The Sunday News
Khumbula Vodloza Sibanda
MDC leader, Mr Nelson Chamisa’s spokesperson, Dr Nkululeko Sibanda went to social media to blast the Government when Cyclone Idai hit the country.
When the cyclone hit the country, President Emmerson Mnangagwa was on a State visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Then the public broadcaster, ZBC News tweeted that “President Mnangagwa has cut short his visit to the UAE and is heading home to attend to #CycloneIdai challenges.” MDC member, Patson Dzamara, in an unexplained fit of rage responded by claiming the President should not have left the country in the first place.
The responses were typical of the barrage of insults that are hurled at both Government and President Mnangagwa each time a disaster strikes. But in all this, Government is not sitting on its laurels as implied by the detractors but is heavily involved in alleviating the situation through assisting victims of such disasters. It is evident it’s only a case of some citizens not being well informed of what Government has put in place in dealing with disasters.
On Sunday, 17 March 2019, an Inter-Ministerial Committee comprising Ministers Perrance Shiri, Joel Biggie Matiza, July Moyo and Dr Sekai Nzenza travelled to Mutare as part of mapping out the Government rescue plan. The four supervised the initial stages of the rescue operation.
In response to this disaster, treasury is in the process of disbursing $50 million for Emergency and Infrastructure Restoration. Allocations are as follows Civil Protection Unit ($3m), Roads Department for trunk roads and damaged bridges ($25m), restoration of rural feeder roads and other structures ($7,2m), education ($4m), health ($3m), water and sanitation ($4,8m) and electricity ($1m). Government put in place the Civil Protection Act (Chapter 10:06) in 1989 which guides all disaster risk reduction (DRR) activities in the country. The Act saw the creation of the Civil Protection Unit (CPU) which is an Inter-Ministerial Committee that deals with disasters when they occur around the country.
Disasters which the CPU was created to deal with are both natural and man-made in their manifestation. These include road and rail traffic accidents, cyclones, floods, drought and lightning. There are also biological hazards (epidemics) namely: malaria and cholera. Animal epidemics cover foot and mouth, zoonotics, anthrax and rabies. Zimbabwe, being a crop country, is also affected by crop pests such as army worm and quelea birds while, geological hazards touch on earthquakes, landslides and environmental degradation.
Previously Government through the CPU was instrumental in assisting victims during Cyclone Eline (February 2000), Cyclone Japhet (March 2003), Cyclone Cela (2013), Cyclone Dineo (February 2017), Tokwe-Mukosi floods (2014) and various road traffic accidents.
As a way forward, Government in light of the climate change and global warming may need to put in place a permanent structure which is fully constituted, sufficiently manned, well resourced and solely dedicated to that role only. The CPU could be transformed into a stand-alone department reporting directly to the Office of the President and Cabinet. Past experiences have shown that assembling this committee in the face of a disaster takes long as committee members would be committed to other duties, slowing down response time and leading to unnecessary loss of life and property.
As a starting point, the CPU could craft a comprehensive disaster management strategy (DMS) which would form a template to be followed when dealing with different disasters at any given time. A simple DMS could focus on mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. Mitigation works on minimising the effects of disaster, preparedness deals with planning on how best to respond. The response focuses on efforts to minimise the resultant hazards which come as a result of the disaster. Finally the recovery aspect would see to it that after dealing with the disaster, life for the affected community returns to normal with the provision of temporary housing, grants and medical care among other things.
Proper civic education division needs to be created within the CPU to educate members of the community about the dangers that might befall them at that particular time which could be floods, veld fires, road traffic accidents and floods. Communities need continuous education on how to avoid certain actions during their day to day way of life which might endanger them.
Continuous training needs to be carried out for all members of the CPU to ensure that they are able to deal with disasters of any nature. Before calling for external help, the CPU should be able to deal with disasters. Outreach training of District CPU manpower would be ideal so that they would be able to carry out continuous assessment of possible disasters as well as squashing them before they degenerate into large scale ones.
In terms of funding, there is need to increase the Unit’s budget. In 2019, the CPU was allocated $2,36 million to deal with disasters during the 2019 financial year. Budgets in the region of $20 million would be ideal so that response would be immediate, swift and effective without necessarily extending the begging bowl to the corporate world and other non-State actors.
The CPU should also work hand in glove with organisations such as the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe (TSCZ), the Red Cross Society, First Early Warning Network (FEWSNET), the Meteorological Services Department (MSD), local authorities and District Administrators’ offices among others. These organisations would share information for swift execution of duties and preparation purposes ahead of disasters.
Resource mobilisation is another important aspect. In order to be ever ready to deal with disasters, materials to be used such items as dry foods, tents, water bowsers and buckets, blankets, cooking utensils, plates and cups, among others should be readily available. Medication and related equipment need to be at hand so that victims of any disaster are immediately treated. Other resources include those that are used to carry out the actual rescue operation such as motor vehicles and helicopters for transport, ambulances, fire tenders, water pumps and electricity generator sets among others.
The crafting of a piece of legislation which empowers Zimra to channel at least ten percent (10%) of goods that it forfeits at ports of entry to CPU to build stocks as part of disaster preparedness strategy. The corporate world that would have assisted in dealing with disasters could also be incentivised in the form of a certain percentage which will not be taxed. The move would encourage companies to assist in times of need. The example of Econet Wireless Zimbabwe best suits this scenario. In 2018, Econet donated $10 million towards the cholera outbreak and this time around it has so far raised $5 million for the Chimanimani disaster victims.
Construction of warehouses at both provincial and district level for material storage should be prioritised. These warehouses would be used to stock a minimum quantity of relief food and materials for use when disaster strikes while the rest of relief materials would be hauled to affected regions. Shelter to house the victims is also needed and this could take the form of dormitory like buildings.
Between 1982 and 2011, drought has been regarded as the most common hazard in the country. The droughts came on the backdrop of the warm El-Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in the Pacific Ocean whose occurrence was every two years. Drought-prone areas are those in natural farming Regions 4 and 5 which cover Masvingo, Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South Provinces. These droughts have resulted in loss of water for agricultural, industrial and domestic use. A well-crafted DMS should be able to mitigate the effects of such droughts.
No one can halt the fury of a natural disaster. Government and other stakeholders can only mitigate its devastating effects through well thought out planning which can only be achieved by having an excellent DMS in place.