted by others and WHO…so now that there is no cholera…Because of cholera, Mr Brown wants a military intervention… Bush wants military intervention because of cholera… There is no cause for war anymore. The cholera cause doesn’t exist anymore.”
Recently, during Sona, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said: “The conduct of some non-governmental organisations and private voluntary organisations who operate outside their mandate and out of sync with the government’s humanitarian priority programmes, remain a cause for concern.”
Is the government not giving those NGOs a reason to exist through continued disorganisation and failure to plan?
Evidently they will seize the opportunity and will automatically become the people’s darling.
However, Zimbabweans across social, economic and political contexts have shown that they can unite in responding to disasters. Going forward, the government has to take disaster risk management seriously; mainstream it across all sectors as the country shall continue to face an increase in disasters associated with climate change.
The era of presenting well written documents that we call plans in front the cameras, only to shelve them after the Press conference should be over.
The government should accept that it has a non-negotiable obligation to protect the people, plan for disasters and minimise damage.
Local capacity building is key to ensure psychological and material support critical for dealing with long-term effects that disasters inflict on people. Social and child protection systems should also be set up.
Of critical importance is information access. For a long time information has emerged as rumours, with government saying something and other quarters singing a different tune. Zimbabweans have long trusted the other voice for obvious reasons; the government has been accused of under-reporting COVID-19 figures, Cyclone Idai deaths, in the early stages.
But in other worlds, information is readily available and people will make decisions based on authentic figures.
Hiding information of casualties due to a disaster natural or man made can never be called protecting the public.
Muchemwa Silence Mugadzaweta is a PR and Digital communications expert, governance, and policy specialist. He writes in his own capacity.