13 June 2017

Zimbabwe: Floods - Villagers Still Need Assistance

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Zimbabwe, like the whole of Southern Africa, suffered the effects of Cyclone La Nina and the predicted Cyclone Dineo in the same period spelt doom for the country. Cyclone Dineo, however, downgraded to a tropical storm bringing relief across the country. To most the downgrade meant that the worst had been averted and life would continue after a few episodes of windy downpours.

This was not to be for families in Mberengwa district.

Villagers were left counting their losses after incessant rains destroyed their property while fields leached presenting an accommodation and food crisis in some areas.

Among the affected is 32-year-old Marvellous Hove-Bvute from Bvute Village and his family as he has to share a single room since their bedroom was ripped open during the heavy rains.

He recounted how he escaped unhurt when fate struck.

"We were sleeping in this room when we saw water flowing into the room. That's when I woke my wife up and we went outside," Bvute said.

After leaving the room, the water collecting in it overwhelmed the brick and mortar hut, which crumbled.

His life also crumbled as the walls of his hut during that storm.

Life has not been the same for Bvute and his family.

"We now have one habitable room, which we share. My children are grown and the sleeping arrangements have become awkward," he said.

With children aged 12 and nine, he believes they should be sleeping in a separate room.

Bvute has tried to salvage bricks from the debris to rebuild the room but to no avail.

"I tried rebuilding the room with the bricks that were still in shape, however some of them were broken beyond use," he said.

He had intentions of moulding a new set of bricks but the weather has been a hindrance.

"I would have moulded new bricks but in this cold weather they would break."

He is also sceptical of using the same brick and mortar as they may not sustain another season of heavy rains.

"After what happened, I would be happy to avoid cheap communal building methods. Imagine if there were young children in the room we would have been talking of a different story altogether," Bvute said.

To add to the quagmire, their fields became water-logged destroying his yields.

"There was too much water and we failed to have the yields we expected. In all honesty, our maize will not take us till September," Bvute said.

Bvute's family is not the only family affected as quite a number of families have been left disenfranchised by the floods.

According to Oxfam's Cyclone Dineo's Snapshot response dated March 22, 2017, 379 households were affected by the flooding in Mberengwa.

The report was in sync with the Civil Protection Unit's Disaster Report for February 2017.

The traditional leadership in the area, acknowledges that the rains and flooding left a crisis on their hands.

Chief Amen Mudavanhu of Mberengwa District says, at face value, the effects of the cyclone were light but they affected a lot of lives.

"Homes were affected as well as properties. In my ward most households were left without toilets as they were destroyed by floods," Chief Mudavanhu said.

He attributed this widespread destruction of toilets and granaries to the budget material that is usually used in their construction.

"Since the floods we have been trying very hard to educate people about the dangers of open defecation and the importance of hygiene .It is our hope that they heed the calls lest we are faced by a health challenge," he said.

Most people in his area also lost their crops.

"A great number of people here are peasant farmers and this year will be difficult because most fields either sunk or were swept away by the flooding," Chief Mudavanhu said.

In the previous dry years, he had made plans to help his subjects with food, a gesture he feels he may need to repeat despite the abundant rains.

"Over the years I have been giving out about a tonne of maize to assist people in my area. I know it is not too much but it will surely help.

"This season although the floods affected my fields, I got around five tonnes, I will spare some for our people in these tough times," he said.

Chief Mudavanhu called on Government and its partners to continue assisting the families.

He said there is still a long way to go in ensuring that household food security is restored.

Visumuzi Mkhosi, an Agritex Crops specialist based in Mberengwa, said this year's agricultural output will be lesser than projected.

"In terms of quantities mostly communal farmers with sandy soils were affected by water logging. This means that their yields will not match the expected figures," Mhkosi said.

In the wake of this, a crop assessment was done and Mkhosi says the figures were submitted for tabulation.

Indications are that there is no relief for the villagers.

"We had an excess of 800 millimetres of rainfall and it is difficult for most crops to grow well in those conditions especially maize. We transitioned from a point of very little water to a point of too much water," Mkhosi said.

Mkhosi advised farmers in Mberengwa and surrounding areas to turn to small grains crop varieties.

In the wake of these challenges, humanitarian organisations have started chipping in attempts to avert a crisis.

Noah Kutukwa, the Project Manager in the Oxfam Flood Response Project in Mberengwa District said there is need for all stakeholders to reach out to the people of Mberengwa.

"Mberengwa is one of the districts seriously affected by the floods. Judging from the Civil Protection Unite report and Oxfam's Rapid Assessment, there are huge problems," he said.

"The destroyed property ranges from public infrastructure, private infrastructure like dwelling and latrines among other things."

In a bid to restore some of the damaged infrastructure, they have fundraised with the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).

From the funds amassed, Oxfam and their partners will avail money to 280 of the 379 affected families.

"We will be transferring $110 to 280 affected families so that they can address the most pressing of their challenges. This may be rebuilding their dwellings, securing grain among other related endeavours," Kutukwa said.

He said more assistance was also needed in the looming food shortage.

"There are food insecurities in the region. Most households do not have grain to last them for three months from now. By October most of these people will not have anything to eat," Kutukwa said.

He further emphasised the need to empower people with drought response skills breaking a chain of perennial dependency to authorities and aid agencies.

Mberengwa District Administrator White Nkoma says it could have been worse had there not been timely interventions from the Government and various partners.

"From the floods it is showing that people received assistance. It was in form of food items and non-food items," he said.

The Government distributed grains while inviting aid agencies to help mitigate the effects of the flooding.

"Schools are among our pressing concerns. We have Zvikombe School in Ward 1 where a 15 squat-hole block collapsed and the pupils have had to use staff toilets," Nkoma said.

Nkoma said the same problem affected other schools in the district and there is need for quick action.

"If we get to the rains, which is about four months away from now and nothing has been done. I foresee a challenging year end for people in this area," he said.

Some families that were surviving on gardening are struggling as their water reservoirs were also destroyed.

Conversations may have subsided on the effects caused by tropical storm Dineo but there are families who are still struggling as a result of its occurrence.

There is a need to engage and help the people of Mberengwa District as there is still a sense of fear as well as uncertainty stemming from the destruction caused by floods.

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