23 March 2019

Zimbabwe: Cyclone Idai Donations - Govt Pledges Transparency

Last week Cyclone Idai battered Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique, leaving a trail of death and destruction of biblical proportions, with close to two million people affected by the tropical storm. In Zimbabwe, the death toll stood at 142, Malawi 57 while in Mozambique it is feared that up to 1 000 people have died. Many more are still missing and the death toll is rising.

Governments, NGOs and private individuals have launched major rescue and relief operations in flood-ravage areas. In this report, our Senior Reporter Cletus Mushanawani (CM) speaks to Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing July Moyo (JM), about major rescue and relief efforts underway in the country.

CM: The country was last weekend hit by a devastating tropical storm -- Cyclone Idai. Which were the most affected areas?

JM: The epicentre was in Manicaland, particularly Chimanimani District. The most affected areas in Chimanimani are Copa, Ngangu near Chimanimani urban, Machongwe, Chikukwa and Rusitu, all the way to Vumba in terms of human toll. A lot of infrastructure was damaged, particularly bridges.

Most affected bridges start from Wengezi, all the way to Skyline. All bridges have been damaged, some in a much more severe way than others. The bridge at Skyline is posing a huge challenge. That bridge will take much longer to repair and from Skyline to Nyahode River, all those bridges have been damaged extensively.

The bridges from Jopa to Skyline on the side of Chipinge were also damaged. The same also applies to Silverstream Bridge which has since been attended to and lorries are now passing to Skyline. We are trying to open a road just above Silverstream that will turn to Peacock.

We will be able to move food from Silverstream through Peacock and then another 17km dust road stretch from Peacock to Ngangu will be created. The cyclone disaster also affected the movement of medical supplies. Mutambara Mission Hospital is cut off from Nhedziwa and most people who are pregnant, those who have chronic ailments or those who are on ARVs cannot access the hospital to receive treatment. All that has been affected, but we are now airlifting the supplies to the hospital.

Buhera was also affected, followed by areas in Zimunya/Marange, Mutasa and Nyanga. Chipinge was also badly affected. We are treating Chipinge and Chimanimani as one block. Outside Manicaland, we have areas like Zaka, Bikita and Gutu which were affected.

In Mashonaland East, Chikomba was affected while in Midlands, Mvuma and Chirumhanzu were also affected.

Outside Manicaland, homes were destroyed and we need to find a solution to the way we design and construct our homes both in urban and rural areas. Some homes here in Mutare were damaged.

Statistics of the damaged infrastructure are now there, but are not conclusive. We have given the assessment teams a deadline of Sunday to come up with actual figures. The number of those who perished is also not conclusive and we have given a directive for the teams to check with the local traditional leadership and other line ministries on those who are still missing.

We don't have a comprehensive picture of those who are missing.

CM: What is your assessment of the impact of the cyclone on crops and livestock in the affected areas?

JM: When villages were swept away, some of the livestock was also swept away, but cattle have an advantage as they can swim their way out.

We have not been given figures of goats and other small livestock that were lost. I think most of the cattle survived.

CM: The Government has responded swiftly to the disaster by launching a major rescue and relief mission in the affected areas. Would you shed light on what you have done so far?

JM: Our people's response to the cyclone distress call is amazing. From both the private and public sectors, corporates and individuals, the response is overwhelming.

At our warehouses, our staff is collecting donations and recording them. There are people who are recording all the donated goods.

We have a team which is receiving and another one which is dispatching the goods. I don't have the totals as of now because every day we are receiving tonnes of goods. That is not to say we now have enough relief stocks. Much more is still required. Malaria is likely to set in because of the rains, so we appealing for more drugs. We are also appealing for more support in terms infrastructure restoration for the damaged bridges. The number of tippers that I saw working on the Silverstream Bridge was quiet amazing. Support is trickling in.

CM: In terms of reconstruction, have you drawn up a priority list of the areas to be tackled first?

JM: Yes, I have already told you about the road diversion from Silverstream to Chimanimani via Peacock. That is a priority so that we can move food to Copa, Rusitu and Ngangu.

We have been dropping food through helicopters, but their carrying capacity is limited. Yesterday (Thursday) we were working with 11 helicopters and we paid more attention to the lifting of medicine and some food items.

The second priority is the main road from Wengezi to Skyline, all the way to Ngangu and Chimanimani Centre. The Rusitu Road is also a priority as well as feeder roads in Mutsvangwa. We also want the road that comes up to Nyanyadzi being opened up.

We have a list of damaged schools. The only school which is closed is St Charles Lwanga, a Roman Catholic school where 175 students were rescued. Two students at this school died when storms hit the school.

We evacuated all the children, but we need to repair the school. There are schools were teachers' houses and classrooms were damaged.

In other schools, learning is going on, but you can imagine the trauma the children are going through.

We have a counselling team that is doing counselling to them.

CM: Which countries have come on board to donate towards the victims of this disaster?

JM: Most of our neighbours have come on board. We have received a huge batch of medicine from Tanzania, and by Thursday drugs were dispatched to Silverstream.

Botswana also chipped in and countries such as the United Arab Emirates have also provided us with a plane load of relief items.

The relief support arrived in Harare with all kinds of goods that we need to give to our affected communities. They are sending a team to look at infrastructure.

From the Chinese, we received some of the goods on Thursday. Among them were 60 tonnes of assorted goods. We also received US$100 000 from them and I think today (yesterday) they will be announcing a further donation of US$800 000.

They also want to assist us in infrastructure development. The first donation was from the Chinese companies operating in Zimbabwe. We are getting support from South Africa, including some of the helicopters we are using.

Remember the cyclone was severe in Mozambique, so we cannot be selfish. Mozambique needs more assistance than us and the South African Defence Force is concentrating in Mozambique and Malawi to some extent.

CM: What measures have you put in place to curb the misappropriation of the donated goods and funds?

JM: This to us is a major priority. The President is very clear and has given us a directive that cash donations must be channelled through the Ministry of Finance and there is an account with the Ministry of Finance.

As a Government, the distribution of relief materials and funds to flood victims in a transparent and accountable manner is a top priority. If we have cash, say in Manicaland, it is only for onward transmission to the distressed communities, but otherwise cash must be channelled through the Ministry of Finance so that they can account for it. Goods can also be received through the Ministry of Local Government warehouses in Harare and they have released cellphone numbers and emails so that those who want to donate can get in touch with the relevant people.

Here in Manicaland, the goods can be brought to the provincial headquarters and in the districts they can leave them at the District Administrator's office.

When goods are brought here to Manicaland, they are kept at the World Vision warehouse. Those who receive the goods are different from the ones who dispatch them. Our job is to make sure that reconciliations are done in a transparent manner. Anybody who wants to see what has been received can do so because these donations are coming from the public.

We want people to know that we are transparent, accountable and can balance what we have been given and what we have dispatched.

CM: What lessons can we draw as a nation from this disaster?

JM: There are many lessons that we can learn from this disaster. We have teams analysing the lessons learnt.

When I went before Parliament, I was asked questions on why we didn't order schools to close yet we were fully aware that the cyclone would hit Chimanimani. These are some of the lessons we are learning. I was also asked why I didn't come to Parliament to inform parliamentarians on the impending disaster, but we did inform all stakeholders in writing and through local publications. We should do more next time, especially in warning the populace on cyclones and earthquakes.

We should do more in trying to encourage people to move from low-lying areas or areas that we now know are susceptible to falling boulders and mudslides. The next thing that the President has been saying is about the way we construct and design our houses.

George Charamba (Deputy Chief Secretary for Presidential Communications) was showing me interesting pictures of houses that were damaged in Bikita.

People are building houses using flat roof designs which are susceptible to winds and storms.

This type of roof often collapses whenever there are storms. Construction of houses and where to construct them will seriously be looked into. If people resist, we should find ways and means of enforcing better housing designs that save lives. We have a sub-committee which is drawing up the lessons learnt and we will share their findings with the nation.

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