SifelaniTsiko Senior Writer
Recent rains that pounded most parts of the country with an apocalyptic din have brought memories of the Cyclone Eline-induced floods in 2000 which left a trail of destruction not only in Zimbabwe but in the entire Southern Africa region.
Memories are still fresh in the minds of Zimbabweans and other people in the region who lost property, livestock and infrastructure worth billions of dollars.
During the Cyclone Eline-induced floods, a total of 136 deaths were reported in Zimbabwe. In addition to this, 59 184 houses and huts were destroyed, 14 999 toilets carved in, 538 schools and 54 clinics were damaged, 230 dams burst while a total of 20 000 head of livestock were lost.
The tropical cyclone which first appeared on February 9 and lasted until about March 2, 2000 was termed the worst in 50 years and the ‘worst in living memory.’
Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique were the four hardest hit countries in southern Africa.
Flooding was much more severe in Mozambique than in other countries in the region, triggering a humanitarian crisis of huge proportions.
More than 800 people died and an estimated two million others were displaced while property and infrastructure was destroyed and livestock was lost.
So far, the recent rains that pounded Zimbabwe leaving a trail of destruction have not matched the scale of damage inflicted by Cyclone Eline-induced rains. The torrential rains have since moved to Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique where they are currently wreaking havoc.
Latest reports indicate that floods in the southern region of Malawi have killed about 176 people and displaced more than 100 000 people, according to UN relief agencies. In neighbouring, Mozambique more than 25 people have died and major roads and bridges have been destroyed.
It is also worth tracking the history of flooding in Zimbabwe.
Burrowing through archival material helps to bring important lessons to our physical planners, engineers, doctors, meteorologists, politicians, relief agencies, people and other professionals critical to emergency preparedness and disaster management.
Cyclones which have ripped through Zimbabwe wreaking havoc and leading to loss of lives, property, livestock and infrastructure recorded by H Pellat in a report titled: “Cyclone tracks in the Vicinity of the Mozambique Channel,” include cyclones of 1904, 1934, 1946, 1948, Cyclone Astrid 1957 /58, Cyclone Colleen 1959, Cyclone Daphne 1966 /7 and Cyclone Berthe 1969.
Pellat, who once worked for the Met Office, conducted the research in the 1970s compiling a list of tropical cyclones which ravaged Zimbabwe and other countries in the region.
However, Pellat said it was difficult to specify the intensity of cyclones and also to give details of the destruction caused by the cyclones.
In the 1970s, Cyclone Emily which came from the south across the Limpopo River is said to have destroyed huts, livestock, crops and killed a number of people in Zimbabwe.
Cyclone Bonita also made headlines in 1996 when it hit the country killing some people, livestock and destroying houses and crops.
Cyclone Eline, with speeds of 120km per hour, hit Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa and other countries in the region with devastating effects.
It was the worst in half a century.
In 2006, heavy rains that lashed Zimbabwe and the region brought floods that claimed the lives of more than 30 people and displaced thousands.
Again in 2008, floods killed more than 45 people, washed away thousands of homes, damaged crops and infrastructure. An estimated 60 000 people were displaced in Mozambique while in Zimbabwe around 2000 were affected in the country’s low-lying areas.
Almost a decade and half years later, the impact of the Cyclone Eline-induced floods is still visible in the country’s low-lying areas.
Some bridges and other infrastructure have not been repaired due to lack of financial resources.
Climate change experts say natural disasters are increasing in number and frequency, and affect most countries in Africa.
Droughts and floods severely impact on food and water security in Africa. Climate change experts also say droughts and floods have had major human and economic costs on the continent and the entire globe.
A 2004 study of the United Nations University shows that floods impact over half a billion people every year worldwide and might impact two billion by 2050, of which a disproportionate number live in Asia with more than 45 percent of all flood disasters worldwide and 95 percent of flood-related deaths in the World.
A 46-page “Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970-2012)” produced in 2014 by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), and the Centre for Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium paints a grim picture.
According to the Atlas, 8 835 disasters, 1,94 million deaths, and $2,4 trillion of economic losses were reported globally as a result of hazards such as droughts, extreme temperatures, floods, tropical cyclones and related health epidemics during those 42 years.
Natural hazards such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are not included in this report.
Unveiling the report, WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud, said: “Disasters caused by weather, climate, and water-related hazards are on the rise worldwide. Both industrialised and non-industrialised countries are bearing the burden of repeated floods, droughts, temperature extremes and storms.
“Improved early warning systems and disaster management are helping to prevent loss of life. But the socio-economic impact of disasters is escalating because of their increasing frequency and severity and the growing vulnerability of human societies.”
According to the Atlas, storms and floods accounted for 79 percent of the total number of disasters due to weather, climate and water extremes and caused 55 per cent of lives lost and 86 percent of economic losses between 1970 and 2012.
Droughts caused 35 per cent of lives lost, mainly due to the severe African droughts of 1975 and 1983–1984.
Despite the huge amount of data and disaster rick management policy frameworks, Zimbabwe and most other African countries still have weak response mechanism.
Historical, geo-referenced information about deaths and damages is still largely lacking and has weakened efforts to estimate risks before the next disaster occurs.
Funding for all meteorological centres in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi is still inadequate to help the countries offer information that can support practical decisions on reducing potential impacts through improved early warning systems.
Met experts in the Sadc region say they need support to carry out their functions which include designing flood inundation maps needed by local planning agencies to assess flooding, flood-plain maps and reports and radio communication systems to broadcast timely information on developing events such as storms and floods to rural communities.
In the current season, the use of mobile platforms assisted greatly in warning the public about floods.
Once water and weather centres are strengthened, this can have an added effect of enhancing government disaster response strategies, evacuation plans and provision of relief.
Apart from limited resources, governments in the region are grappling with an exodus of experienced professionals – water engineers, meteorologists, doctors, urban planners and other key professionals central to the strengthening of disaster preparedness strategies.
Improving working conditions and salaries for these professionals can be part of the solution.
Each year, floods and weather-related disasters cost the global economy $50-$60 billion, much of it in developing countries.
The UN estimates that this is roughly equal to the global development aid provided by all donor countries combined.
Climate change experts say these losses could be reduced if current spending on flood prevention and prediction is increased.
They express concern that while countries are generous with post-disaster relief, they are thrifty where preparedness is concerned.
They say $100 is spent on relief for every $1 spent on preparedness.
There is therefore need to shift the national, regional and international mindset from reaction and charity to anticipation and pre-emption.
Currently, experts say, floods are not monitored systematically in all countries across the globe. But the impact of the floods will linger long after the skies have cleared and the flood water have subsided.
The tragic casualties from flooding, the cost to human lives, property and livestock all underline the extreme vulnerability of Zimbabwe and most other countries in the region. And it seems, with the current weak and uncoordinated response to flood disasters, Zimbabwe and the entire southern African region have learnt nothing about disaster preparedness and management from the 1999-2000 floods.
God knows what will happen if floods of an apocalyptic scale strike us.
◆ Feedback: [email protected]