We must improve on disaster preparedness

HARARE - The harrowing pictures of flood victims, ruined property and stranded stock in Tokwe-Mukorsi have brought home the damage the forces of nature can wreak on communities.

We must expect this extreme weather to become more frequent, made worse by the warming of the atmosphere. The Tokwe-Mukorsi floods remind us that the real issue is intensity.

We have to prepare, not just for too much water, but too little; not just for rain but for record tides.

The cost of adaptation to the effects of climate change is significant and so far hardly recognised.

It’s all too typical of our short-term perspectives as a nation that so many have concentrated on easy answers and facile blame. We won’t solve our problems by indiscriminate dredging or appealing for assistance from the international community.

It’s not a simple matter of resources. We have to have a programme of long-term adaptation that enables us to cope with these fundamental and irreversible changes.

The government last week appealed for $19,7 million from the international community to meet urgent humanitarian needs for the Tokwe-Mukorsi Dam basin disaster.

Ignatious Chombo, the Local Government minister, said the cash was needed for food, tents, non-food items, emergency medical supplies, logistical support for search rescue, evacuation and delivery of relief, construction of schools, six primary and two secondary schools, urgent relocation and preparation, urgent infrastructure development including clinics, boreholes and dip tanks.

About 20 000 people within the dam basin are at high risk while another 40 000 downstream are at medium risk of flooding.

Government needs to plan for increased spending on flood prevention.

The current shortfall in spending is regrettable, given the human tragedy.

We need to find the proper resources for flood prevention. Beyond capital spending, we will need much more fundamental change.

Both flooding and the effects of drought are made significantly worse by some modern farming practices.

The compaction of the soil means less absorption of rainfall. When the rainfall is too little, the aquifers are not sufficiently replenished. When it’s too much, the run-off swells the rivers and makes flooding worse.

With so much more land being drained, the quantity of water driving down our watercourses is much increased and simply overwhelms their carrying capacity.

The historic methods of flood alleviation — of wash meadows and other soft defences — have largely been abandoned and we are not encouraging the kind of cultivation higher up our rivers that can help to hold back the water.

We have to act now to protect Zimbabwe against the effects of the changes — the flooding, storms and drought that will become more frequent and severe.

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