Harare/Masvingo — The Zimbabwean government has appealed to the international community for nearly US$20 million to help evacuate and assist 60,000 people at risk of being swept away by rapidly rising water in a partially constructed dam, following heavy rainfall in the normally drought-prone Masvingo province in the southeast.
The region has received 850mm of rain, nearly double the annual average according to local officials, and there are fears that the unfinished Tokwe-Mukosi Dam, which is being built with government funding by an Italian company, Salini, will not withstand the volume of water.
President Robert Mugabe declared the situation in the Tokwe-Mukosi Dam Basin a state of national disaster after water levels came within five metres of overflowing the dam wall on 4 February. Communities downstream from the dam and along the Tokwe River and its tributaries were instructed to "take necessary precautions to avoid danger".
"They are required to immediately move to at least 5km from the riverbank and seek higher ground," stated a press release from the Minister of Local Government Public Works and National Housing. "Those in the river basin must continue to make their way to designated pick-up points in their areas for ease of evacuation."
However, the government's emergency appeal noted that as of 9 February, only 36 families out of a targeted 2,230 had been moved because only 20 trucks were available to carry the families and their belongings to relocation sites.
According to the appeal, "About 20,000 people within the dam basin are at high risk, while another 40,000 downstream are at medium risk of flooding."
The unfinished wall of the dam consists of compacted rocks, which has yet to be covered with a layer of concrete. Enough water to flood several villages near the dam basin has already escaped through the wall.
The flooded villages are among those which should have been resettled by October 2013 as part of the government's phased relocation plan, which aims to eventually move 32,000 people and their livestock to make way for the dam.
However, according to villagers now temporarily sheltered at Mbizi railway marshalling yard, about 140km from Masvingo City, the government lacked the funds to compensate them by the October deadline.
"The government failed to relocate us in time and that's why we are in this situation," said Mercy Madyangove, one of the affected villagers. "I am totally left with nothing since all my belongings were washed away by the floods; I don't know how we are going to survive since our homesteads have been totally destroyed."
Tasara Wamambo, director of the Tokwe-Mukosi Rehabilitation and Resettlement Trust, which represents families affected by the dam and advocates their rights, estimated that close to a thousand people were camped at the marshalling yard and at local schools.
The International Organization for Migration has donated tarpaulins, blankets and mosquito nets, and the Red Cross has erected tents. The villagers are being provided with one meal per day, but many told IRIN: "There isn't enough food here and our children are always crying of hunger."
Wamambo said he was grateful for the assistance the government and NGOs had provided in airlifting people from the worst affected areas, but pointed out that hundreds of people were still trapped in their villages awaiting transport to evacuate them. "We require more tents, food and medical kits," he said. "We are very much concerned with outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and dysentery at the camps."
Wamambo blamed the government for failing to warn villagers about the flood risk. "The Meteorological Department should have issued an early warning to the villagers, and this could have assisted towards earlier relocation. A lot of livestock have been lost and this will further worsen the livelihoods of the villagers."
Tokwe-Mukosi Dam is being built at a cost of US$155 million to provide irrigation to the local communal area of Chibi, which is vulnerable to recurrent floods. The dam will also supply water to the city of Masvingo, where severe water shortages have been experienced in recent years.
Heavy rains around the country have resulted in flooding in many areas, leaving communities stranded. Six people are known to have died, and homes, crops and livestock have all been washed away. Roads and bridges have also been destroyed in Mashonaland West province, Mashonaland Central province and Tsholotsho district in southwestern Zimbabwe.
Civil Protection Unit Director Madzudzo Pawadyira told parliament that the US$450,000 allocated to his department in the 2014 annual budget fell far short of the needs, which he put at $5 million.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]