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Editorial Comment: Let’s do more to prepare for flash floods

09 Oct, 2020 - 00:10 0 Views
Editorial Comment: Let’s do more to prepare for flash floods

The Herald

The first showers that have fallen across much of Zimbabwe in the past week have brought relief from high temperatures and have started the process of wetting the soil.

While farmers and input suppliers have been making their preparations in time, it is fairly clear that those responsible for ensuring other preparations have been doing almost nothing.

On the positive side, we have seen steady and determined allocations of inputs and imports of required farm machinery so that as soon as the agricultural experts give the word to start planting most farmers will have what they need to get into their fields.

A lot of preliminary work has been done, and is continuing to be done, to ensure that the predicted normal-to-above-normal rainfall will not go to waste and that farmers are well-prepared after two years of droughts during which many failed to realise a return on their investment.

Prices of seeds and fertilisers never stopped rising even when the rainfall distribution was poor.

However, the projected good rainfall is not without its own challenges and here a lot of other people need to take serious action right now.

Our rainfall even in bad years has violent storms, tropical cyclones, floods in low-lying areas and lightning strikes and in a good season these may perhaps be worse.

So we need to be prepared, but even ordinary rainfall in a good season can cause flash floods in low-lying areas and anyone walking though Harare on Monday afternoon would have seen even the modest shower the city experienced forming large pools of water round blocked drains and rubbish-filled catch pits.

Local authorities know that even in drought years we need functioning storm water drains, and that we need emergency action now in new housing areas and especially in those illegal settlements all too often built on wetlands, what used to be called seasonal swamps since they flood in the rains.

The mushrooming of illegal settlements on wetlands, local authorities’ disregard of proper waste management and poor maintenance of storm water drains, that have become an eyesore in most cities, could result in some areas being submerged under water during this season.

Poor urban planning and the parcelling out of land on areas not suitable for housing development in major cities have worsened the problem of flash floods, which should not be the case if local authorities performed their duties without being motivated by a quest for personal gains.

Sometimes even legal development is in danger, because hill sides have been built over, because house-proud residents have planted gardens after filling in the street drains outside their homes, or because developers and new residents have not thought seriously about drainage when building.

Hundreds of urban houses were built on wetlands, riverbanks and near water sources where the infrastructure will fail to hold, in the event of above average rains, let alone torrential rains.

Floods that hit Harare in 2017 were as a result of poor maintenance of drainage systems in parts of Kuwadzana on one hand, but even in Borrowdale, houses that were built in low-lying floodplain areas and on top of former stream beds were hit, with the natural flow of water into tributaries blocked and storm water drains designed for an earlier era of far lower densities overwhelmed as rivers of water poured down hillsides. Chitungwiza, which was hit harder, had thousands of houses built on wetlands and over storm water drains. That town will require long-term solutions, with the municipality putting in proper infrastructure and preventative measures to avoid the destruction of property and loss of life in the event of floods.

But even now we assume that local experts can remember what happened in past rainy seasons and at least ensure some functioning basic drainage.

Of immediate concern would be the rehabilitation of the drainage systems in most cities and towns that are clogged due to dumped litter, lack of maintenance and in too many cases deliberate filling of surface drains.

Cities need to clear storm water drains to avert flooding. Extra effort should be put in redesigning existing structures such as ditches, canals and culverts to pave way for new ones in critical locations.

Simply clearing the rubbish, re-cutting drains where necessary and opening new drains where developers have been neglectful will help.

Local authorities need to regularise poor planning and put up proper drainage in residential areas that are haphazardly planned to ensure that water movement is not restrained.

It is clear that there was dereliction by some municipalities, but the situation calls for urgent attention to avert the 2017 floods that left people injured and property worth thousands destroyed in several urban areas across the country.

In rural areas there are places where everyone know that floods are an almost annual event, but where people still build to be close to their fields. Now is the time to tell them to start moving to higher ground and prepare alternative accommodation in the event of flash floods.

Over the years, low-lying areas in Mbire, Muzarabani, Mount Darwin and the valleys in Nyanga often experience flash floods when the country receives above average rainfall.

It is, however, ironic that every rainy season, communities ignore warnings of a possible disaster and continue to conduct their business unfazed by the impending danger of flooding. After what happened in Chimanimani last year, where hundreds of lives were lost, communities in low lying areas, can no longer afford to be complacent, but should take heed of disaster warnings and act accordingly.

The nation learnt a lot of lessons from effects of Cyclone Idai and these would need to be replicated this season, to ensure that no further lives are lost when natural disasters of such magnitude strike. Early warning networks, backed by sensible local leadership, should be in place by now.

Outside what the Civil Protection Unit (CPU) can do, individuals and communities have a responsibility to take necessary precaution to avert possible loss of lives and destruction of property. It cannot be overemphasised that the season we are now entering into, requires one to be vigilant and be on the lookout for the likelihood of natural disasters.

Crossing flooded rivers, taking shelter under trees during lightning and storm as well as parking cars under huge trees are some of the dangers that communities and individuals should be wary of.

It is within the spirit of saving lives and averting damage to property that we implore the Civil Protection Unit and the Meteorological Services Department to issue regular updates on the situation to keep people well-informed of changes in weather patterns during this rainy season.

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