EDITORIAL COMMENT: Consider health issues for people affected by floods

by Sunday News Online | Sunday, Feb 26, 2017 | 1734 views

Tsholotsho floods 20 Feb

THE country has received torrential rains since the beginning of the year, with a recent onslaught of floods affecting a number of provinces.

In Matabeleland North, Tsholotsho was the worst affected, resulting in the Air Force of Zimbabwe playing a huge role in providing helicopters to rescue more than 130 families trapped by floods as the Civil Protection Unit moved a gear up to save lives. We applaud the efforts of the members of the CPU, who included the uniformed forces, in moving in swiftly to avert disaster as many people were marooned.

There is nothing as important as human life and even though families lost livestock, crops, homes and personal belongings, what is important is that human life was saved. Our sister paper, Chronicle, said an Air Force of Zimbabwe helicopter was able to carry around 16 people at a time and most survived with only “the clothes on their backs”.

Nonetheless, we believe more work still has to be done to assist families who were affected by floods. The people need assistance not only from Government, but other stakeholders as well so that they get their lives back on track. They need food, clothes and shelter and above all, there is a serious need for health experts to move in and make sure that health concerns of individuals are taken care of. We also believe it is high time Government made sure that people are permanently moved from areas that are prone to flooding, especially against a background that such areas have been affected before.

To show that Government is committed to assist the people, President Mugabe has led from the front, donating 1 000 bags of mealie meal and groceries to about 1 000 villagers affected by floods in Tsholotsho. Government is also working on modalities to move the affected people to high ground, with plans to assist them in rebuilding their homes and a ministerial team comprising Tsholotsho North MP Professor Jonathan Moyo, Matabeleland North Minister of State Cde Cain Mathema, Primary and Secondary Education Minister Dr Lazarus Dokora and Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Saviour Kasukuwere visited the affected areas on Friday and assured the people that Government was committed to assist them put their lives back on track.

The World Health Organisation says flooding is associated with an increased risk of infection, however, the risk is low unless there is significant population displacement and or water sources are compromised. It says of the 14 major floods which occurred globally between 1970 and 1994, only one led to a major diarrhoeal disease outbreak — in Sudan, 1980. This was probably because the flood was complicated by population displacement. Floods in Mozambique in January-March 2000 led to an increase in the incidence of diarrhoea and in 1998, floods in West Bengal led to a large cholera epidemic (01,El Tor, Ogawa).

However, we note that communicable disease risks from flooding can be greatly reduced if drinking water is treated through chlorination or is boiled before consumption, people are vaccinated against hepatitis A, and steps are taken to prevent a malaria outbreak.  Health education is also essential to promote good hygienic practice, ensure safe food preparation techniques, and vital importance of early diagnosis and treatment for malaria within 24 hours of onset of fever.

There are also many people who have medical conditions that require constant medication. Cases of HIV, high blood pressure and sugar diabetes come to mind. It is possible that many people lost their medication as they were forced to leave their homes all of a sudden, and the Ministry of Health should ensure that health personnel are dispatched to areas where people who were displaced by floods are temporarily sheltered so that they attend to such cases to avoid complications in future. The heavy rains have also resulted in the destruction of the road network, which has made some areas inaccessible, thereby compromising the provision of health and food.

The Meteorological Services Department of Zimbabwe had predicted that heavy rains would continue pounding the country, especially the Matabeleland provinces and Masvingo, leading to flooding until 20 February. The MSD said in case of heavy rains and flooding, if possible, people should stay indoors and off the roads.

They should avoid crossing flooded rivers and swollen streams where the depth is unknown, avoid driving on a road covered by water and be very cautious at night when it’s harder to recognise flood dangers. In case of severe thunderstorms, if outdoor, people should seek shelter immediately but must not not seek shelter under a tree or in isolated sheds as that puts people at the risk of lightning.

Unlike last year, most parts of the country have experienced heavy rains that have resulted in flooding and damage to property in some areas. Some people have also lost their lives while attempting to cross flooded rivers while others have been struck by lightning.

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