Zimbabwe: Time to Invest in Disaster-Proof Infrastructure

14 October 2019

Yesterday Zimbabwe joined the world in commemorating the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction to promote a global culture of risk and disaster awareness.

The celebrations, which started in 1989, are held every October 13, to see how communities around the world are reducing their exposure to disasters and raising awareness about the importance of minimising the risks that they face.

Across the globe, lack of resilient infrastructure is exposing mankind to extreme weather conditions, resulting in millions being displaced when earthquakes, storms and floods, among other disasters, hit.

The 2019 edition, running under the theme, "Reduce disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services", continues as part of the "Sendai Seven" campaign, centred on the seven targets of the Sendai Framework.

This year will focus on Target (d) of the Sendai Framework: "Substantially reduce disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services, among them health and education facilities, including through developing their resilience by 2030."

In a statement to mark the day, UN Secretary-General António Guterres noted that: "Making infrastructure more climate-resilient can have a benefit-cost ratio of about six to one. For every dollar invested, six dollars can be saved. This means that investing in climate resilience creates jobs and saves money."

Several months after tropical Cyclone Idai devastated Zimbabwe, getting back to normal is painfully slow for the thousands waiting in resettlement camps for reconstruction to get underway.

The disaster caused extensive damage worth an estimated US$622 million. Over 50 000 households were destroyed, directly affecting 270 000 people, including 60 000 who were displaced.

Rebuilding can be a long process because pledges take time to deliver as donors and Government seek to agree on priorities and disbursement mechanisms.

There is still a large gap between necessary funding for recovery and what has been pledged by the international community.

Going forward, it's not only about reconstruction of infrastructure and homes for those displaced but the country needs to be wiser in learning from previous mistakes and make clear choices to either invest in risk reduction or resilient infrastructure.

Globally, sudden extreme weather disasters aggravated by climate change displace millions of people every year and create high economic costs.

According to a report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre about seven million people were displaced by extreme weather disasters in the first half of 2019 alone.

The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction also points out that there has been a dramatic rise of 151 percent in direct economic losses from climate-related disasters.

"In the period 1998-2017, disaster-hit countries reported direct economic losses of US$2,908 billion of which climate-related disasters accounted for US$2,245 billion or 77 percent of the total. In terms of occurrences, climate-related disasters also dominate the picture, accounting for 91 percent of all 7 255 major recorded events between 1998 and 2017.

"Floods, 43,4 percent, and storms, 28,2 percent, are the two most frequently occurring disasters. The greatest economic losses have been experienced in the United States (US$944,8 billion) and in China (US$492,2 billion)," said the UN office.

In Zimbabwe, the impact of natural disasters is being amplified by lack of care in how we build, and this have caused huge losses of life and assets in Chimanimani and surrounding areas affected by Cyclone Idai.

Taking lessons from the destruction caused by Cyclone Idai, it is imperative that great care is taken to ensure that schools and hospitals are built to last by ensuring that location and hazard-appropriate planning regulations and building codes are enforced.

Many families in Chimanimani will never forget the displacements, when 200 kilomters/hour tore through the valley, with heavy rains bursting river banks and washing away houses.

There are various versions of what transpired as each person has a different story to tell.

Heavy rock falls and mudslides destroyed St Charles Lwanga Secondary School in Chimanimani.

Two pupils from the school lost their lives when they were crushed by boulders during the devastating cyclone.

While the country joins the rest of the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 12 years, from the past Cyclone Idai experience there is need to learn how to build to last in age of weather extremes.

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