Flood victims struggle to adjust to camp conditions

HARARE - Four young men sit on a rock with their eyes fixed on the dry plains of Chingwizi transit camp.

Their hopes of a bright day quickly fade as reality hits them.

Each day they rise to hopelessness. 

“We feel like we are in jail at this settlement,” said Tinashe Chinema, 30. “We cannot do any work and we cannot go anywhere. This is frustrating and I cannot sleep in the afternoon because of the heat.”

Chinema is among hundreds of young men at the transit camp who were recently brought here because their homes were washed away in the Tokwe-Mukorsi dam flood basin.

There are thousands of flood victims here. And they look miserable as they ponder their next move. Together with village mates Johnface Mazungunye, 25, Abel Mazungunye, 18 and Munyaradzi Masunda, 42, are bitter at how nature has changed their lives.

They say they used to live a real life. They used to own gardens, livestock and were proud owners of maize fields.

Also they had their own houses, blankets, food and boreholes.

Now they have nothing and have to look to donors and well-wishers for everything, from mealie-meal, salt to relish. It is 8am at Chingwizi transit camp and it already feels like midday due to the sweltering heat. Villagers in the camp have been up early with most of them joining queues for food, clothing and water rations.

Long winding queues are forming as the villagers access their daily supplies.

A number of men are seen sitting under trees as they chat away or simply stare oblivious of what is happening in the camp.

As we wander around the camp, we are drawn to the water queue where women are ready to receive the precious liquid being delivered by a Unicef bowser.

And as the women push and shove in anticipation of quickly getting to the water tap, two men labour to marshal the queue.

Water here is scarce and the women cannot hide their frustration at the meagre rations they are receiving which they believe is not enough for their household needs.

“It’s not that we are not grateful for the water we are receiving, but some of us have more than six children and the two buckets we are receiving per day are not enough to cater for all our needs,” said Chipo Masikati, 39.

While a number of boreholes have been sunk around the camp, the villagers complain that the water is salty and not fit for human consumption. Some of the villagers are instead using this borehole water for other uses, with a few only drinking it when in dire need.

The unavailability of clean drinking and cooking water has forced some women to travel several kilometres to farm compounds outside the estate to fetch the precious liquid.

And the queues never seem to end as, barely a few metres away, other women are queuing to receive porridge rations, while others queue to receive second-hand clothing.

Inside the camp, volunteers and officials are always busy running up and down from the coordination centre where donors arrive with different supplies.

An Econet booster proudly stands at the coordination centre as those in the camp communicate with the outside world.

Going around the camp, one would have a foreboding sense of helplessness.

Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, the minister of State for Masvingo Province, said some villagers are being diagnosed with stress-related illnesses at the clinic. He said villagers were used to working in their fields but now there is nothing much to do.

Some villagers engage in work around the camp, digging and helping around, but this is not enough to occupy them.

Some men have taken to drinking opaque beer, sold for a dollar in the camp and according to them, the beer is meant to relieve stress.

A woman called Chipo Madhura died at the camp last week, her husband, Phillip Hambure was engrossed in grief saying he did not know where he would bury his wife.

“Our home was swept away by the flood in Tokwe-Mukorsi so I cannot bury her there, I cannot also bury her in this camp because it is not proper,” he said. “I will ask her relatives to bury her at their place.”

Hambure said his wife did not complain of any pain or health complications before her death but just frothed on the mouth before she died.

Some enterprising villagers have taken to selling vegetables and soya mince. Others are selling clothes and footwear at a makeshift flea market while others have put up tuckshops where they are selling different wares.

However, despite a semblance of order at the camp, one feels sorry for villagers who are sleeping out in the open. Heavy rains that poured last week swept away some tents and left the villagers out in the open.

Food is another big problem at the camp as villagers are only being offered maize-meal with a packet of kapenta and beans.

Chipo Masikati, 39, a mother of six, said her children eat sadza with only sugar or salt.

“We have to eat to survive,” she said. “But it is a difficult in the camp. We used to eat well in the village.”

Bhasikiti said the food situation was dire at the camp and the villagers risk starvation. He said the camp has food that would reach only the first week of April.

Besides the food crisis, life was dreary in the camp. Villagers complained of long hours at meetings with village heads. The authorities advise village heads on developments and then this is cascaded down to villagers.

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