The Sunday Mail
Sunday Mail Reporter
When the heavens opened up in Binga, Matabeleland North, last week, what initially began as light showers progressively turned into a deluge reminiscent of last year’s devastating Cyclone Idai, which wrecked Chimanimani and parts of Chipinge.
At least 34 families were displaced, while one person died from the flash floods. While the country managed to trigger its early warning systems through the Meteorological Services Department in Binga, many people were still affected owing to the location of the settlements and weak housing structures.
Most houses caved-in or were washed away as a result.
“Although these natural occurrences are unavoidable at least something can be done to mitigate the risks associated with such floods, especially in rural areas,” said Mr Nyasha Takawira Mutsindikwa, a University of Zimbabwe lecturer in the Department of Rural and Urban planning.
“Rural settlements are at risk mostly because of lack of proper physical planning and enforcement of building standards.
“This is evidenced in some villages where houses are not properly sited due to inadequate information about the topography of the area.”
It is believed that limited resources often result in communities using materials that may fail to resist natural disasters. Going forward, Mr Mutsindikwa adds, there is a need to change the structure of rural settlements, especially at the village level.
“We need to move away from the scattered type of settlement patterns to the cluster form of settlements which have the potential of enabling easy monitoring of building standards by households in villages.
“The location appropriate for the cluster form of settlements can be chosen after a careful site analysis by planners and other built environment professionals taking into consideration the on-farm or non-farm livelihood activities of the households.”
Experts agree that rural communities need to modernise their housing structures by using standard building materials and appropriate technologies to minimise the effects of disasters.
Wood, steel, stones, sand, cement, iron sheets and asbestos are some of the commonly used building materials for constructing durable housing structures.
In 2018, the then Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing spearheaded the crafting of the Zimbabwe National Human Settlement Policy to direct rural housing issues, among other things.
The policy acknowledged that settlements in rural areas are not resilient enough in the event of natural disasters. It notes that there is inadequate development control in urban and rural local authority areas, weak integration of institutions and absence of robust regulatory instruments.
“Settlements are also lacking in early warning systems, disaster response capabilities and established recovery-development pathways,” reads the policy.
Despite the policy being in place for close to two years, it has so far failed to inspire a change of attitude when dealing with rural housing issues.
Space satellite technology
Government, however, intends to tap into space satellite technology to identify safe places to settle people.
Already, there are efforts that are being spearheaded by the Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency (ZINGSA) — which was launched by President Mnangagwa in 2018 — to map hazard zones in Zimbabwe.
Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development Minister Professor Amon Murwira recently told The Sunday Mail that future settlements would be guided by geo-mapping.
“One of the projects being done by ZINGSA is to map hazard zones in Zimbabwe. After Cyclone Idai, we have to look again at Chimanimani and determine places that are dangerous and those that are safe for human settlement. We were given this task by Government and $936 000 has been allocated towards that.
“They have created a map already, marking areas likely to flood, trigger landslides and so forth. Satellite and drone technology was used to come up with this map. So next time when authorities are trying to settle people, they will avoid all the areas marked unsafe,” he said.
It has also emerged that local authorities are not capacitated to act on early warning systems and they take too long to respond to disasters.
Investigations by The Sunday Mail show that some local authorities do not even have a working plan on how to respond to disasters.
The Civil Protection Unit argues that it does not have adequate resources to upgrade its early warning systems. The CPU director Mr Nathan Nkomo says the rapid assessment team is still on the ground and in control of the unfolding situation in Binga.
“They are monitoring the situation in all low-lying areas, people are advised to report incidents of floods or damage of property to ward risk and disaster management committees as and when they occur,” he said.
“We are also looking at the possible relocation of affected families backed by a strong rural housing delivery programme to address the issues of substandard materials used.
“The same exercise was done in Tsholotsho and we have not received cases of flooding affecting households in that area,” he said.