In Zimbabwe, February is the month of floods.
Geography defines the Zambezi Valley from Jambezi and Hwange in the north-west to Binga in the centre and Dande and Muzarabani to the northeast as a flood plain of the Zambezi River on its final stretch to the Indian Ocean.
Muzarabani means a flood plain in Korekore and the name is self explanatory. Geography also defines Masvingo and Manicaland as flood plains for Runde and Save basins.
Suffice to say these are the low lying areas that are prone to flooding year-in-year-out .
February again falls into the second half of Zimbabwe’s rainy season. In the second half, the soil is already wet and rains run-off faster than the first half — October to December.
February brings with it the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) a mass of clouds pregnant with rain that moves from central Zambia into Zimbabwe and turns back in Masvingo. It rains heavily on its way down and back, making the low lying flood plains susceptible to flooding. Most of these low lying areas were, before independence in 1980 tsetsefly-infested, had very low populations.
These few people, who were hunters and gatherers, would relocate to higher grounds during the rainy season and get back to farm their crops on the riverbeds and valleys.
When the Government cleared tsetse flies around 1985, all the flood plains became overcrowded by people from uplands on Zimbabwe’s main plateau. This is what created the biggest problem we face today.
The Department of Civil Protection has, for decades, found itself each February battling to save marooned families and house those whose homes are destroyed.
Efforts by the Government, even during the opportunity that presented itself through the land reform, to resettle people from these flood plains have failed.
Unless the Government uses force, which will trigger an outcry from human rights activists, there is no end in sight.
The rivers and valleys in the flood plains are silted and chocked due to farming and the populations are increasing by the day, further increasing the number of people exposed to flooding.
To the people occupying these flood plains, there are more advantages than there are disadvantages of staying there.
In farming, they use less fertilisers, if any, because of the fertility of the soils, and the high temperatures make crops grow faster.
Unlike many people in the country, these people are able to plant twice per year without irrigation.
In summer, they plant cash crops and when the rivers subside in winter, they plant maize and rapoko on the river bed, which is already wet and does not need watering.
Wildlife is still plenty and they still poach. Under the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (Campfire) communities here have been able to share hunting proceeds, build schools and clinics although these are often flooded in February.
A lot of resources have been used each year to save and serve people in these flood-prone areas and these resources could be used elsewhere in the production sector.
The Government has to come up with an urgent solution once and for all to address the situation where there is perennial trapping of these people by floods.
What puts Government in a fix is that despite commissioning Campfire, it has also invested heavily in these areas in terms of infrastructure and built hundreds of schools, clinics and other things to sustain these families.
For now, the Government finds itself in a catch 22 situation.