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Cyclone Idai: Zimbabwe’s disaster preparedness worrisome

Cyclone Idai

Cyclone idai painted a worrying picture about Zimbabwe’s disaster preparedness and risk management framework, Miriam Chikukwa, the Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Local Government, Public Works and National Housing has said.

This emerged at a Cyclone Idai stakeholder discussant dialogue meeting organised by Oxfam in Zimbabwe to commemorate the World Humanitarian Day – a day set aside this year to celebrate female humanitarians. This was in line with the fact that Oxfam acknowledges and places women at the core of development and  humanitarian interventions.
“The Cyclone Idai disaster exposed the deep crevices that have been etched in our disaster management framework. It is therefore imperative that we as legislators, join hands with other stakeholders in formulating a sound, robust and evidence based legislative framework that will protect the sanctity of human life.
“Firstly, Cyclone Idai revealed to us that climate change is not a foreign or European phenomenon but one whose impact has been increasingly seen in Zimbabwe and the rest of the developing world. While there have been many theories to explain cyclone idai, thefirm hand of climate change is evident and cannot continue to be ignored. As such, the impetus is upon us legislators, together with the relevant line ministries to develop a robust framework on climate change and the mitigation of its adversities,” Chikukwa said.
On the second point, Chikukwa added that the disaster exposed the deep holes in Zimbabwe’s readiness framework: “It is true that communication about the impending cyclone was sent out to people in the path of the cyclone. The communication further advised people to move to higher ground. However, there was no plan in place to evacuate those who were at risk. A leaf can be drawn from Canada where there is an air and land evacuation policy in the face of such calamitous events.”
The cyclone awakened stakeholders to the discrepancy in the health sector. The District Development Coordinator in Chimanimani revealed that there was no district hospital in Chimanimani. In addition, the mortuary which is in the area can only hold no more than four bodies. As such, during the peak of the disaster, victims were transferred to Chipinge and Mutambara hospitals. Chikukwa said that was in dissonance with the ministry of health policy that states that health facilities should be within 8 kilometres radius of a community.

Dr. Jabusile Shumba, Oxfam Zimbabwe’s acting country Director reiterated the importance of this year’s theme that celebrates female aid workers who sacrifice everything, including their lives to deliver much needed assistance to vulnerable communities around the world.

“Notably, women are also often the first-time responders, and sadly their roles and voices are not given their place and their agency unrecognised. Oxfam is committed to ensure the humanitarian response system needs to challenge, than reinforce this inequality,” Dr. Shumba said.

Oxfam joined government efforts, working with development partners among the first responders to the Cyclone Idai disaster. Cyclone Idai has been recorded as the worst tropical cyclones on record to affect Africa and the Southern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, Idai currently ranks as the second-deadliest tropical cyclone on record, behind the 1973 Flores cyclone that killed 1,650 off the coast of Indonesia.

The long-lived storm caused catastrophic damage in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, leaving more than 1,300 people dead and many more missing. In Zimbabwe, 341 were reported dead, 344 missing, and at-least 1654 catered for as internally displaced persons. Oxfam has been responding in Chimanimani and Chipinge offering lifesaving assistance in three sectors i.e. EFSVL, WASH and Gender and Protection reaching thousands in need of assistance.

“As we celebrate humanitarian aid workers let’s not forget the communities themselves are their own first time responders. Oxfam recognises the important role of government and local community structures as vital to ensure sustainability of response interventions, recovery and capacity to respond to future disasters In this desire, Oxfam commissioned a study to examine the impacts and review of the disaster response, to generate lessons and policy implications focusing on disaster risk preparedness, disaster response and disaster recovery. With increasing climate change and variability so are risks of climatic hazards, which sometimes turn into disasters because of poor preparedness,” Dr Shumba added.

In his analysis of the impact, responses and the implications for Post-Disaster Institutional Development in Zimbabwe, Dr. Kudzai Chatiza from the Development Governance Institute said there is need for a paradigm shift from the current national dependence on climate-sensitive land and related resources for development which makes the country increasingly vulnerable in such disasters like cyclone Idai.

“On the other hand, the policies and regulations for civil protection are inadequate. The Civil Protection Act (1989) is ill-adapted to current disaster risk reduction or disaster risk management (DRR/DRM) context. The public sector institutions are technically, financially and logistically under-resourced, thereby weakening the early warning, response planning and implementation capabilities to disasters. The national framework and practice characterised by disaster response focus is not a proactive approach. The socio-economic and institutional performance of our disaster preparedness is weakened by years of regression that undermines resilience at all levels. It is regrettable that relevant reforms are still pending. For example, the proposed Disaster Risk Management legislation is outstanding since 2011,” Dr. Chatiza said.




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Byron Adonis Mutingwende