BAGS full of sand are piled in front of gates of houses on the entire Rovambira Street in Zengeza 2, a residential area in the dormitory town of Chitungwiza.
For the whole of last week, the rain pounded the area incessantly, resulting in flash floods that have inflicted untold misery on residents in several residential areas in Zimbabwe. Rovambira Street was one of the worst affected.
The street is named after the black mamba, one of the fastest and deadliest snakes in the world. But for now, residents are not concerned about the black mamba or any other snake – floods are the source of danger.
Residents fear possible electrocution or that their children may drown in the huge pools of water in their backyards.
With no visible drainage system, residents depend on the sand bags to prevent water from flowing into their homes. Their efforts are in vain as water still finds a way into their homes although their efforts help to minimise the damage.
The residents’ misery is largely because the Chitungwiza Town Council has failed to clear drains in the area, over many years.
Some residents claimed the drains have been blocked for the last 10 years.
“Water flows from Hwata, Mazvimbakupa and Chidembo roads into this street because the drains have been blocked for the past 10 years. The water flows into our houses directly so we have to find other means of stopping it,” Gogo Wadi said.
“If it rains during the night we wake up to all sorts of garbage piled on our doorsteps, from used pampers and sanitary pads. It is just horrible.
“It’s a nightmare when the rains start pouring. We dash to switch off the electricity main switch as all the rooms can be affected by the water which in some cases can rise up to a metre, covering all the plugs. We move our belongings to higher ground and there is so much labour involved. It is such a relief to see the sun again at least we can sleep peacefully.”
The residents said efforts by the Chitungwiza Town Council and China Geo Engineering Corporation to rehabilitate the sewage system only made things worse as it destroyed what was left of the drainage system.
“We are surrounded by floods both at the front and back of our yards. We are just caught in between and there is nothing the council does. In fact, we live in the same street with a council engineer and he also resorted to putting sacks at the entrance. We just hope that this stagnant water will not give rise to water borne diseases,” another resident Douglas Chikafu said.
The problem of flooding due to poor drainage is not a Chitungwiza problem alone.
When a Zimbabwe Independent crew visited residents staying in a settlement built on wetland in Glen View 7 near Amalinda Park some were seen scooping water outside their houses using buckets.
The worst was a house belonging to a woman who identified herself as Mai Junior, which had developed a hole inside as a result of water oozing out, as if it was built on top of a natural spring.
“I have been removing water from the hole inside the house for two weeks. It started with small amounts of water getting in the house until the floor cracked. The water never dries from the hole and I am afraid because my children sleep in this room they might be exposed to diseases,” Mai Junior, who has three children aged between between six months and eight years, said.
In the past weeks, Zimbabwe experienced heavy continuous rains which have caused floods in many parts of the country.
While the rains have also increased projections of rising water levels in Zimbabwe’s numerous water sources which towards the end of last year had almost dried up, they have also brought misery to many residents in urban and rural areas.
Some maize and tobacco crops have been damaged, trees uprooted and many houses destroyed while livestock and other domestic animals have not been spared.
Most of the floods in urban areas have been blamed on the city fathers’ failure to repair drainage systems. Building on wetlands has also aggravated the situation.
Floods are not very common in most parts of Zimbabwe although they have been experienced periodically. One of the worst floods was caused by Cyclone Eline, which the country experienced in 2000, resulting in 136 deaths.
In 2003, Zimbabwe experienced Cyclone Japhet which killed seven people and swept away several bridges.
According to facts, tips and updates released by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) this week, the country has approximately 1 117 wetlands that cover 793 348 hectares or 1,5% of the land area. A total 60% of these wetlands are in communal and resettlement areas.
“The wetlands of Harare and Chitungwiza admittedly are under threat from infrastructural development such as malls, churches and houses. This has however negated and compromised the ability of wetlands to reduce flooding because the wetlands are being turned into concrete jungles,” EMA says.
“Naturally wetlands control and reduce flooding because of the sponge-like characteristics that they have which allow them to absorb excess water. Due to the normal and above rainfall currently being experienced in the country, people who have built on wetlands in areas such as Budiriro 5, Monavale, Chitungwiza, Marlborough among others, are battling with flash floods on a daily basis, which has been exacerbated by the construction on wetlands.”
Deputy director of the department of Civil Protection Sibusisiwe Ndlovu in an interview with this newspaper recently said most parts of the country had received very high inflows into the rivers, increasing the risk of flooding.
“Areas at high risk to flooding include the Middle Sabi, Chiredzi, areas near the confluence of Limpopo and Mzingwane and Mwenezi, Muzarabani has a moderate risk, Tsholotsho and parts of Gokwe must continue to be on the alert. Urban areas and some growth points tend to generate high run-off and are at risk,” Ndlovu said.
“To date 632 homesteads have been damaged with 63 families rendered homeless in Bulilima, Mangwe, Mutasa, Buhera, Mutare, Guruve and Mount Darwin. Other areas include Chitungwiza, Mbare among other urban centres and growth points.”
Harare City Council director of works Engineer Phillip Pfukwa on Tuesday said one way to stop the flooding was to always keep the city drains clean.
“I think one thing we have to accept is that so much rain in a little space of time causes flash floods and at times the drainage systems cannot cope. Secondly we have a lot of building taking place in areas that used to be open spaces. People are building in the wrong places without being allocated by authorities, for example houses on the opposite side of Lorraine drive (Bluffhill, Harare) and these are some of the issues we end up seeing; water getting into houses,” Pfukwa said.
“It is important that our drains are kept clean. Open drains must always be kept clean to reduce flooding. At the same time the city council should be consistent and collect garbage on time. The clearance of drainages is an ongoing process. It should be a daily thing that should happen throughout the year in preparation for the next rains. This is work that requires around US$3-4 million for the equipment to realign drains and redo pipework.”