21 February 2014

Zimbabwe: Tokwe-Murkosi Distaster - CPU Exposed

Photo: Nehanda Radio
Tokwe Mukosi Dam cracking following heavy rains

GIVEN early warnings of the consequences of heavy rains that lashed most parts of the country in the past few weeks, it was expected government and its arm, the Civil Protection Unit (CPU), would be pro-active by preparing well for the threat of floods.

There was little sign of that preparedness as disaster unfolded due to flooding after the Tokwe-Murkosi Dam wall overflowed, leaving thousands of people marooned and hundreds of students out of school.

Two weeks of heavy rains left the rock-filled Tokwe-Murkosi Dam wall strained causing serious flooding downstream. At least two schools have been closed leaving thousands of students stranded as the humanitarian crisis along the dam worsened, although the worst appears to be over for now.

Schools are currently being used as temporary shelters for over 300 families whose homes are flooded.

Questions are now being raised with regards to government's disaster preparedness as shown by its failure to abate the impending humanitarian crisis caused by the floods.

Despite early warnings of the impending disaster, government was found terribly wanting in terms of preparedness and disaster management, casting doubts on the efficacy of the role of the CPU.

Disaster preparedness, among other factors, includes readiness and ability of society to forecast and take precautionary measures in advance of an imminent threat, response to cope with a disaster by organising and delivering timely and effective rescue, relief and other appropriate post-disaster assistance.

It also includes activities and measures taken in advance to ensure effective response to the impact of disaster, or conscious effort to predict, respond and cope with the effects of a potential disaster.

Preparedness also requires development of early warning mechanisms, plans for evacuation, the education and training of officials and people at risk, the establishment of policies, standards and organisational arrangements.

However, for long the CPU has not been funded in order to be ready for natural disasters. In an interview on Tuesday, CPU director Madzudzo Pawadyira said his organisation was faced with budgetary constraints which compromise its preparedness for natural disasters.

"In 2013 and 2014, CPU was allocated a mere US$450 000 when they needed US$5 million to deal with natural disasters," Pawadyira said.

"Our preparedness is compromised by lack of funding, but what we did was to go out to all flood-prone areas before the rains came to encourage people to look at the topography of their area to see if it was likely to be hit by floods," he said.

The CPU recently received US$75 000 from Treasury at a time the country is affected by natural disasters like flooding, windstorms, lightning and even landslides as the rainy season continues.

The cash-strapped government has, however, has asked for international aid amounting to US$20 million to evacuate thousands of families threatened by a dam it feared could burst following torrential rains.

Authorities said they had only managed to move 36 families out of 2 230 in immediate danger, warning any break in the Tokwe-Murkosi Dam wall could flood thousands more families downstream.

Dewa Mavhinga, a senior Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch and also Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition board chairperson said the threat of a Tokwe-Murkosi disaster caught government sleeping on duty.

"The Tokwe-Murkosi floods crisis has exposed government's lack of preparedness to respond to national disasters in ways that minimise damage and safeguard people's basic rights," Mavhinga said.

"Financially, politically and logistically, government was simply unprepared for a Tokwe-Murkosi Dam disaster. It is critical that government has funds set aside for such eventualities as well as a standby team ready to spring into action to provide rapid response to emerging disasters.

"Additionally, government should invest in technical capacity for quick and accurate assessments of disaster situations and a rapid mechanism to activate support from the international community, because it is standard practice that international aid agencies will not offer support unless government declares a disaster situation and formally asks for assistance. Rampant corruption and poor prioritisation in allocation of resources also work to undermine government preparedness to rapidly respond to disaster situations."

Alexander Rusero, a local political analyst, said the responsibility lies with government which has failed to play its humanitarian mandate role.

"Government has been relying on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in humanitarian assistance yet these should play second fiddle," Rusero said.

"Zimbabwe has no mechanisms in place to abate disasters yet mitigatory measures should always be in place should a major natural disaster happen."

Another analyst Rashweat Mukundu said the major problems are caused by government's lack of commitment to development and progress.

"Many of government's projects are either half-doing or being dangerously undertaken as the Tokwe-Murkosi Dam project," Mukundu said.

Government's lack of disaster preparedness has been exposed before.

In August 2011, Zimbabwe lost former army commander General Solomon Mujuru in a fire with reports that the fire crew that attended the scene was ill-equipped to deal with the blaze.

A report compiled by the Harare Fire Station stated that its firemen used a hose layer codenamed Brigade 34 which, according to experts, was inappropriate for the job.

While some hose layers carry a water pump, the one used by the fire brigade to fight the inferno that claimed Mujuru's life was equipped with a light pump whose capacity was insufficient to extinguish a large fire.

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