The rains are back in Southern Africa, bringing dreadful memories to citizens of Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique, who in the last rainy season bore the brunt of the devastating effects of Cyclone Idai that left hundreds dead, thousands homeless and large swathes of infrastructure damaged in the affected districts.
For Zimbabwe it has not taken long for the memories to creep back following the death of three people and damage to property worth thousands of dollars across the country in the space of one week from early season violent thunderstorms, storms that are accompanied by more intense downdraft winds as a result of the record heatwave temperatures late last month and early this month.
The latest incident, which left two people dead in Mbare on Monday, occurred when a storm with exceptionally violent winds uprooted old trees in several places in Harare.
The latest development comes as the Meteorological Services Department is forecasting the wet spell to spread across the country and it is quite likely, at this stage of the season, that much of this rain will come from thunderstorms, accompanied by burst of intense heavy rains, periods of high winds and lightning. People need to be prepared for wind damage and flash floods.
With Zimbabwe still reeling from the effects of Cyclone Idai where 334 people died, 347 reported missing while 158 people are believed to have been swept into Mozambique where they were later buried, the possibility of any impending danger — and warnings should be for the worst case predictions so no one is caught unprepared — should be treated seriously.
Cyclone Idai taught us that not everyone in the endangered communities knew or understood the warnings and while rescue operations were almost immediate and well-supported there were problems reaching some communities. If more people had known and understood what one of the worst cyclones ever to hit the country could do, more communities would taken precautions, meaning there would have been fewer peope needing immediate aid, although the longer-term damage would have been the same.
Had there been a proper mitigation strategy to reduce the impacts and risks of hazards through proactive measures before an emergency or disaster occurs, the number of deaths, injuries and missing people would have surely been much lower than the recorded figures.
We therefore cannot be caught napping, in the event that this rainy season turns out to be yet another disastrous one which could result in more loss of lives and damage to property.
We need to activate our national disaster preparedness systems by ensuring that necessary measures are taken to quickly inform and, if necessary, move and rescue people during the 2019/2020 rainy season
While radio and other media can give warnings, not everyone hears or understands. But mobile phones are now ubiquitous and it should be easy for those responsible for district civil protection officials to get warnings through to responsible people, for example village heads and school heads, who can then get the message through to their communities.
People in low-lying areas should be encouraged to move to higher ground and prepare alternative accommodation in the event of flash floods.
Over the years, low-lying areas such as Mbire, Muzarabani, Mount Darwin and Nyanga have become traditional hotspots for floods when the country receives above average rainfall. It is, however, ironic that every rainy season, the residents of these areas continue to conduct their business unfazed by the impending danger of flooding.
When disaster struck in these communities, the residents are quick to apportion the blame on the Civil Protection Unit disregarding the perennial environment scan that long urged people to move to better sited homesteads and villages, even if this needed longer walks to fields and pastures.
In such scenarios, the need for preparedness in the event of any eventualities should be extended to all leadership structures within risk-prone areas, to minimise loss of lives and destruction of property.
A well-articulated disaster preparedness plan should ensure that both the Government and relevant stakeholders are in a position to move in as quickly as possible to rescue people once a disaster strikes.
Outside the operations of both the Government and the Civil Protection Unit, communities and individuals should also ensure they are aware of dangers associated with crossing flooded rivers, parking under large trees and taking shelter during lightning and violent storms.
It is within the same spirit of preserving lives and further damage to property that we also urge both the Civil Protection Unit and the Meteorological Services Department to also issue regular updates on the situation to keep people abreast of any developments of changes in weather patterns during this rainy season.
With the lessons learnt during Cyclone Idai, we cannot afford to sit on our laurels, while waiting for a disaster to strike. We need a solid disaster preparedness plan, resources and proper interventions to minimise loss of lives and damage to property.