HomeAnalysis‘Brace for weather-related disasters’

‘Brace for weather-related disasters’

In southern Africa, weather-related disasters, previously linked to droughts, have since morphed into tropical and cyclonic rainfall culminating in flooding.

Zimbabwe and other southern African countries have endured disasters with the latest flooding caused by Tropical Storm Ana which left a trail of destruction in most flood-prone areas.

This current situation has put Zimbabwe’s state of preparedness under scrutiny.

University of Zimbabwe lecturer, Shamiso Hazel Mafuku, noted that since 2000, Zimbabwe has been affected by various cyclones which saw the destruction of infrastructure worth millions of United States dollars, loss of life and livestock.

“In my opinion, the state of preparedness and nature of response to cyclonic disasters seems to have improved over the years as there have been efforts by the Civil Protection Unit (CPU) in documenting and executing disaster risk management for adverse weather-related disasters such as cyclones and tropical storms.

“However, the experience of Cyclone Idai proved that the preparedness for and response to cyclonic disasters still has a number of gaps that must be filled.

When Cyclone Idai hit the country, there were delays in formal responses by the government and other external relief agencies,” Mafuku said.

She further noted that a general lack of adequate technical, financial and logistical capacities to respond to such disasters and the response approaches in use are more reactive than proactive.

Mafuku called for the establishment of evacuation procedures and command centres including speedy distribution of food relief before disasters strike.

Harare-based development consultant Trymore Muderere argued that cyclonic rainfall hazards were difficult to forecast in each rainfall season.

“Scientists are equally concerned with improving precision in detecting accurate patterns, channel of flow and impact hence the call for entrenching institutional disaster preparedness in nation states.

“Disaster preparedness is premised on prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery in emergency,” he said.

Although Muderere commended Zimbabwe for creating the necessary institutional framework for entrenching disaster management and preparedness, he said more still needs to be done.

He said there was a need for an evaluation of Zimbabwe’s level of preparedness in terms of how the country has managed prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery in emergency situations.

“With proper forecasting and preparedness, communities could have been relocated ahead of disaster.

The path of the cyclone had already been determined but Zimbabwe still witnessed a horror that speaks volumes to the level of preparedness as a country.

“In broad terms, a lot still needs to be done to ensure the country is prepared in managing cyclonic rainfall induced disasters.

The institutional framework for disaster management is there but the institutions need to be strengthened and resourced with human, financial and capital assets,” Muderere said.

He added that the CPU should be equipped with the latest technologies including high performance computers, geospatial software, attend conferences and benchmarking workshops while engaging the private sector and civic organisations.

The country, he argued, also needs to create and manage a disaster fund, subscribed to satellite missions, acquire long range drones for image acquisition and surveillance and develop national flood maps.

Professor Mulala Danny Simatele from the Global Change Institute and the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, also acknowledged that the region had made significant inroads in predicting and monitoring weather patterns while also speculating the effects of climate ahead of any potential disasters.

“As a region, what we have improved is monitoring of the storms and we are able to speculate their impact due to collaborative efforts among individual country’s meteorological departments.

“However, it is in adaptation that we are always failing and mostly this is due to various reasons including communication, resource mobilisation and infrastructure development among other shortcomings,” Simatele said.

He noted that the Sadc region was falling short in communicating with villagers in disaster-prone areas on the impact of storms heading towards their dwellings.

“There is a need for an effective communication system that prepares the people for an imminent disaster.

The information these days is usually getting to the people through social media but there is a lot of distrust in this form of communication,” he said.

Simatele further argued that there was a need to develop reliable national and regional communication systems that disseminate information to communities adding that the socio-economic standings of most Sadc countries have had a negative impact in disaster preparedness and adaptation.

He called for allocation of financial resources for equipment used in disaster management adding that rural and urban development planning was also critical.

“Unregulated human settlements are emerging on wetlands and swampy areas that act as natural drainage systems in low lying areas.

But these have since been destroyed by people building houses.

“Southern African countries should now invest in building drainage systems that protect people from flooding since all the natural drainage systems have been damaged,” he added.

The challenge for Zimbabwe and other southern African countries is improvement on disaster adaptation mechanisms such as budgeting for disaster management, enforcing environment management laws, investing in capacity building of technicians with requisite skills to build infrastructure that are resilient to flooding and other disasters.

As more roads suffer damage from effects of weather-related disasters there is also a need to build infrastructure that can weather the storms.

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