14 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Beware of Dangers of Current Good Rains, Save Lives


The magnificent rains now falling on Zimbabwe are filling dams, have already produced lush pastures for livestock and fine stands of many crops dot the countryside. If they continue Zimbabwe will have a good 2013.

But there is a downside.

The Meteorological Services Department has warned of the dangers of flooding. The Air Force of Zimbabwe has put its helicopters on standby.

But too many in the areas where flooding is common do not heed the warnings. They, year after year, rebuild homes in areas where they know that a couple of weeks of decent rain will wash these houses away.

And yes, they expect to be rescued. No doubt they will again, but this time it must be made clear to them that they cannot be allowed to build in unsafe areas again. Proper planned settlements will be needed this time around.

Local Government, Urban and Rural Development Minister Ignatius Chombo went a lot further.

He noted the dangers of wet roads. These are many. Some are serious, such as washed away verges, massive potholes and flooded bridges.

Drivers who ignore the dangers can die, and probably take their passengers with them.

Poor visibility is another serious problem, and enforcing the rule that in bad light, even if this is at noon, drivers must switch on their lights could save a lot of grief at funerals.

Most Zimbabwean drivers slow down on wet roads, which is fair enough although some overdo it. What is worse is the tendency to drive nose to tail because of one slow driver.

In fact slowing down moderately is a good idea, but an even better one is doubling the space to the car in front. It takes longer to brake safely in the wet.

The minister reiterated the warnings against crossing flooded rivers and flooded bridges. Most people do not appreciate just how strong a force moving water can impose. A stream might look fairly safe to cross, and if there was no current perhaps the risk would be tolerable.

But even a slow current, and flooded rivers usually have fast currents, can be very very dangerous. People drown not so much because they get out of their depth, but because they are swept off their feet and down the river.

A bridge with just 30cm of water of the road might not seem dangerous. But the force of the current can easily sweep a car away.

Patience can save lives.

The minister asks schools to teach swimming, and that is an excellent idea although many do not have facilities to do so.

But even more they should teach children not to take risks. Even an Olympic champion swimmer can be drowned in a flood river. They are that dangerous.

Heavy rains tend to see wells and drinking pools flooded and filled with muck. Yet making water safe is simple and cheap. For a start people with wells should protect these with a raised wall around the well and a lid.

Making water safe is simple. Either boil the water, use a few drops of ordinary household bleach, or use the similar products sold to purify water.

All that is needed to beat cholera, typhoid and other water-borne diseases is vigilance and care.

If everyone in Zimbabwe just realises the dangers and thinks ahead, then good rains will be nothing but a blessing, and never a cause for death and grief.

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