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Zimbabwe: Lest We Forget Cyclone Idai

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African Agenda

With only a few days left to end a tumultuous year that was characterised by upheavals, multitudes of people are geared to celebrate the New Year in style in anticipation of a better and promising 2021.

Many would naturally want to forget 2020, a year that saw the world coming down on its knees as it battled the devastating effects of Covid-19.

With nearly two million people having succumbed to Covid-19 and 80 million testing positive to the virus, planning festivities as the year comes to an end is the most sensible thing to do.

However, the anticipated festivities could end prematurely amid reports that some parts of Southern Africa are set to be hit by a tropical storm that is building up in the Indian Ocean and could make landfall in Madagascar this weekend before proceeding to the Mozambique channel early next week.

Dubbed Cyclone Chalene, which will be characterised by gusty winds and heavy rains that will result in flooding, the tropical storm is expected to affect several African countries among them Mozambique, Malawi, Madagascar and Zimbabwe.

Already there are reports that Cyclone Chalene could hit Beira on December 30 and eastern Zimbabwe a day later, a development which calls for the country to be on high alert and avoid the tragedy witnessed during Cyclone Idai last year

However, it appears reports of an impending cyclone have not reached the ears of many, particularly the media, which is busy burrowing through their archives for year-enders and have not had enough time to unpack the implications of a cyclone of such magnitude hitting the country again.

Even the locals who should be preparing for early evacuation if the need arises are surfing the internet with the scepticism and great fascination reminiscent of the time Cyclone Idai hit the shores of Zimbabwe, when everyone was caught unaware.

Despite the early warning reports that some parts of southern Africa — Zimbabwe included — residents in the projected areas and those entrusted in ensuring the safety of the public took time to plan and respond to an impending disaster, resulting in loss of lives.

When Cyclone Idai hit of Zimbabwe with such unimaginable velocity in March 2019, bringing heavy rains and strong winds that triggered flooding and landslides that left 340 people dead, hundreds missing, and a trail of destruction that the Government and other stakeholders continue to rehabilitate.

Schools, crops and infrastructure such as bridges were destroyed, particularly in Chipinge and Chimanimani.

Help was sent, but it was too late to salvage the situation.

It was a case of closing the gate, long after the horses had bolted.

The country’s last brush with Cyclone Ida taught us many lessons that we need to constantly introspect on, while strengthening our state of preparedness to any natural disasters which are increasingly becoming regular owing to the effects of climate change.

It remains important to have a template for disaster preparedness and management because of the increase in cyclones and other extreme weather phenomenons like droughts and floods, a clear indication of the intensifying effects of climate change.

The template should proffer short- and long-term mitigating measures, that are ably supported with adequate resources – both human and financial.

After the devastating impact of Cyclone Idai, the Government will need to go back to its drawing board and review the adaptive strategies currently in place, and see how these can be improved in line with what is currently on the ground.

If in the earlier disaster, the Government had mobilised resources early enough, there might be need to effectively be resourceful in the event of a disaster.

Mobilisation of resources is a critical component in disaster management, with billions of dollars needed to save live in the event that Zimbabwe finds itself under siege from the ravaging effects of climate change.

With the existence of the National Climate Policy and the National Climate Change Responsive Strategy – two guiding documents that need to guide the country and highlight the prominence that climate change needs to have, mobilising resources towards such a noble cause should not be a problem.

The rate at which natural disasters are becoming a regular occurrence, financing such unexpected disasters cannot continue to be the Government’s responsibility alone, but should also have takers from the private sector and individuals, whose motivation goes beyond profit and are patriotic enough to see Zimbabwe moving ahead.

During Cyclone Idai, the majority of companies in the private sector, charity organisations, churches and individuals exhibited a high degree of Ubuntu when they descended on Chimanimani, with all they could lay their hands on to alleviate the situation that left thousands homeless and badly in need of relief supplies.