The Sunday Mail
CYCLONE Idai made landfall on March 14 last year and yesterday marked a year since the climate-induced shock hit seven districts across Zimbabwe, of which Chimanimani and Chipinge bore the brunt of the disaster. As the magnitude of the disaster unfolded, the Government led efforts to restore the lives of the cyclone-affected. One of the critical areas of concern was delivering emergency food relief. Our Online News Editor, GARIKAI MAZARA (GM) sat down with the World Food Programme (WFP’s) Country Director, MR EDDIE ROWE (ER), to understand the scope of the relief efforts and the experiences drawn from the past year.
GM: One year later, have we done enough to help the people of Chimanimani and Chipinge, the most ravaged areas by Cyclone Idai?
ER: We are happy with what we have achieved and done, from Government efforts, the non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the private sector and the public, the response and support towards Cyclone Idai was overwhelming.
You will recall that in the first week of Cyclone Idai hitting, the primary focus was to save lives. Some tragically lost their lives but the concerted efforts to save lives were encouraging.
To those who survived, the next phase was dealing with psychological trauma, food and shelter.
WFP, alongside other agencies like the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and the Red Cross were the first responders.
Within the first five days of the cyclone, about three metric tonnes of food had been airlifted because most of the areas were inaccessible by roads. And within the first six weeks, focus had shifted to the provision of non-food items.
But all along in the response, focus was on the most vulnerable, including children, and pregnant and lactating women, as we wanted to prevent the deterioration of their nutritional levels.
GM: In retrospect, what lessons can be drawn from Cyclone Idai? What could we have done better?
ER: Indeed, a disaster as big as Cyclone Idai cannot be without lessons and there are a number of them.
First and foremost is the critical role of coordination.
The disaster taught all of us that coordination plays a big role in responsiveness. Special commendation has to go to Minister July Moyo for stabilising the ship in the aftermath of the cyclone.
Second lesson is how to get critical information to the lowest rungs of communities. I remember the Meteorological Services Department issued an advisory on Cyclone Idai some five days before the disaster, but when we got to the affected people, they said they had not heard anything. This got everyone thinking: how do we communicate effectively with at-risk communities of such information next time?
Third was the birth of a national responsiveness coordination committee, which is a multi-agency approach to prepare and respond to climate-induced shocks.
GM: As this might not be the last of such natural disasters, how prepared is the country going forward?
ER: Whereas previously such shocks would come probably once in a decade, the frequency of climate-induced shocks has since risen. I have been here four years only — except for 2018, all the other years have seen erratic rainfall patterns.
When we look at climate-induced shocks, we are not limiting ourselves to cyclones alone, but droughts, floods, earthquakes, etcetera.
Borne out of Cyclone Idai has been the draft national disaster mitigation plan, which seeks to, among other issues, enhance the capacity of the Civil Protection Unit, decentralise its services and outreach in every province, focussing on preparedness. Such efforts involve the Government, the private and public sectors and NGOs.
GM: Do we have figures, the affected and displaced, from Cyclone Idai?
ER: Though the WFP has helped about 180 000 with food aid, the number of those displaced and affected by the cyclone goes up to 270 000 people across seven districts.
GM: If WFP has helped 180 000 people, what has happened to the other 90 000?
ER: You might be aware that on a national scale, we are reaching almost every corner of the country, complementing Government efforts in mitigating the effects of the current drought, trying to ensure that almost every household is food-secure.
So those who do not fall within the immediate response plan for Cyclone Idai, they are covered by our national response.
Out of the 7,7 million (5,5 million rural and 2,2 million urban) food-insecure people, we are trying to reach 4,1 million by April.
By February we had reached 3,5 million people in rural areas and 100 000 in urban settings. This March, we intend to up those figures to 3,7 million rural dwellers.
GM: How much is this in terms of financial need, to feed all these people?
ER: The initial budget was US$395 million to cover up to June 2020 and we currently have a shortfall of US$104 million. These figures are informed by the latest rapid response exercise that we carried out as a follow-up to the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee report. The WFP relies mainly on voluntary contributions and we have to be grateful to the donor community for coming to the table when the need has been this high.
GM: Back to Cyclone Idai, aren’t you spoiling the survivors by giving them hand-outs? How do we safeguard their life-long ambitions? Instead of giving out fish, are you teaching them how to fish?
ER: That is where the humanitarian development nexus comes in. When you go on the ground, you will find that there are several projects and efforts, not solely by WFP but a multi-sectorial approach, through the World Bank-funded Zimbabwe Idai Response Project, to re-construct the lives of the people of Chimanimani and Chipinge.
From drilling of boreholes, building of weir dams, dip tanks, fodder gardens, nutritional gardens, reconstruction of roads and bridges to the growing of drought-tolerant crops like sorghum and cowpeas, these are all efforts to engage the communities, that they should be ready and prepared when another climate-induced shock happens.
Our expectations should not be trained on another cyclone, maybe it is going to be drought, of which we have already seen that this season the rains have not been evenly distributed. So we have focussed on growing drought-tolerant crops, such that communities should not always look at maize, because the rains are not there for maize.
GM: Indeed, knowledge is power . . .
ER: True that. We have not limited ourselves to just rebuilding community assets, but also to broaden the scope to include social behavioural communication strategies, nutrition and WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene). In fact, we have been engaging communities to improve on their life-long knowledge in day-to-day life.
For instance, stunting stands at 26 percent nationwide, which is considerably a worrying figure and we are engaged in attending to malnutrition so that children under five years get to achieve their full potential in life.
GM: Any misgivings? Any areas that we could have done better in response to Cyclone Idai?
ER: Though there have been efforts to provide shelter and even relocate the victims, that reaction has been a bit slow. For instance, a year later, we have people still living in tents. I have not been to Chimanimani in about three months now but I am informed that the houses which were being built 10-12km from Chimanimani are yet to be completed. Whereas the food response was rapid, providing about 80 percent of food provisions, the response to shelter has not been what it should be.