ZIMBABWE: Imminent danger of floods

HARARE,- Zimbabwe's Civil Protection Unit (CPU) is warning communities, especially in the Midlands, Mashonaland Central and both north and south Matabeleland provinces, that there is a likelihood of flooding.

At immediate risk is the flood-prone Muzarabani district, a low lying area in the Zambezi Basin in Mashonaland Central Province, where there have been reports that rivers have already broken their banks. At least 21 people died in floods in the district in 2008.

"Our focus is to promote disaster preparedness at the local level and reduce over-reliance on helicopters, which are in short supply. These local strategies include knowledge of river flow [and] areas that are likely to experience flooding," CPU director Madzudzo Pawadyira told The Herald, a daily newspaper.

Teams comprising CPU officers, police diving units, hydrologists and officials from the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) were dispatched in November 2010 to flood-prone areas, including Tsholotsho in Matabeleland North, Gokwe in the Midlands and Kanyemba in Mashonaland Central to assess flood preparedness.

The Meteorological Services Department said heavy rains were being experienced across the country, even in the usually arid provinces of Matabeleland and Masvingo. The Kariba Dam on the Zambezi River has already opened its floodgates.

The country’s financial constraints have put the focus on flood preparedness as its rescue abilities were limited.

Impassable roads

"Rains have been falling continuously for three weeks in Dotito [in Mashonaland Central] and the rivers are full. My younger brother drowned while tracking his cattle that had strayed on to the other side of the river,” Samuel Zirove, 70, told IRIN.

“A villager who had accompanied him and survived told us that my brother had just entered the river when it suddenly swelled and drowned him," he said.

''My younger brother drowned while tracking his cattle that had strayed on to the other side of the river''

Zirove travelled 80km to the administrative town of Mount Darwin, about 180km northeast of the capital, Harare, to obtain a death certificate for his 45-year-old brother. The journey took two days because he had to travel on foot after floodwater made roads and bridges impassable to vehicles.

He lost another close relative to floodwater in 2007, and said villagers in his district were aware of the danger from the heavy rains but assumed that there would be no flooding.

"The rains fall in an unpredictable way these days. Even though we have been experiencing heavy rains, we thought that they would go away, as was the case last year [2010]. No-one warned us about the danger of floods this year."

Zirove said the villagers had not relocated and most wanted to stay to tend their crops, and were reluctant to abandon the graves of their ancestors. The higher ground also had poorer soil and there was a greater threat of danger from wild animals.

"I don’t see us moving unless a major disaster strikes. Where would we go, and who will give us the material to start building new homes? What will happen to the children who have to go to school? The government should have made plans for people from areas such Dotito, Muzarabani and Kanyemba, which have been affected by floods long back," he said.

Itai Moyo, 26, a teacher in the Midlands district of Gokwe, told IRIN that she had temporarily returned to Harare to live with her parents because she could not work after rains caused "several classrooms to collapse", and it was decided that it was no longer safe for the school to continue operating.