Time Govt revisits the Civil Protection Act

The Sunday Mail

At the time of going to Press, 31 lives had been lost while 80 were still missing in Chimanimani and Chipinge due to the Tropical Cyclone Idai which hit  Manicaland Province hard over the past two days.

Chimanimani was literally cut off from the rest of the provinces as most bridges were swept away.

The havoc-wrecking windy and foggy conditions compounded the situation for rescue teams which found it difficult to access affected areas.

While the weather inclement is understandable given the nature of the storm, questions have once again been raised about the country’s state of preparedness in times of disasters.

Both the Civil Protection Unit (CPU) and other Government departments yesterday seemed overwhelmed with the Member of Parliament  for Chimanimani East Constituency Joshua Sacco expressing grave concern about the unaccounted for people – some still trapped on some “island” or hanging on trees. The roads to access them are virtually impassable.

Although Zimbabwe has since 2015 registered significant progress in meeting the requirements of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction that seeks to boost countries’ resilience in the face of disasters, a lot still needs to be done to prevent the loss of lives.

The Sendai Framework sets out seven targets to improve livelihoods in a sustainable manner.

These are: understanding disaster risk, strengthening disaster risk governance, managing disaster risk and investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience and enhancing preparedness for effective response to “build back better” in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

The idea behind Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction is to ensure that risk reduction is mainstreamed and incorporated in the economic planning agenda of an individual country.

Judging from the manner in which the Civil Protection Unit reacted to the Tropical Cyclone Idai, there is a lot that still needs to be done.

There is evident need to revisit the country’s early warning stem.

Preparedness and responsiveness are separate parts of disaster management and as a country we seem to focus more on responsiveness rather than preparedness.

We surely need to be proactive and prepare for disasters most of which would have been predicted.

We surely cannot wait for a disaster to happen and then put in place reactionary measures.

There is need to construct huge waterways that divert water away from human settlements in case of disasters like Tropical Cyclone Idai.

Given that the storm was long predicted, the CPU and other relevant bodies should have prepared an information blitz on a daily basis through various platforms – phones, radio, newspapers and even through the education system. Teachers are normally useful conduits of national discourse, which they relay to students who will in turn tell their parents, some of whom are community leaders.

Agricultural Extension Officers are another useful medium through which critical information can be disseminated.

While it is a given that human risk to natural hazards can never be completely eliminated, there is need for a systematic preparedness that minimises the loss of lives.

What is needed are multi-sectorial and multi-dimensional measures to reduce vulnerability of communities.

Maybe the Government needs to revisit the Civil Protection Unit Act of 1989 with a view to identifying its strengths and limitations in building communities’ resilience to disasters.

From the face value, the major weaknesses of the Act point to its silence on community participation, unavailability of dedicated and adequate human and material resources, centralisation of power and resources and bias towards natural disasters rather than building capacity for resilience and vulnerability.

The Civil Protection Act thus needs to be aligned with international best practices that look at disaster prevention in a holistic manner.

However, that as it may, when disaster strikes it ceases to be the sole responsibility of Government. It is during such disasters that political affinities are discarded in favour of the national good of saving lives.

It is incumbent upon everyone not just to commiserate with families that have lost loved ones, livestock and property but to provide assistance in any way possible.

It is hoped that this disaster will provide adequate lessons for authorities to rethink and devise new ways of preparedness before another calamity strikes again.