Sifelani Tsiko Agric, Environment & Innovations Editor
Cyclone Idai, the tropical storm that killed hundreds of people, destroyed crops and livestock and battered eastern and central parts of the country early this year, is the worst weather-related disaster in more than hundred years in Zimbabwe.
Hanyadzisi Batisai, a meteorologist told partipants a 2019 National Cimate Outlook Forum that Cyclone Idai was the “deadliest and costliest” tropical storm ever experienced in Zimbabwe since the 1891-1892 rainfall season.
“The 2018-2019 cyclone season was the costliest and worst tropical storm ever since reliable recording began in 1967 in this country,” he said.
“It was the deadliest cyclone season surpassing the 1891-1892 season.”
Participants at the forum had gathered for the official announcement of the 2019- 2020 rainfall forecast, to review the previous rainfall season as well as reckon with devastating impact of Cyclone Idai which hit Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique hardest.
Official and UN reports indicate that more than 270 000 people were affected by March’s devastating Cyclone Idai.
Cyclone Idai struck Zimbabwe in March 2019, causing extensive damage estimated at US$622 million.
More than 50 000 households were destroyed, directly affecting 270 000 people, including 60 000 who were displaced.
Zimbabwe requires up to US$1,1 billion to support recovery and restore damaged infrastructure and livelihoods.
The storm caused catastrophic damage in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi killing more than 1 300 people and many more missing.
More than 2 million people were displaced nearly two decades after another cyclone ripped through the region with devastating force.
Cyclone Idai destroyed homes, crops, bridges and roads bringing untold hardships to the affected communities.
The tropical storm cut off electricity and vital road links to supply lines, shaking the economies of these countries.
Other climate experts even say the tropical storm is one of the worst weather-related disasters ever in the Southern Hemisphere.
“The scale of destruction was massive, the storm had speeds of up to 175km/hr and placed in the low end category three cyclone,” said Batisai.
“We need modern equipment and models to improve our accuracy in terms of predictions. The models we used for Cyclone Idai are outdated. We need to move to nowcasting and acquire dual polarisation radars, improve boundary layer coverage and expand our forecasting coverage.”
University of Zimbabwe physicist Juliet Gwenzi urged the Meteorological Services Department to explore other climate prediction models to improve its forecasting.
“You should look at different models. You should know when a model is under-forecasting or over-forecasting,” she said. “Look at different models and understand their weaknesses and strengths.”
Climate expert Bradwell Garanganga said there was need for Zimbabwe to invest in automated weather stations and radars across the country’s 59 districts to help improve the country’s seasonal and longer-term climatic predictions.
He said adequate funding for the Met Department had stalled the institution’s plans to scale up the provision of high quality and reliable climate information services.
“In order to enhance accuracy, we need tools and resources to improve on our predictions,” he said.
At present, Batisai said the Met Department was only able to use data from 100 stations out of 400 in the country.
“We should migrate from general forecasting to impact-based forecasting,” he said. “To do this we need more resources.”
Zimbabwe has 10 provinces divided into 59 districts and 1 200 wards which still lack adequate weather stations.
This has made it extremely difficult for the Met Office to collate, analyse, package and distribute climate data on variables such as temperature, rainfall, wind, soil moisture and extreme weather indicators.
“We need at least one weather station in every district and a radar for every 50km to enable us to get reliable climatic data for our users,” one climate expert was quoted saying.
“This is the ideal situation, but with no resources it’s still hard for us to produce reliable data that could be useful to localised situations. Our local communities require early warning systems that can help us to inform them about looming disasters such as floods and droughts.
“With adequate climate technologies it’s possible to provide them with even more accurate data on floods and drought. We need at least one rain gauge per ward and one weather station per district to help us make more useful predictions.”
Other participants urged the Met Department and other relevant Government agencies covering disaster risk management to embark on aggressive public awareness campaigns to help people understand early warning systems.
“It’s time to move away from complicated technical language to simple language that can be understood by the masses,” said Gwenzi. “We need to improve the participation of the people in disaster risk management. We have to look at the use of bells — traditional warning sounds — to enhance their understanding of risks. We have to look at how we can package the information and how we can disseminate it in a simple and understable way.”
Early this year, tropical Cyclone Idai brought heavy rainfall and strong winds to Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe between March 5 and 19, 2019, causing severe flooding which led to loss of lives, destruction of infrastructure, disruption of livelihoods and destruction of crops.
It is estimated that close to 780 000ha of croplands in the three countries were destroyed by the cyclone, with the bulk of this area in Mozambique.
Dams and wells were also damaged, and livestock washed away.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) region recorded the lowest rainfall in nearly four decades in the 2018-2019 cropping season, sparking fears of increased food insecurity and water shortages in the region
All this flagged a set of climate hazards that were now hitting Zimbabwe and most other African countries.
These are marked out by poor and erratic seasonal rainfall, mid-season dry spells and early cessation of rain, coupled with devastating cyclones.
Said Bindura University of Science Education (BUSE) climate scientist Professor Desmond Manatsa: “Climate change has destroyed the relationship between weather, environment and human activities. Climate change has destroyed that relationship that we used to have.
“This has brought uncertainty which is now affecting forecasting. We do not fully comprehend what climate change has in store for us. Dimensions that we used to have to make predictions with high predictability has been eroded. We are moving towards chaos.”
Zimbabwe has received a US$72 million grant from the World Bank to fund the Zimbabwe Idai Recovery Project (ZIRP), which will provide immediate support for the most affected communities across nine districts.
ZIRP aims to rebuild community infrastructure and restore livelihoods through cash transfers, restoring agricultural crops and livestock production, and revitalising basic healthcare services.
The African Development Bank (AfDB) also intervened with a US$24.5 million facility.
There are also a number of collaborative initiatives to enable Zimbabwe to strengthen its capacity and systems for recovery and resilience coordination, and disaster risk management and mitigation.
One of the initiatives is the Government-led Zimbabwe Recovery and Resilience Framework, in line with the Government of Zimbabwe’s Transition Stabilisation and National Development Plan, scheduled to take place in 2020.