The Sunday News
Vincent Gono, Features Editor
IN March 2017, a tropical storm ravaged through a number of villages in Tsholotsho District, Matabeleland North Province and rendered more than 1 000 people homeless.
Although no human life was lost owing to interventions by stakeholders, a lot of livestock was lost while foodstuffs, clothing items and other valuables including personal documents were destroyed.
Villagers were made to watch the battered vestiges of their homes in grief as they moved to shelter themselves temporarily at schools, clinics and churches, situated on high ground.
Those that were far from safe shelter ran to nearby hills. Others spent hours in trees where they were exposed to the vagaries of the rainy weather and developed diseases.
Three years down the line, some of the villagers are still to get decent accommodation and in a biblical analogy they are contemplating going back to Egypt — their former homesteads.
When plans to relocate the affected villagers from perennial flood areas to Tshino holding camp from where they were going to be resettled were mooted, they were naturally not met with open minds despite the troubles that the people were always facing.
Not all people were willing to relocate for different reasons that included but were not limited to historical attachment with their ancestral land and graves to fear of the unknown in new areas which they did not choose on their own.
They gave in amid convincing and promises by the Government that they were going to benefit Government-constructed houses, foodstuffs and other provisions. And true to its word Government immediately got to work and started building the houses.
But somewhere along the way, the project stalled. Shortage of funds was the cause. And it disappointed those that were supposed to benefit. Promises were fed to the beneficiaries and it kept them hopeful.
The passage of time, however, made a number of villagers lose hope. They became impatient. The year 2018 came and went with villagers living in the tents. Last year came and went and nothing was done. Luckily there were no floods. Promises were kept coming but little was done on the ground.
A number of villagers started deserting the camp and returning to reconstruct their flood ruined homes as the tents they are living in at the camp were old and experiencing wear and tear.
The Minister of Provincial Affairs for Matabeleland North, Cde Richard Moyo, confirmed in an interview with Sunday News that the villagers were going back to their homes where some were reconstructing what remained of their homes.
The reason, he said, was that the tents they were staying in were now old and wearing off while some have become threadbare, thereby exposing the villagers and their families to the vagaries of harsh weather.
He said they have been talking to partners such as Red Cross and others who have promised that they would provide the required tents although he admitted that tents were not the permanent solution.
“It is true that we are having a challenge of tents. The tents have become old and you know when they are old, they tear off easily. As a result, some of the villagers are resorting to going back to their original homes where they were evacuated after the floods.
“Some have been complaining that the camp is far from their fields. The Government is left with 69 houses to complete the project where it is building houses for the flood victims and those that are moving back are part of the 69 whose houses are yet to be completed,” said Minister Moyo.
He said they were discouraging the villagers from moving as the Government had not forgotten them.
“We are saying they should not move. They are not forgotten. We focused more on the serious problems posed by Cyclone Idai. Otherwise the Ministry of Local Government is aware of their plight. Officials from the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works recently visited the district and promised me that something was going to be done soon,” said Cde Moyo.
He added that they were also aware of the shortage of space at Tshino School where the number of pupils now far outnumbered the enrolment capacity. He said there was a need for three or four blocks as well as additional toilets.
Tsholotsho Rural District chairperson Councillor Esau Siwela said they were discouraging the villagers from moving to their old homes as they risked being marooned once again in the event of floods as the villages were in harm’s way on the banks of Gwayi River.
“The argument of those that have returned to their old homes is that the tents were now torn and the soils on the banks of Gwayi River are fertile and therefore good for cropping while others were saying they were far from their fields,” said Clr Siwela.
He said it was therefore difficult to stop the villagers from moving back to their old homes despite the risk of being affected by floods. The more than 1 000 affected villagers were moved to higher ground in Tshino and Sawudweni.
The Civil Protection Unit (CPU) that should deal with such is highly incapacitated. Its director Mr Nathan Nkomo says they are grossly underfunded making it difficult for them to fully execute their mandate.
He, however, reaffirmed the unit’s commitment and readiness to serve its mandate and ensure human life and property were protected.
Mr Nkomo said they have only received $5 410 000 of the $649 300 000 that they had budgeted for.
“This year we submitted a budget of $649 300 000 but due to competing needs in the Government we have only been availed
$5 410 000. The early warning systems are general and not specific, that is one of our challenges that we face so we need to strengthen ourselves in that aspect but this does not mean that they are not doing their job. They are trying their level best with the resources at their disposal.
“Unfortunately, our hotspots have changed and they are increasing in numbers due to climate change. We used to have eight hotspots in this country according to flood claim study done by our consultants plus one where Cyclone Idai occurred. Now we cannot tell, so there is need to update the information for the coverage of all areas that are now prone to the risk of flooding,” said Mr Nkomo.
He said they have activated all their structures and they were in the process of reviewing their state of preparedness and disbursing the money availed by the Government to districts.
“I am also happy by the level of co-operation from civil protection organisations such as the army, the police and many others who are offering so much help during disasters. We are also working with communities and traditional leaders.
“We have realised that there is need to strengthen our community-based disaster risk management. Each time there is a disaster our communities are the first ones to respond so in our co-ordination aspect we have included the traditional leaders because it is mandatory that they are part of our operations,” said Mr Nkomo.