Zvamaida Murwira and George Maponga
President Mugabe has declared the flooding that threatens over 60 000 families downstream of Tokwe-Murkosi Dam, Masvingo, a state of disaster. The declaration enables Government to mobilise more resources to assist affected families that have had their homes, food and other belongings swept away by the floods.Much effort will go towards a large-scale evacuation.
The Meteorogical Services Department has warned that a deep and very active low pressure system that entered Zimbabwe rapidly on Thursday night was bringing more heavy rains to most parts of the country.
The state of disaster was announced by Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister Dr Ignatius Chombo in Harare yesterday. Dr Chombo said water levels at Tokwe-Murkosi Dam rapidly rose to 671m above sea level on Monday last week, creating a flood emergency that threatened almost 20 000 people in the basin.
“On February 4, the water level was five metres from overflowing thus extending the scope and extent of the emergency by threatening a further 40 000 people downstream. Heavy incessant rains are set to continue in the catchment,” he said.
“Given the magnitude of the threat to extensive flooding, His Excellency, the President Cde RG Mugabe has declared a state of disaster in regard to the basin of Tokwe-Murkosi Dam, and areas downstream as far as the Triangle area.”
Minister Chombo said the declaration was in terms of Section 27 of the Civil Protection Act (Chapter 10:06). He said communities downstream of Tokwe-Murkosi Dam along Tokwe River and its tributaries were at risk.
“They are required to immediately move to at least five kilometres from the river bank and seek higher ground,” he said. “Those in the river basin must continue to make their way to designated pick up points in their areas for easy evacuation.”
Minister Chombo said the Cabinet Committee on Civil Protection would meet this morning for a debriefing and head to Masvingo for an on-site assessment. A visit by The Herald to Tokwe-Murkosi yesterday revealed a humanitarian crisis in the making as Government battles to evacuate more than 2 200 families whose homes were submerged in the catchment area.
An Air Force of Zimbabwe helicopter was assisting in the evacuation of 46 families trapped in the flood basin. Hundreds of families have been sleeping in the open for nearly a week at three transit camps ahead of relocation to Nuanetsi Ranch.
There are growing fears of disease outbreaks and malnutrition owing to a shortage of clean water and food. A crippling food shortage has hit the three transit camps in Gunikuni, Zunga and Kushinga, as more people flock to these places.
“We need help to rebuild our lives because most of our property was swept away by floods,” said Mrs Pauline Chipato, a mother of two from Jahwa Village. Government must do something to help us start again.”
Mrs Margaret Mudyazvivi from Zifunzi Village said she lost all her household property and was now near-destitute.
“I was not at home when I received a call from neighbours that my entire homestead was getting submerged in water and when I rushed back I failed to salvage anything,” she said.
“Items such as solar panels and beds were destroyed by the water and I have to start afresh.”
At Kushinga Transit Camp near Ngundu Growth Point, soldiers and the police were erecting tents for hundreds of families and assisting others to move their property.
Masvingo provincial administrator and chairman of the Tokwe-Murkosi relocation co-ordinating committee Mr Felix Chikovo said they had only 17 vehicles for evacuations.
“We need more trucks and we have already sent a request to Government for the trucks fleet to more than double to nearly 40,’’ he said.
Satellite schools and clinics are being set up in the Chingwizi area of Nuanetsi Ranch.
Mr Chikovo said Morgenster Mission had offered to give people in transit camps one meal a day, while sugarcane giant Tongaat Hullet promised to give the 2 200 families a 30kg bag of mealie meal, cooking oil and kapenta each.
Tokwe-Murkosi Dam is just over 60 percent complete and water has been accumulating in the mega dam, whose flood area covers 9 600ha.
The Meteorogical Services Department at the weekend said the entire country faced days of heavy downpours.
Areas that recorded heavy rainfall between Monday and Friday last week include Gweru (82mm), Kezi (80mm), Kwekwe (73mm), Kadoma (69mm), Beitbridge (63mm), Marondera (58mm), Mt Darwin (49mm), Mhondoro (30mm), Mutoko (29mm), Matopos (28mm) and Nyanga (27mm).
Four people died when a Zupco bus plunged into Musavezi River along the Mhandamabwe-Shurugwi Road last Friday, after a bridge was swept away by the rains.