By Saul Gwakuba-Ndlovu
CYCLONE IDAI has come and gone, leaving in its wake several hundreds of dead people, piles upon piles of destroyed property, and indescribably distressed hearts.
The meteorological phenomenon, also known as a typhoon, hurricane or tornado depending on where in the world it is occurring, devastated parts of Zimbabwe’s Manicaland, Mashonaland East/Central and Masvingo provinces.
Zimbabweans and Government personnel in the affected regions are currently trying to locate a large number of people whose homes were swept away by the cyclonic rainy whirlwind whose speed was a blinding, breakneck 170km to 200km per hour on some plains.
The wind turned into an unnerving rock-shaking, roof-lifting, chocking high cyclone in narrow valleys and wooded glens while brooks and usually silted semi-dry rivers became impassible roaring torrents that carried away motor vehicles, livestock, logs, people, houses, bedding and foodstuffs to the Indian Ocean.
The Rusitu River and others that flow from or through the Chimanimani and Chipinge regions of Manicaland, through Mozambique to the Save River or to the Indian Ocean deposited heart numbing human bodies in Zimbabwe’s eastern neighbour, Mozambique.
Some of those who actually survived that natural tragedy cannot believe that it actually happened.
They can only shake their heads in disbelief; they are stunned.
Those involved practically in raising and distributing aid to the survivors pray and hope that those contacted for help will be open-handed, and give whatever they can as nothing is too little for that disaster.
Cyclone Idai directly hit Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique from about the beginning of the second week of March to about the beginning of that month’s third week.
At the time of writing this article, the exact number of the dead in the three countries was not known, but Zimbabwe’s was some 259, a figure that obviously excluded those who were swept into Mozambique and those whose corpses had not yet been retrieved from the rubble such as huts crushed by falling rocks.
After everything is cleared and all bodies are identified, the cyclone’s Zimbabwe toll is bound to be higher than the present official figure.
The same applies to Malawi and Mozambique.
The appalling high risk to life, limb and property could have been mitigated by the temporary removal of people from the anticipated cyclone path.
That could have been done in the four or three days before the cyclone hit Zimbabwe in view of the fact that local meteorologists officially predicted the advent of that weather phenomenon about five days earlier.
Cyclones are not like other natural disasters such as volcanoes and earthquakes, in that they are now predictable by means of modern meteorological technology.
The best measure to take to avoid death at worst, or damage to property at least, after the possible date of a cyclone has been known is to remove people from its possible path.
It is not acceptable to say that people refused to be moved from their homes because one of a Government’s responsibilities is to protect all its people, even from themselves at times.
If the law does not give it the authority to do so, the Government would be strongly advised to pass a law giving it that authority. One of the most important principles that guide governments is that responsibilities must always be coupled with authority and, where that authority is needed, the Government must legislate to have it.
That is what governing involves.
Although scientists tell us that no part of the earth’s surface is completely free from earthquake occurrence, we are also advised that coastal regions are more likely to have earthquakes than those further away from the sea.
A look at the history of natural disasters on the African continent shows that only once, and that was way back in 1755, Morocco experienced an earthquake that killed at least 12 000 people.
Some parts of Africa have since then had floods or droughts that have claimed many lives and destroyed property such as livestock worth many millions of dollars.
Some of those catastrophes were predicable so that measures could have been taken to mitigate their consequences.
Zimbabwe’s physical built is such that some regions are least suitable for human habitation.
Parts of the rugged Eastern Highlands fall under that category.
The disaster is likely to occur again as it was obviously a part of the world’s climate change.
It is necessary for the region, or the entire African continent, in fact, to take precautionary measures comprising:
λ Reliable early warning signals
λ Secure centres where affected communities can be accommodated for temporary periods
λ Adequate food, medical and water supplies for periods related to such meteorological phenomena
λ The training of adequate security and medical personnel to handle such situations
λ The creation of an international co-ordinating committee that can liaise with relevant governments
λ The creation of national and regional budgets meant primarily for such natural catastrophes
λ It could save lives and some property if every family in the rural areas has at least one hut or house made of stone and cement; projects that could be enforced by the traditional leadership. Stone and cement houses can withstand hurricanes and whirlwinds much better than those made of mud and are thatched.
Governments could seek the professional advice of appropriately qualified people on this important matter.
Advice on this issue would pertain to the type of stone most suitable, the depth of the foundation, the number of windows, doors and any other ventilation, and their position vis-a-vis the direction of the prevailing local winds during the rain season.
Information about approaching disastrous natural occurrences should be mutually shared by governments in every African region, the emphasis being to pass such information to those nations that do not have modern meteorological equipment.
Similarly, measures dealing with post-disaster situations, especially the practical application of disease-controlling and prevention steps, should be applied and supervised at both national and regional level.
National defence and police forces should have sections trained for natural disasters and be provided with suitable means of transport, including helicopters, dirigibles and boats.
Tents are very important in disaster situations where it is necessary to move large numbers of people from one locality to another.
It is advisable that every district should have one or more places where it can temporarily hold victims of natural disasters.
It is a sign of wisdom to prepare fully for possible tragic events such as floods and cyclones as such precautions mitigate distress, loss of life, damage and loss of property and destruction of infrastructure.
Saul Gwakuba-Ndlovu is a retired Bulawayo-based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email, firstname.lastname@example.org