Sydney Kawadza Senior Features Writer
Joy abounds for Zimbabwe and its Southern African counterparts for the abundant rains that have fallen this season. Coming from two successive droughts, the heavy rains have increased prospects for improved yields in the predominantly agro-based economies.
Rains stand for abundance, in food and water, so that people can be productive. However, the heavy rains have also unleashed a reign of terror that has dampened the spirits of people affected by flooding, hailstorms, disease outbreaks and related incidents.
Sadc THEMA Monitoring for Environment and Security in Africa senior thematic expert, Mr Farai Murambwa said the rains have offset moisture deficits while resulting in devastating floods in some areas.
“There have been heavy rains in the central parts of the region especially from mid-December.
“While the rainfall increase helped to offset soil moisture deficits, especially over Southern Zambia and Zimbabwe, it has also led to flooding in northern parts of Zimbabwe and central parts of Mozambique,” he said.
The Sadc Regional Early Warning Bulletin for the 2016 /17 Rainy Season had, last year, indicated that the season represented a good opportunity to maximise agricultural production.
“Farmers and supporting agencies should be prepared for incidences of pests and diseases for both crops and livestock.”
The bulletin called on farmers and relevant institutions to intensify pest and disease monitoring and surveillance activities.
The normal to above normal rainfall condition, according to the bulletin, may induce surface water stagnation and flooding.
“This induced conditions may cause physical havoc in many countries with many people getting ill (morbidity) and many more dying (mortality).
“Flooding due to too much stagnating water increases the chances of water-borne diseases such as cholera and other diarrhoeal illnesses (cryptosporidiosis, giardiasis, amoebiasis and typhoid among others).”
Rodent borne diseases such as plague and vector borne ailments such as Malaria, dengue fever, and others could increase in times of floods.
“Lack of sanitation and hygiene due to floods is the immediate cause of the illness and mortality. Many people also have injuries and deaths due to injuries and drowning. Both drought and flooding causes lack of clean water thereby increasing water-borne diseases.”
In Zimbabwe, which has an agro-based economy, the rains have been both a blessing and a curse in some areas.
Prospects of a bumper harvest have been increased with the agricultural sector seeing a boom in production.
Government’s Command Agriculture programme has increased hopes for a bumper harvest.
Zimbabwe is expecting to retain its status as the breadbasket of Southern Africa.
The rains have been a welcome relief for the drought ravaged country.
National food insecurity had risen from about 12 percent in 2011 to 42 percent last year while four million people are in need of food aid.
The Command Agriculture initiative, seeks to produce two million tonnes of maize from 400 000 hectares of land.
The rains have also increased prospects of rising water levels in Zimbabwe’s numerous water sources.
However, the rains have claimed 33 lives between November and December last year.
The numbers could rise amid reports that there would be more flooding incidents across Zimbabwe.
As of December 31 last year, more than 600 homes and 23 schools were also destroyed in the same period.
The Meteorological Services Department has already predicted heavier rains that could increase damages through flooding and water-related accidents.
Issuing a heightened warning while urging to take is seriously, the Met department said potentially heavier rain was expected to affect much of Mashonaland Central and East provinces.
Also affected would be Manicaland province as well as north of Masvingo province.
“Already the ground in some areas is soaked and therefore this further aggravates the risk of flooding in these areas.”
The Civil Protection Unit also weighed in saying the heavy rains will significantly increase the risk of flooding as the ground was already soaked in most parts of Zimbabwe.
“In addition, there will be increased risk to landslides in hilly slopes in susceptible areas.
“The risk to flooding is likely to be severe for areas that usually flood, low lying areas, wetlands, areas close to rivers and major tributaries, areas close to river confluences and areas that have already experienced flash flooding this season,” the Department of Civil Protection deputy director Ms Sibusisiwe Ndlovu said.
Meanwhile, the CPU said while the rains have improved prospects of higher yields with food supplies, water and pastures expected to improve with the rains, negative impacts included severe hailstorms, thunderstorms and flash flooding.
“These impacts have resulted in severe damages to schools and homes with scores of households rendered homeless early in the season and loss of lives particularly children.”
The department said 621 households were left homeless due to the rains.
Affected areas include Bulilima (12 families), Mangwe (6), Mutasa (7), Buhera (8), Mutare (16) and Guruve (31).
Lightning cases, the department said, included three deaths and eight injuries.
The department also said 31 people reportedly drowned from October to November this season.
“Most of the people who drowned were swept away while attempting to cross flooded rivers,” the department said.
Lightning cases were recorded in Binga District, Matabeleland North, where five children from Mabobolo Primary School were struck by lightning at the local secondary school leading to one death.
In Dzivaresekwa, three pupils were struck by lightning while on their way home from school with one of them dying in the incident.
Flashfloods were recorded in Harare and Chitungwiza during December last year.
“The flashfloods led to disastrous consequences in Ward 4 of St Mary’s suburb with more than 100 were flooded.
“The flooding incidents have also been reported across Zimbabwe including Gutu District in Masvingo Province,” the department said.
In Hwange, 21 families and inmates at an old people’s home were evacuated to temporary accommodation due to flooding.
Hailstorms have also caused extensive damage to schools across the country. In Nkayi District, Matabeleland South, a hailstorm blew off roofing material resulting in 18 children sustaining injuries including damage to furniture and stationery. The damage was estimated at $70 000.
Villagers in Bambazi Ward 10 in Bulilima, Matabeleland South also lost 64,114 goats, 17 donkeys and 2 000 chickens during a hailstorm in November.
Another 230 homesteads were completely destroyed during a hailstorm in the neighbouring Mangwe District.
Other damages due to hailstorms were recorded in Chiredzi, Masvingo province, Mt Darwin (Mashonaland Central), Mutasa and Buhera in Manicaland Province.
University of Zimbabwe Department of Geography and Environmental Science chairman Professor Amon Murwira said the rains are so intense resulting in flooding.
“The current weather patterns can easily result in floods which need to be monitored and early warning be issued on time to prevent deaths and destruction to property,” he said.
He, however, said while there was no evidence that crops will be destroyed, the attendant to high rainfall is normally the outbreak of crop diseases.
“Overall, this rainfall is likely to result in good harvests,” he said.
He said on the brighter side the rains have an advantage of filling up of dams that had almost dried up in Zimbabwe.
“This would in turn boost irrigation during the dry season. The water supplies in the towns and cities are also likely to improve. Normally good rainfall is associated with good economic performance for Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe’s GDP is closely linked to rainfall performance,” Professor Murwira said.
He however added that the implementation of flood early warning systems, as well as crop surveillance systems to monitor and prevent any outbreak of diseases.
“The use of Satellite Earth Observation technologies and Geographic Information Science is key in achieving this,” he said.
The CPU, however, urged people to supervise children at play, on their way to and from school.
“Monitor your home in case it succumbs to excessive moisture. Do not attempt to cross flooded rivers and streams, whether on foot or by car, avoid any form of risk taking behaviour,” the department said.
Zimbabwe experienced its worst floods in 2000 when it was hit by Cyclone Eline, resulting in 136 deaths.
In 2003, Cyclone Japhet killed seven people sweeping away bridges and other infrastructure.
Floods regularly cause damage in Zimbabwe’s low lying areas like Muzarabani, Tshotsholo and the Lowveld.
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